Warning! No Major Spoilers Ahead! Seriously, don’t worry. We’re going to talk about this movie without ruining anything. To do otherwise would be brutally unfair to the writers, who deserve to have their movie unfold as it was meant to be seen, up on screen, not here in the midst some self-serving blogger’s reverie. So read on. Anything which follows won’t be of the spoiler variety and anything specific I tell you about the movie won’t be a surprise beyond the film’s first five or ten minutes.
Co-written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (who will also direct), The Cabin in the Woods is exactly what you’d expect from a Joss Whedon scripted movie and probably nothing like you’d expect from any other horror movie called The Cabin in the Woods. Though it contains heavy slasher elements and though it’s likely to be scary as hell on screen, it’s more an attempt at subverting the slasher subgenre than an actual entry into it. Or maybe it’s Whedon’s commentary on the kinds of people who enjoy Hollywood’s endless stream of lifeless murder-porn sequels. Looked at in that light, you dear horror fan, aren’t exactly portrayed favorably.
That assumes of course that the average, gorehound will think of anything other than the orgiastic fun of being doused in buckets of blood. On the page, Cabin in the Woods has plenty of that. But really, it’s about control. The film’s set up from the outset as a movie within a movie. We meet five stereotypical horror movie kids. There’s Marty the stoner (Fran Kranz), Curt the jock (Chris Hemsworth), Holden the dreamboat (Jesse Williams), Jules the sexed up dumb blonde (Anna Hutchinson), and Dana the awkward virgin (Kristen Connolly). Of the five it’s Marty that Whedon fans are going to love most. He’s a Whedon character through and through; imagine Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Xander smoking a lot of pot. It’s Dana though, who is the real star of the film.
All five kids are headed out of town on vacation and driving towards the plot of every lame slasher flick you’ve ever seen. Their relaxation spot is a remote cabin in the woods, lent to them by some vaguely explained relative and with all the strange, creepy asides you’d expect in a horror movie. Except we, the audience, know it’s a fraud.
Spliced in between scenes of our coed killer bait are moments with a group of mysterious, lab-coated technicians. We’re told from the outset that they lurk below the cabin and they’re in control of everything. It’s all a setup. They’re framing these unwitting kids, drawing them to this place where they’ve set up a series of perfectly controlled circumstances and devices which they will use to, in effect, create a cliché horror movie out of their real lives. It’s a neat idea and the script has a lot of fun playing around with those lab-coated technicians. In the film the techs will be played by people like Richard Jenkins and Amy Acker. It’s kind of like The Truman Show done up horror movie style except, well, even The Truman Show had a level of suspense built into it. Cabin in the Woods doesn’t
From the beginning there’s no real doubt as to what’s going on. Sure we don’t know why these lab techs are recreating horror movies on this remote piece of property, but we do know they’re doing it. There’s never a big reveal, we know what’s happening all along. I hate to second guess the Whedon and Goddard here, but I wonder why they didn’t try to build in at least a little mystery. Did we really need to know right away that everything we’re watching is a fake? Couldn’t they have strung us along and then shocked the hell out of us by pulling back the curtain? Instead, for the audience at least, there is no curtain. It’s only the film’s protagonists who spend most of the film in the dark.
I’m probably wrong. Maybe when I see it on screen I’ll be so caught up in Whedon’s witty dialogue and the way control room scenes are layered in between footage of the kids living what they think is every day life gone awry that I won’t care about the utter lack of suspense here. It probably intentional, since again, the whole point of the film seems to be to turn the horror genre on its head. Since there’s so little suspense though, most of the movie’s scares are of the standard horror movie variety. Odd in a movie that otherwise seems to be struggling so hard to subvert or comment on the cliché nature of the genre. Monster A jumps out of nowhere swinging something sharp. Character C turns around to find Monster B standing right behind him. The plays are all diagramed which, again, is the point since we’re watching the deliberate construction of a series of horror movie clichés. That doesn’t make it any less scary, though, when the camera zooms in for a close up on a rampaging… whoops spoiler territory.
As is, The Cabin in the Woods is a smart, tight little script. It gets in, gets out, and the credits roll. It doesn’t waste a lot of time teasing the audience or dragging us around an endless series of cheap thrills (though it does have plenty of those). It knows what it wants to do and does it in what will almost certainly be no more than 90 minutes. There’s no twist in the movie, granted, but there is a big surprise of sorts towards the end. The movie’s final moments really go completely and utterly insane until it all culminates with a really, really big surprise of the kind that’s likely to divide audiences and leave them either loving or hating the entire film. I’m still not entirely sure what I think of it. Done wrong it could be unintentional comedy, done right it’ll be unlike any other finish you’ve seen on screen. That applies to the entire script really. Cabin in the Woods has the potential to be something special, but it’s by no means a slam dunk. I hope Goddard knows what he’s doing.
The Cabin in the Woods is currently in production, set to be distributed by MGM on February 5, 2010. For more information on the film, visit our Cabin in the Woods preview page.