Before writing this review, I must present a mild disclaimer here and admit to a shamelessly rabid fanboy devotion to Joss Whedon. After all, the man who took a truly lamentable 1992 film called “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and literally reinvented and rejuvenated the lame big-screen screenplay into a truly innovative TV hit and enduring pop-culture icon… has me more than favorably partial to his work.
The Buffster still has a soft, warm spot in my stake-free heart.
Add to that some great follow-ups with subsequent protagonists in TV’s “Angel”, “Firefly” and “Dollhouse”; again, TV series filled with truly nuanced and interesting characters punctuated by consistently smart dialogue… and, well, it seems Whedon had me from the beginning at Buffy’s home in Sunnydale above the infamous Hellmouth.
That in mind, I eagerly awaited the long delayed release of Whedon’s latest film, “Cabin In The Woods”. Finally, this send-up of the horror / slasher film genre is now in theaters and I enjoyed every second of it as it wonderfully fulfilled the promise I’ve enjoyed within previous Whedon written and produced projects.
What’s truly notable about “Cabin In The Woods”, directed by Drew Goddard, is that it’s not exactly what you expect it to be. On the surface, it appears to be simply another run of the mill “slasher kills a bunch of clueless teens on Spring Break” type of film; the type of which spawned a bloody cottage industry for on-screen killing machines named Freddie, Jason and Chuckie.
However, “Cabin In The Woods” is a much smarter film that takes all the familiar elements of the typical slasher / victim movie and turns it on it’s ear with a surprising twist, plenty of unexpectedly witty humor and wonderfully clever dialogue that keeps the film moving without missing a beat.
“Cabin In The Woods” starts familiar enough with a group of young college friends piling into an RV for a weekend trip to a remote cabin, where we the audience already know from countless other films that start off similarly… that something really, really bad is gonna happen to these kids.
All the familiar genre players are gathered for this deadly excursion. There’s the broad shouldered jock type, Kurt ( played by a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth ), his sexy girlfriend, Jules ( Anna Hutchison ), the slightly nerdy but handsome “nice guy” ( Jesse Williams ), the quick with a clever quip stoner ( Fran Kranz ), and the sweet, shy and apparently virginal Dana ( Kristen Connolly ).
On their way to the cabin, the group stops to get some gas and encounters a creepy local who’s very appearance and demeanor screams “get back in the RV and go home”. Of course, the kids in these films never do the obvious thing, do they ?
When the group arrives at the secluded lakeside cabin, things start to go oddly wrong not long after they settle in. While playing a game of truth or dare, they end up going into the cabin’s basement where they discover a wide and macabre variety of antiquities, photos, strangely sealed boxes and much more.
In typical fashion, these kids never heard the saying “curiosity killed the cat” and they begin tinkering with the items. When Dana opens up a diary written by a young girl that details a horrifying torture at the hands of her father; that’s when things start to take a turn for the worse as the walking dead start to encroach upon the cabin.
To say more about what happens would spoil the genre twisting fun of this supremely unique film.
I’ll simply add that the film cuts back and forth from the horrors that transpire at this remote rural nightmare to a laboratory-like bunker populated by short sleeve shirt and tie wearing mid-management technicians and others in lab coats. Actors Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford and Whedon favorite, Amy Acker ( “Angel” ) are among the apparent puppet masters that seem to be controlling some of the circumstances taking place at the cabin.
Divulging anything further would ruin the wonderful twists and turns in store for the audience in this film that appears to be a combination horror film, slasher parody and comedy filled with knowing winks and nods to the obvious expectations and cliches of the genre. Though it’s clear, Whedon is also, at least in part, poking a bit of affectionate fun at the formulaic and predictable nature of the slasher genre, as well.
Then, when you least expect it, he changes the rules by demonstrating everything isn’t what it appears to be after all.
Suffice to say the final act of this film is an all out assault on the senses as all manner of insanity and horrors literally break out in a cleverly choreographed climax that’s one of the most enjoyable and surprising on-screen adrenaline rushes, combined with laughs, I’ve seen thus far this year.
“Cabin In The Woods” is classic Whedon, with many of the familiar flourishes, witty dialogue, and uniquely monstrous entities that made Buffy and Angel such popular hits on the small screen. It’s those qualities so familiar to the writer’s devotees like me, that should earn Whedon more followers among big screen audiences.
This is one horror film you don’t want to miss… and an ending you don’t want to spill.