REVIEW: 'The Cabin in the Woods' teases horror movie cliches, amps up the fun

Bryan Alaspa's picture

There are always a lot of horror movies in the theaters every year, and many of them show the same characters doing the same thing, but the new movie The Cabin in the Woods manages to skewer those while still being horrific.

If you are a fan of horror movies, then you are probably aware of the tale told in the middle of the woods. Almost from the time there were horror movies, the tale of the isolated cabin in the woods has been a tale told again and again. During the height of the slasher movie craze, the genre reached a kind of pinnacle. In each case, a group of teenagers, almost all of them following the same stereotypes from one movie to the next, end up in an abandoned cabin and then horrible things happen to them.

The new horror movie The Cabin in the Woods takes a look at that same genre and, with humor and other elements, manages to turn the genres on its head. Yes, the movie, co-written by Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the television show) creator Joss Whedon, has more than a heaping helping of humor thrown in for good measure. Despite this, or perhaps in addition to this, the movie also manages to throw in some very good scares all on its own.

The story of how this movie came to be has almost become a Hollywood movie in its own right. Originally Whedon and his friend and co-writer, Drew Goddard, was created back in 2009. Whedon has stated that he meant the movie to be a "love hate letter" to horror films in general. Both Goddard and Whedon were frustrated that horror films had degenerated into what many call "torture porn" where gore and ultra-hideous deaths were more important than a story. They filmed The Cabin in the Woods back in 2009, with a predicted 2010 release. However, the film studio, MGM, that was to finance and distribute the film went into bankruptcy. The film languished as studios fought over it and MGM tried to get out of bankruptcy. Eventually, however, Lionsgate Films bought the movie and now the film is finally on the big screen.

Normally, however, when a film languishes on the shelves for the better part of three years, that is an indication that you should turn and run away as fast as you can from the movie. In the case of The Cabin in the Woods, the opposite is true. The movie is, quite simply, a blast, but it is also not what you think.

The movie starts out with two guys wearing white shirts and ties talking while getting coffee. They could be guys in any office anywhere in the world. However, the course of their conversation shows us that something is very, very different about these two. It appears, at first, as if they will be conducting some kind of experiment on the young teens who are set to appear in their particular cabin in the woods.

Then we meet our group of teens. There’s Dana, the viriginal good girl. There’s Curt, the big, beefy jock. There’s Curt’s girlfriend Jules, who has just dyed her hair blond, and she is the resident sex pot and slut. There’s the athletic, but really smart, guy named Holden. Then, finally, there is Marty, the comic relief stoner who has managed to make an extendable bong out of a travel coffee mug. All five of them are headed out for a weekend in the woods in a cabin, of course.

Before they get there, like all of these movies, they must stop for gas in an apparently abandoned and creepy gas station. Here they will meet the creepy gas station owner who, like all creepy gas station owners in countless horror movies, tells them how to get to the cabin, but also warns them not to go. Of course, like in all horror movies, the kids ignore his warnings and head to the cabin. So far, it’s pretty standard horror fare, with plenty of humor thrown in, but with cutaways to these guys in the white shirts and ties.

Once they get to the cabin, of course, they stumble upon a creepy room in the basement. The room is filled with strange objects. One of them finds a diary and then, stupidly, reads from it. Before long zombies with a knack for torturing people to death are stalking them. And then, well, there are more cutaways to the guys in the white ties.

So, what if, this movie asks, all of the stereotypes that we see in these kind of horror movies were done on purpose? What if the fact that it seems like the same cabin is being inhabited by the same stupid kids who do the same stupid things was all part of a plan?

To give away much more is to give away the fantastic surprises and the unbelievable amount of fun that goes along with finding out the answers to those questions. Whedon and Goddard manage to throw in some genuine scary moments and they do ramp up the gore quite a bit. But this movie is much, much smarter than you think it will be. And, as I have said several times already, it is damn funny. Whedon has always expert in mixing the most outrageous and horrific of elements with tremendous humor and fun.

The performances are all excellent, as well. All in all, I am very glad that this movie was rescued from the vaults and is now available on the big screen. If you want your horror mixed with humor and you’re tired, as well, of the same cliches in your horror movies, then The Cabin in the Woods is the movie for you.

Photo of movie poster courtesy of Wikipedia.

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