“The Cabin in the Woods” features pretty 20-somethings on their way to a remote cabin in the woods for a little relaxation, drinking, and possibly, sex. It also has a couple of middle-age guys in labcoats working (and talking about working) on something rather mundane in a laboratory/office setting. What the heck is going on here? It’s Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin in the Woods”, a film that so many reviewers think is so good, that any review you read will be absolutely devoid of spoilers (at least until the film opens for mass consumption this Friday). Yes, movie reviewers love the film so much, they are voluntarily leaving out everything that will spoil the movie. And you know what? Good on them, because reviews for this little slice of awesome deserves to be spoiler-free. It really is that good.
You’ve heard this story before: five college friends head out into the woods for a little R&R, the grind of school having, well, grinded them down. They are: handsome jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth), his girlfriend Jules (Anne Hutchison), Jules’ buddy Dana (Kristen Connolly), their mutual pothead friend Marty (Fran Kranz), and Curt’s friend Holden (Jesse Williams), who is not-too-subtlely being set up with Dana. On their way to the titular cabin, they meet a cranky old guy with dire warnings. Of course, if they were to turn around and head straight back to the city post-dire warnings, we wouldn’t have much of a movie, so onward our fearless lads trek, finally arriving at the cabin in the woods. Then shit happens. People die. And … even more shit happens.
Did you ever wonder why teens in horror movies do the things they do? “The Cabin in the Woods” explains why. Not that I’m going to tell you more than that. The film certainly puts movie reviewers in a difficult spot. To tell more would be giving away too much. Hell, just talking about other characters besides the five friends would be giving away too much. So what’s there left to say? Well, it’s a pretty damn good horror movie, so there’s that. “Woods” has everything (and then some) that even the most demanding horror fiend must have in his horror entry. Cranky old redneck guys? Check. Sexy girl with no qualms about doing sexy time? Double check. A cute flirtation between the nice, thoughtful girl and her nice, thoughtful would-be beau? Triple check. And for those of you who aren’t against it, there are jokes to be had. Lots of jokes. And laughs. Plus gags. Marty the stoner brings it, and Fran Kranz will likely become your new favorite movie stoner by the time you leave the theater.
The reason “The Cabin in the Woods” works is because co-writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard get the horror genre. There are so many nods and tips of the hat to all the creatures, stalkers, and killers that have come before it (from multiple continents, natch), that it would be near impossible to pick out all the homages in one viewing. Lest you think we’re going in “Scream” territory here — well, yeah, “Woods” kinda goes there, but Whedon and Goddard never lets you forget that this is still a horror movie, and you should still be plenty scared even while you’re chuckling along. This is in contrast to “Scream”, which, let’s face it, has become a parody of itself now.
Although I won’t give anymore away, here’s a thought: if you’re an old Whedon fan, and you’ve followed his career since “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” (two shows that Goddard also wrote for), then you’ll be ahead of the pack in trying to figure out just what the heck is going on with the film. I’m not saying you’ll get it with your first guess, or your second (or third), but you’ll be pretty close. Whedon has done this before. Kinda. In the same ballpark, let’s just say. Don’t fret, though, “Woods” is very unpredictable, with a Third Act slaughter that left me with my jaw on the floor wondering how the hell they managed to score an “R” rating. Really, to what voodoo priestess were Whedon and Goddard worshipping that they managed to hoodwink the usually tight-assed MPAA to give them an “R”?
The young cast is strong with this one, notably Kristen Connolly as our Final Girl, along with a pre-”Thor” Chris Hemsworth (remember, “Cabin” was shot and finished well before he picked up Mjolnir and became an instant household name). Despite their obvious generic stereotypes (or perhaps, because of it?), you’ll end up caring for these kids and root for them. Kranz, in particular, should instantly become a crowd favorite. But if the kids are great, the adults are pretty damn outstanding, too. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, as the two guys in labcoats, kill every single scene they’re in. Every single scene. Plus, it’s never a bad thing to see more of Amy Acker. There’s even a ridiculously cool out-of-nowhere cameo that the film has somehow, someway managed to hide all this time, so look out for that, too.
Take my word for it: go see “The Cabin in the Woods” when it opens this Friday, and don’t waste your time trying to figure out its secrets beforehand. You’ll thank me later.
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Drew Goddard (director) / Drew Goddard, Joss Whedon (screenplay)
CAST: Kristen Connolly … Dana
Chris Hemsworth … Curt
Anna Hutchison … Jules
Fran Kranz … Marty
Jesse Williams … Holden
Richard Jenkins … Sitterson
Bradley Whitford … Hadley
Brian White … Truman
Amy Acker … Lin