Being an urban sort, Appellate Judge Tom Becker spends his vacations at a cabin by the freeway.
You think you know the story…
The last horror movie?
Facts of the Case
Sexy Jules (Anna Hutchison, Underbelly), her jock boyfriend Curt (Chris Hemsworth, Thor), his smart but studly friend Holden (Jesse Williams, Brooklyn's Finest), stoner Marty (Fran Kranz, The Village), and level-headed and virginal Dana (Kristen Connolly, Revolutionary Road) are headed for a fun weekend at a cabin (in the woods) owned by Curt's cousin.
It's just a carefree weekend, right? What could go wrong with five young, attractive people in a secluded vacation spot? Sure, it's a little unnerving when they stop for gas at a rundown shack and encounter an inhospitable, tobacco-spitting, semi-threatening hermit, but all road trips have their pitfalls. And the cabin itself is beautiful, except for some violently ugly artwork, a frighteningly lifelike wolf's head on the wall, and an unusual—and alarming—mirror.
There are also a few hidden rooms in the house, and some odd…artifacts.
But any sane person knows that none of this constitutes anything to be afraid of; after all, that kind of stuff just happens in the movies.
Here's the deal: The Cabin in the Woods is a really terrific movie I want to rave about and recommend, and yet virtually anything I say about it is going to constitute a spoiler.
I'd read little about The Cabin in the Woods prior to seeing it. I know that, just as cabins in the woods can be treacherous places where evils dwell, Internet review sites can be treacherous places where spoilers dwell. Spoiler Alerts are a largely useless invention; if you've made it to the site determined to find out what you can about a film, are a couple of bold-faced words actually going to stop you from reading further? And even if you survive the night cherry-picking paragraphs off review sites, there's always Wikipedia and IMDb lurking in the bushes ready to deal a death blow to your expectations.
So, I'll say this: The Cabin in the Woods is very good as a traditional neo-horror film, and flat-out brilliant as a deconstruction of the genre. In fact, the meta-ing of the neo-horror genre is dizzying here.
I've seen Peeping Tom, I've seen Psycho, I've seen plenty of films in which the audience is "complicit" in the horrors. After all, as we sit in the dark, demanding atrocity, we are not merely slack-jawed popcorn munchers, but gods of coin whose thirst for bloodletting must be slaked lest we reject the offering. The universe of horror has balance points and requirements like any other universe. There are simply conventions and expectations that must be adhered to in order to keep things sustainable.
Long-time collaborators Drew Goddard—who directed and co-wrote the script—and Joss Whedon—who produced and co-wrote—obviously understand this. Whedon is perhaps best known as the person behind TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, and Firefly, all of which exist in the Jossverse (or Whedonverse), where reality is dictated by environment. Just as the traditional slasher movie works within the boundaries of its own logic—that killers have preternatural powers, or the dead are easily risen—so too does the Jossverse have its own set of rules and dictates.
Whedon and Goddard are clearly having a great time exploiting these concepts here, and while The Cabin in the Woods is a gruesome and worthy entry in the glutted horror canon, it contains enough surprises to make it really special. The metaphor-and-guts concoction on display can be surprisingly cynical, but it's also affectionate and fun under the edges.
Above all else, The Cabin in the Woods is funny. Really funny. It's a superior parody the way the best Mad magazine movie take-offs were superior parodies—funny, gruesome, and knowing, with a hilariously twisted, self-referencing coda that's actually more impressive the more you think about it. That it includes a fantastically appropriate, out-of-left-field cameo near the end to pull everything together just cinches the deal.
The Cabin in the Woods (Blu-ray) comes to us courtesy of Lionsgate. Technically, the most impressive part of the package is a dynamic 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. It's a busy track, but well-balanced, and it provides real force at the right moments. The 1080p/2.40:1 image is strong, but it doesn't always hold up in the film's many dark scenes, which sometimes come off a little murky.
Besides digital and UltraViolet downloads, the disc comes with a nice complement of bonus features. There's a very good feature-length commentary by Whedon and Goddard that focuses on the script, bringing off what could have been a stale and standard chat with plenty of wit and insight.
A Picture-in-Picture Bonus View option lets you watch the film with commentary and background from the actors and creative crew, plus behind-the-scenes footage, via a small box in the lower right-hand corner.
There are also several featurettes:
• "We Are Not Who We Are"—a pretty thorough "making of."
• "An Army of Nightmares"—a look at the animatronics and make-up effects.
• "Primal Terror"—looks at the CGI visual effects.
• "The Secret Stash"—incorporates two short features. In "Hi, My Name Is Joss and I'll Be Your Guide," Whedon offers a tour of the cabin. In "Marty's Stash," Kranz, who plays the pot-smoking, comic-relief character, talks about his character and some of the props.
• "Wonder-Con Q&A"—just what it says: a Q&A with Whedon and Goddard at the convention, discussing the film.
There's also a trailer for the film, as well as a number of trailers for other Lionsgate releases.
One gripe: navigating through the special features is kind of a pain, as you have to go back to the main menu, which takes a little bit longer than you might expect.
A notably successful marriage of high concept and cheap thrills, The Cabin in the Woods is a very cool and subversive shockfest.
Come on, everybody's guilty now and then.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2012 Tom Becker; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.