This review was originally published on March 13, 2012…
The horror genre as a whole has been one accused of stale ideas and repetition. Certainly when an original idea or a new take on a standard comes along it helps to reinvigorate the box office sales for our beloved dark side of cinema. In 1996, Wes Craven pumped fresh blood into slashers with Scream, which up until that point had been treading the same water for many years. He did this by cleverly subverting the entire film by finally making its victims self-aware of their situation, by having them being raised on the movies which had come before it. Not only did this idea play with the expected reactions of his characters but also added a new dimension to the comedic nature of horror movies by giving the audience a wink to the knowledge of the tropes it was using and sometimes twisting.
Many years later, after the haunted house movie was given contemporary spin on it with Paranormal Activity, a ripple we’re still feeling today, the monster movie met a fresh face with Cloverfield. Drew Goddard, a writer for J.J. Abrams-led TV shows such as Alias and Lost, helped to pen the tale of a giant creature who terrorizes New York City. He brought a different spin to the found footage genre and brought a new breed of monster, a gigantic city crushing one, to life… and it killed at he box office. In The Cabin in the Woods, he has teamed up with Joss Whedon, already a beloved genre creator and director of the upcoming, highly anticipated Avengers, to put their mark on horror. They do so in a way that is incredibly fresh and an electric joyride through a roller coaster of horror movie tropes that is never predictable and always entertaining.
The largest problem with a movie this grand and one that offers so many fun, new ideas is that it’s best experienced knowing as little as possible about the plot going in. These are the days where so much of a movie is revealed in the trailers and when something fresh, like The Cabin in the Woods, comes along, it is much more fun the less you know. At the SXSW premiere, Goddard and Whedon even requested that the audience reveal as little about their film as possible, a valiant request that should be admired, because, in the end, it makes for a terrific film going experience.
What can be said about The Cabin in the Woods is that its ensemble cast really shines. Veteran actors Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins mesh together to produce a highly charismatic team that never cease to bring the laughs. It’s clear they’re having a lot of fun with the script, bantering back and forth, trading whip smart remarks, a testament to both the script itself and their talent. They make the most of their screen time and many months from now it’s certain they’ll be the ones remembered for producing some of the more memorable lines and comedic moments, among dozens of them.
With any classic setup of kids going off into the woods, which is the central conceit that Goddard is playing with here, it’s important for the audience to find some empathy with most of the those characters. Props to him and his casting director for putting together five strong actors who you want to see succeed and who mold themselves so well into the action and world within that they’re always likable and have you rooting and cheering for their exploits. The intrepid groups features Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Fran Kranz, Brian White (Stomp the Yard), Anna Hutchinson, and the lead Kristen Connolly. Each deliver their own standout performance which helps to flesh out the crazy world that Cabin… has crafted.
Special note should be paid to Kranz, a frequent collaborator with Whedon and who most recently appeared on the excellent but now canceled Dollhouse, who creates a lovable stoner who stands up with Harold and Kumar and the Half Baked crew. Connolly, an elfin, red headed girl next door, exudes such strong on-screen charm that you want to both hold her hand in dark moments but also root for her to kick a*s in harrowing situations.
In a year that’s looking to have a very strong lineup of horror and genre movies, it’s very likely that The Cabin in the Woods will come out the king of the hill. It’s immensely smart, filled to the brim with clever humor and even in it’s most gory moments, never treads too far into dark territory, instead keeping it light and a joy to watch. It is always looking to keep the audience guessing all the way to its final minutes and it stands as a testament to the script prowess of Whedon and directorial abilities of Drew Goddard.