Let me start by warning you, this is really a film that has to be seen without any knowledge of what is coming, and so I won’t be providing any kind of detailed synopsis. With a film filled with as many twists and turns as this one has it would be impossible to keep any synopsis spoiler-free.
First and foremost, “The Cabin in the Woods” is not a Horror movie, not really. Anyone hoping to see ninety+ minutes of guts (yuck!), shocks (Jesus!) and boobs (Wahey!) may come away a little disappointed. While the movie does feature all of these tropes and more, that really isn’t the point of it all. It’s really more of an essay on Horror movies than anything else: deftly deconstructing the genre - picking apart the flaws and the clichés and putting them back together with a knowing smile and a wink - more meta fiction than fiction proper. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable, it very much is.
After a brief opening scene that sets up mysterious-yet-humorous technicians Sitterson and Hadley (played by the brilliant Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, respectively) it’s very much business as usual for the next twentyish minutes: the Protagonists are set up swiftly and nicely before setting off on their adventure without a care in the world, until they meet a creepy, redneck Gas attendant in the middle of nowhere who fills everyone with plenty of pant-filling dread before pointing the way to the Teens’ final destination. So far, so “The Hills Have Eyes”, right? They reach their home for the weekend – an Evil Dead Cabin-copycat – and step inside, and the predictability of the movie grinds to a halt… To reveal anymore would be doing you a disservice, but believe me when I say that most of what follows will have you alternately thinking “WTF?!” and “Oh, I see!”
Anybody in his or her right mind should know the name of co-writer Joss Whedon, but it’s the authorial voice of collaborator Drew Goddard (who also Directs) that can be most strongly heard. As the screenwriter of Cloverfield it’s pretty obvious he has the chops for writing horror, but here it seems more like he’s channelling his work from Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” where it’s humour that plays a more prominent role. A lot of Horror Movies tend to throw in a bit of humour to relieve the tension - and to wrong-foot the audience into a false sense of security - before smacking them in the face with a trouser-wetting scare and this is where, for me, this movie falls a little flat. Not because it isn’t funny, but because it is so funny that the horror seems less scary.
The principle cast all perform well, but the movie really belongs to the comic relief: loveable-stoner Marty (played wonderfully by Fran Kranz, who was also the comic relief in Joss Whedon’s short-lived TV series “Dollhouse”) and the Lab-Technician duo, played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford.
The Good: The way the Japanese Schoolchildren deal with their problem had me in stitches.
The Bad: The “Big Twist” was so obvious I thought there was sure to be another (message me if you want to know what my theory was, it’s a doozy). There wasn’t, but once you come to terms with that the movie still works.
The Ugly: Ballerina. ‘Nuff said.