Director: Drew Goddard
You ever watch a movie that you just love but have a really hard time explaining to someone else why you love it, let alone be able to put it into words? Well I’m having one of those moments with The Cabin In The Woods. So all I can say is sorry for this somewhat lackluster and confused review. Hopefully it will make sense to some of you.
“[…] The Cabin In The Woods is co-written and produced by Buffy creator and Avengers (2012) director Joss Whedon. Like Buffy, it is at once a knowing pastiche of horror conventions and a horror movie in its own right.” (Edward Lawrenson, 936, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) You may know by now how I feel about Joss Whedon (Joss is God!!) and although ultimately The Cabin In The Woods is directed by Drew Goddard in my mind it is always associated with Joss, probably very unfairly. But then both Joss and Drew have said that the process of filming was like being part of a hive mind – ‘one whole brain rather than two half brains.’ The main difference is the casting – Joss is known for casting characters from his well stocked pool of actors (and there’s a lot of them to pick from due to his penchant for ensemble casts) and Cabin is kind of light on members of the Whedonverse.
Despite having only a couple of Whedon regulars, in the form of Amy Acker as the head of the Chemical Department, and Fran Kranz as the intrinsically lovable stoner Marty, (oh and an appearance from Tom Lenk as Ronald the Intern) the cast is a well constructed one made up of a number of rising actors including Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. For all that the cast are nominally rising stars the nature of the story means that most of the sacrifices are reduced to bit parts, especially Anna Hutchison as Jules who really does become the stereotypical dumb blonde and the first to meet their grisly end. Hemsworth’s Curt is very much the alpha male jock who goes out in a blaze of glory – quite literally having collided with the force field confining them all to the area of play. Jesse Williams gives a shining though brief performance as Holden, the ultimately unrealized love interest for Kristen Connolly’s Dana.
Once again you have a resilient young female in the defining role of the film. While it is Dana who chooses their demise she is also the one who realizes that is just what they were manipulated into doing. She never gives up despite witnessing enough gruesome deaths to leave anyone catatonic. Fran Kranz is excellent as Marty. He has a unique, if extremely paranoid, way of looking at the world and is surprisingly switched on despite spending the entirety of the film high. Labeled ‘the fool’ he alone is the only one who realizes the dire situation they have found themselves in and ends up becoming the badass reluctant hero of the piece. I do always get the urge to watch the short-lived Dollhouse (2009-2010, Joss Whedon) after watching Cabin because Marty reminds me so much of Topher. If you love Marty then you should definitely check out Dollhouse.
The film has a very definite split between two sets of characters, the unfortunate sacrifices up above in the aforementioned Cabin In The Woods and the people pulling the strings underground, literally. This split is reflected in the aesthetic of the film as well. The Cabin while dark, and as we come to know very carefully constructed, is organic with a rustic (if slightly creepy) feel to it. As a contrast the underground control centre is clinical, practical and very uniform. It’s very gray and industrial.
“But for the movie’s ironic reference to other horror films, The Cabin In The Woods works in wholly visceral terms: it is at once a clever experiment in genre and a scary experience in itself.” (936) Cabin is definitely a scary experience in itself but then throw a clown into the mix and anything automatically becomes terrifying to me (it doesn’t even have to be a horror film) and that’s without the whole host of other creatures straight out of nightmares that inhabit the world of The Cabin In The Woods. Their imaginations just ran riot, anything you could possibly conceive of is included in this litany of nightmares (supposedly there is a Reaver somewhere but I have yet to find it). And despite including references to the wealth of horror films out there, they are subtle and avoid including any of the monsters made infamous by the genre like the numerous masked serial killers or even the old stalwart monsters. There’s no need to recycle vampires and werewolves when you can put your own spin on the creatures. Some of the things contained within the innumerable elevators of evil I don’t even have names for or even realized I was scared of and yet there they are put on screen to enter into your dreams. Equally some of the monsters are kind of beautiful and elegant in their own way. I found the Sugar Plum Fairy and the guy with circular saws in his head mesmerizing and kind of graceful.
“With its bloody exploration of ideas of sacrifice, the movie prompts difficult questions about the audience’s need for and enjoyment of onscreen violence and fear.” (936) The overriding theme is that everyone has their part to play even if they are doing so unwittingly. Everyone is expected to play their role without question and yet Marty and Dana don’t which ends with everything falling quite spectacularly apart. The resulting disintegration of carefully constructed rules plays out in a beautiful and bloody chaos. You can watch The Cabin In The Woods over and over again and never fail to find something new in it thanks to the “chaos on every screen”.
“Joss Whedon’s The Cabin In The Woods is a fiendishly clever horror with an unexpected plot development that’s one of the great surprises in recent cinema.” (936)