‘The Cabin in the Woods’ Ups the Horror Stakes

By Tim Posada, 4/19/2012


When Nietzsche declared, “God is dead,” he marked rationalism’s new reign over religious institutes, debunking mysticism. It was an anthem of change (for better or worse, who knows). I realize this is a lofty setup for a horror film, but director-writer Drew Goddard and producer-writer Joss Whedon have brought an end to the feeble pursuits of so many mundane horror flicks with “The Cabin in the Woods”. And it’s more comedic than scary. Say it with me just as “Cabin” intends: “Horror is dead.”

Marty (left), portrayed by Fran Kranz; Curt, portrayed by Chris Hemsworth; and Jules, portrayed by Anna Hutchison, are among the co-eds who face an unknown evil in “Cabin in the Woods”. (photo by Diyah Pera, courtesy of Lions Gate Entertainment)

“Cabin” channels a Sam Ramian (“The Evil Dead” and “Drag Me To Hell”) aesthetic with the metanarrative quality of “Tropic Thunder”. This isn’t Wes Craven in his more reflective years, or a comedy about hillbillies who turn out to be the heroes rather than the usual slashers. “Cabin” carves out its own space in a genre just this side of complete famine.

But what is the film actually about? Well, the previews depict the average cabin in the middle of nowhere that houses some unknown evil, and of course five unsuspecting coeds leave the comfort of the Ivy League and head into the mouth of madness. If you know horror films, this film becomes one big predictable checklist of who’ll die next.

But whatever monsters lie beneath, they’re less interesting than the people keeping an eye on our five college students/victims. Who are they? What is their goal? How are they so happy observing such terror above? Alas, to answer that would be to ruin the entire film. The mystery of these voyeurs can elevate or deteriorate “Cabin’s” entertainment value. It’s smart, but topical. Still, as far as nerd films go, this one is at the top, and I predict a solid return on horror giant Lions Gate Entertainment’s investment once the word spreads.

The best scenes feature Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) waxing nihilistic as they observe the events in that cabin in the woods, cracking jokes and bemoaning the lack of mermen in the monster community. Confused? Just see the movie and all will be revealed in the most satisfying of cinematic ways. And let’s not forget our hero. No, not jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth saying “hi” before he picks up his hammer as Thor once more next month) but continuously baked Marty (Fran Kranz), who even finds a way to take down a zombie with his bong.

The big question with any horror film: who will be alive when the last limb falls and the final pint of blood dries? “Cabin” effectively creates a narrative where the conclusion is not as important as the hilarious journey along the way. While a film like fan-favorite Kevin Smith’s “Red State” discards characters too easily, “Cabin” deconstructs an entire genre while maintaining continual interest in the characters‘ fates (again, just see the film).

With less than a month to go, “The Avengers” director, Whedon, takes some time off to produce and co-write something that spews “Whedonism”. The creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Angel”, “Firefly” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” is one of the most distinct wordsmiths in the industry, creating endlessly witty dialogue, thrilling narrative flow and a grand tale without the convoluted climax  that often ruins too many horror films for the sake of lazy closure or a fickle attempt to set up a sequel.

Like many Whedon productions, this one is full of players from the “Whedonverse”: Amy Acker as Lin who appeared in “Angel” and “Dollhouse”; Kranz from “Dollhouse”; Hemsworth set to appear in Whedon’s “The Avengers” on May 4; Tom Lenk, who portrayed Ronald the Intern in “Buffy”; and of course director and co-writer, Goddard, who wrote for “Buffy” and “Angel” before moving on to “Alias”, “Lost” and then the screenplay for “Cloverfield”. While Whedon leaves his mark all over this tasty film treat, it’s impossible to ignore Goddard’s successful debut as director.

“The Cabin in the Woods” can just as easily mark the beginning of a new era for horror as it foreshadows its bloody demise. Hopefully the former prevails and we start seeing more filmmakers actually care about the stories they’re creating. Otherwise, space won’t be the only place where no one can hear you scream — vacant movie theatres are sure to follow with the eventual onslaught of boredom that comes with most Freudian slashers, Japanese ghost stories, toxic-waste-made monsters and demon-possessed whatevers. At the very least, “Cabin” provides the most compelling argument for transitioning horror into a subgenre of comedy.



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