The Cabin in the Woods

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For a movie chock-full of twists, perhaps the biggest is that despite all appearances to the contrary, The Cabin in the Woods is a heartfelt love story. Mind you, not between any of the young and pretty college students who tempt fate at the cabin in question. No, this romance is between creators Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, and the scary-movie genre as a whole. A ménage à terror, if you will.

Like Scream before it, the film is a simultaneous dissection and celebration of all the tropes to which it pays homage, while also managing to be a superb example of the genre in its own right. The script is vintage Whedon—smart, funny and surprising. Thanks to Goddard’s direction and staging, and despite the film’s very focus on the formulaic nature of horror, it still manages to be tense, atmospheric and jump-out-of-your-seat scary.

The commercials and trailers make no bones about the fact that there’s more to the film than a bunch of kids getting in the middle of some bad business. But that’s as much as you need to know about the plot, and really the most you should going in. The fun of discovery is just as much in play as all the blood and slime.

Cabin was actually shot three years ago, and was put on the shelf when the original studio, MGM, went bankrupt. So the sight of a slighter, pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth as one of the students in peril already looks a little dated, but is certainly appropriate. The rest of the students are basically there as eye candy and cannon fodder, as is only proper, but they all commit to the material extremely well. Fran Kranz, a veteran of Whedon’s TV series Dollhouse, especially gets a lot of mileage out of his conspiracy-minded stoner dude.

Also along for the ride are Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, who make for an inspired comic duo. Obviously, they’re not students, and that’s all you’re getting out of me.

Unfortunately, it’s very hard to market a film with a story that’s best kept mostly under wraps. Add to that the fact that the closest thing to a box-office draw attached to the project is likely the niche screenwriter and producer. But there was a lot of buzz from horror fans when it screened recently at the SXSW film festival, and one hopes it can continue to ride that well-deserved wave.

Make no mistake: This isn’t The Tree of Life. It’s a schlocky little horror movie. But with such loving attention to detail and fun, The Cabin in the Woods may very well be the ultimate schlocky little horror movie. It’s just too bad that no machine yet exists to take you back 100 minutes so that you can experience it again for the first time.

Director: Drew Goddard
Writers: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford
Release Date: Apr. 13, 2012