Eeegyahh! Zombie rednecks!
Kept on the shelf for three years amid the turmoil of MGM’s financial woes, the Joss (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) Whedon-scripted Cabin in the Woods finally arrives in theaters fresh-faced and a little bit sassy. Dusting off the tired tropes of the teen slasher picture and knowingly reconfiguring them into a spryly amusing black comedy, Cabin is more funny than scary, but it has just enough of a grisly edge to keep the stakes elevated between laughs while building to a crazy and grimly humorous finale.
All the familiar elements are here: the isolated party spot (looking inauspiciously like the cabin in Evil Dead), the young and attractive partiers, the menacing local who presages doom, the creepy cellar, the drinking full of foreboding artifacts, the game of truth or dare, the sex and finally the ghastly murders and bloody havoc, in this case wreaked by a zombie redneck torture family.
From the very start though, something isn’t quite right. The victims seem to fit into the standard archetypes – there is Dana “the Virgin” (Kristen Connolly), Jules “the Whore” (Anna Hutchison), Curt “the Jock” (Chris Hemsworth), Holden “the Academic”‘ (Jesse Williams) and Marty “the Fool” (Fran Kranz) – but these clearly aren’t your typical stupid teens. They’re close enough for government work and horror films, but you know right away this isn’t going to be quite the film you might be expecting. And then there is Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) and Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, Burn after Reading) who get most of the best lines, but who don’t at all fit the slasher film mold. Who they are and what they’re doing is pretty quickly revealed, but this is a film about which the less said the better. The pleasures are in the reveal.
In the process of unpacking its secrets, The Cabin in the Woods doesn’t revolutionize horror films so much as it breathes a last gasp of entertaining life into a moribund arm of the genre before putting it to death once and for all. A revolution would imply there is somewhere to go from here, but this film (amusingly) doesn’t even leave room for the usual sequel. In fact, it’s really much more of a comedy than a horror film. There are scares, but they’re sporadic and never sustained with an kind of intensity. Only the most easily frightened will be traumatized in any way. What you have instead is dialogue that is as smart and funny as you’d expect from a Whedon script and a story that is twisty enough to keep you guessing until the end exactly how it’s all going to play out. The young cast is also very likeable (especially funny is Fran Kranz as the shaggy stoner Marty) and you actually regret each death. The losses are almost moving and that’s a rarity for these types of films.
The only real drawback to this otherwise entertaining film is that it doesn’t really add up to much for all its genre busting. The classic black comedies have a satiric edge and something to say, but The Cabin in the Woods is more interested in simply making you laugh. It opens the door to a sort of commentary on the teen experience, but it disappointingly never quite walks through. Having said that, it’s the difference between a great movie and simply a very good one. Even if it ultimately lacks a certain gravity, it entertains from start to finish and sometimes that’s enough.
Filed under: Review