I’m a horror movie wimp. I’ve long avoided films like the Exorcist or Friday the 13th, and I cringe and squint my eyes when scary stuff appears in otherwise safe movies (Coraline, Triplets of Belleville). So if I had only seen the trailer for The Cabin in the Woods, which features five college students traveling to a spooky, abandoned…well, cabin in the woods, I would skipped it without question.
But then I saw the names of the two writers attached to it. Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, and Drew Goddard, who wrote the excellent Cloverfield. And the tagline of the movie intrigued me: “You Think You Know the Story.” So I knew that along with severed heads and such, the movie would hopefully also have some outstanding dialogue and clever plot twists.
I saw it this evening. And now my challenge is this: to convince you (assuming you can handle severed heads and such) to see this insanely clever, hilarious horror movie without giving anything away.
I’ll start, I guess, by praising the fantastic cast. Fran Kranz and Kristen Connelly are the most obvious standouts as, respectively, a pot-addled joker and a wide-eyed innocent, but there isn’t a weak link in the bunch. Everyone has the comic timing – where they’re funny, but not hammy – necessary to a genre-blurring effort like Cabin in the Woods.
If you’re a Whedon fan, you’ll find a lot of familiar themes in the film. There’s the idea that outside pressure forces people into archetypes against their will that was common in Dollhouse. There’s the dilemma of cooperation vs defiance in the face of evil that Angel dealt with so beautifully. There’s the question of sacrifice for the greater good that later seasons of Buffy discuss. And Neil Patrick Harris sings lots of songs like in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.
I’m sadly kidding about that last one, but Cabin in the Woods honestly isn’t that far removed from Dr. Horrible. Its medium is murders rather than music, but it proceeds with a lighter tone than Cloverfield (or even Serenity, honestly). I’m not saying it isn’t scary–I peed my figurative pants during both the slow burn scares and the jump-out-at-you-scares – but for every yelp from the movie theater audience there was a laugh, and for every laugh there was something saying “What the F—!!”* During the final half hour of the movie, the excitement gets turned up to eleven, and the laughs increased, not just at the humor but at the sheer audacity of the movie makers.
The Cabin on the Woods, with its generic title and low promotional budget, is a film I could seeing passing under the collective American radar. I hope it doesn’t. The next time someone says “How come there are no smart movies these days? It’s all Fast Five and Harry Potter Seven! Hollywood is brain-dead,” I will say “Did you go to a theater and watch this new awesome horror movie recently?** If not, you shouldn’t complain about the lack of smart movies.” I’d totally watch Cabin in the Woods again, and I’m the kind of guy who was scared by an episode of Darkwing Duck.
*The good kind of “What the F—!!”
**Well, first I will lecture them on why Harry Potter Seven is awesome.
SPOILERY POST SCRIPT: It’s interesting that this movie had a common theme with the number one movie in America right now, the Hunger Games. Both have, and here comes the spoiler, a powerful group watching the televised suffering of others for enjoyment and control. Both aren’t ignorant to the irony that the movie audience is in the same position as the gamemasters, and that we’ve become accustomed to cheap thrills from watching others, from TV news to reality shows. I happen to think Cabin in the Woods does a lot more with this idea, even though (or possibly because) it’s significantly sillier.