“Yeah, uh, I had to dismember that guy with a trowel. What have you been up to?”
Joss Whedon is a guy so good at what he does, I kind of resent it and keep expecting to hate what he does. No one praised this much, especially by genre nerds, can get away with not eventually being seen as over rated. I held off on Buffy the Vampire Slayer until it only had a season or two left in its run, then immediately had to go back and watch it all from the beginning. Twice now, he’s defied my expectations with The Avengers and turned what should have been bloated, studio mandated formula into great fun. I even liked his Shakespeare adaptation that I was convinced was going to be way too self aware and smarmy for its own good. And today, he made me enjoy horror, a genre I usually don’t care for, more than I thought I ever would, with The Cabin in the Woods.
Four college students prepare for a weekend in a secluded cabin located in, you guessed it, the woods. There’s the studly jock, Curt (Chris Hemsworth), the hot slut, Jules (Anna Hutchinson), the smart, sensible dude, Truman (Brian White), the goofy stoner, Marty (Fran Kranz) and the virginal good girl, Dana (Kristen Connolly). It’s OK to reduce them to these broad, lazy labels, because the movie calls them that too, constantly.
On their way to the cabin, we see a hawk in flight, until it hits some sort of invisible force field and falls to its death. When they arrive, it’s revealed that they’re being watched by some white coated dudes in a high tech facility. Lead by Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) it’s clear that they’re not only monitoring the college crew, they’re actually manipulating their decisions. For some reason, it’s very important to the white coats that the college kids enact every horror movie cliché you can imagine.
A post modern movie calling out and highlighting its genre conventions is nothing new. Even in horror especially, it’s the kind of thing that made Scream a hit in the 90s. But if Scream was post modern, The Cabin in the Woods is whatever comes after that. Not only do the characters of this movie recognise the rules and tropes of the genre, they willfully manipulate them, put them in action and do their best to make sure they’re followed to the letter. And they do it with just the right balance of winking at the camera and stone faced commitment to this movie’s reality.
Maybe horror fans would hate this kind of sarcastic deconstruction, but for me, it made me really enjoy those clichés. I’ve seen very few horror movies and the regular beats and themes still seem boring and overdone. So I’d have to think someone way more familiar than me with the genre would appreciate this take even more. So, if you are a horror fan and haven’t seen it yet, I think you should check out The Cabin in the Woods. If you aren’t a horror fan and haven’t checked out The Cabin in the Woods yet because it’s a horror movie, I’d say you definitely need to to see it.