Goddard and Whedon use a familiar premise and set up to unleash on the audience a fury of cinematic innovations and left turns.
Transcending strict genre conventions and creating an entirely new style of film, The Cabin in the Woods is a wholly original and inspired cinematic experience. Directed by Drew Goddard and written by Goddard and Joss Whedon, the film is both a loving homage to the horror genre and a spoof of its most absurd aspects. First-time director Goddard—best known as the writer of Cloverfield (another genre-bending film)—and geek god Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly) have taken one of the most worn-out horror conventions and used it to spring on the audience a devilishly clever experiment in filmmaking.
In the film, five college students head to a secluded cabin in the woods for a weekend of fun. We have Curt (Chris Hemsworth), the athlete; his sexy girlfriend, Jules (Anna Hutchison); the good girl, Dana (Kristen Connolly); the bookworm, Holden (Jesse Williams); and the stoner clown, Marty (Fran Kranz). All of the archetypical characters are in place, but something is just a little bit off. Curt isn’t a mindless jock; he’s on a full academic scholarship. Holden is clearly intelligent, but according to Curt, he’s a terrific athlete. Dana is sweet, sure, but we learn very quickly she’s no innocent virgin. Though each character seems recognizable at first, the stereotypes quickly begin to fall apart.
Almost from the first frame it is clear this is no ordinary horror movie. Goddard and Whedon use a familiar premise and set up to unleash on the audience a fury of cinematic innovations and left turns. Clearly, the two men have studied extensively not only horror films, but cinema in general. The Cabin in the Woods makes reference to everything from The Exorcist to The Evil Dead to The Truman Show. All filmmakers are influenced by other filmmakers. Some choose to be more subtle (see Paul Thomas Anderson’s numerous Robert Altman references), while others are more obvious (see anything Quentin Tarantino has ever done). The Cabin in the Woods falls in the middle of this spectrum, somewhere along the lines of Steven Soderbergh, who balances myriad influences with genuine inventiveness.
Goddard and Whedon, who have been friends and collaborators for some time, have written a script so heavy with layers that only multiple viewings and a critical eye could ever hope to peel back the seemingly endless allusions and inside jokes. Goddard wisely, but frustratingly, fills each scene with so many visual clues that one’s mind could easily begin to spin if any effort is made to focus on them all.
As a first-time director, Goddard is impressively composed. He moves the action forward at just the right pace, leaking out information just slowly enough to keep the audience guessing, but never distracting them from what is happening on the screen. When all hell breaks loose about two-thirds into the movie, Goddard never lets the mayhem threaten the solid foundation he has built up over the previous 60 minutes. From Dusk Till Dawn, directed by Robert Rodriguez and written by Quentin Tarantino, is another film that attempted to do the same thing, though with much less successful results. When, roughly halfway through the movie, Dawn takes an abrupt turn into an entirely different film, it negates the engaging story we had been previously watching. The Cabin in the Woods leads the audience down a rabbit hole they never would have suspected was waiting for them, but one that, upon reflection, was inevitably approaching.
As with last year’s The Artist or Hugo, The Cabin in the Woods may only appeal to true lovers of cinema. Mainstream audiences may be unable to comprehend its dense script and specific brand of humor, but those lucky few who “get” the movie are in for a seriously delicious treat. | Matthew Newlin