“That was the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Don’t release it.” ~ Lady leaving “Cabin in the Woods”
“That was the … BEST … MOVIE … EVER” ~ Man who looked suspiciously like Comic Book Guy on “The Simpsons” leaving “Cabin in the Woods”
Horror films are difficult to review. Some fine gentlemen might think “Signs” contains terrifying imagery, while others believe it’s a corny start to the great plunge of M. Night Shama… who even cares if I spell his last name wrong anymore? Others consider “Paranormal Activity” to be a brilliant ride into the psyche, making you question what horrors unfold while you sleep, while some consider it a boring mix of great anticipation and no payoff.
That being said, “Cabin in the Woods” is an innovative take on the traditional “bunch of college kids go into the woods for sex, beer, and OH MY GOD A ZOMBIE JUST ATE MY FRIEND!” genre. It is occasionally smart, often funny, and generally a good time, but it is very rarely scary. In a packed crowd, there were only two moments when people jumped out of their seats, and one was the very loud noise accompanying the title credit. The other involves “part of a plot twist.”
As stated by Roger Ebert, “You’re not going to see this one coming.” That is an absolutely true statement when you’re in the lobby outside of the movie (or, nowadays, waiting for it to download — you know who you are). However, if you give it a little thought, consider the film’s two settings, and pay attention from the very beginning, you could piece it together quickly.
The film starts off with our college heroes (a likeable five-some, including Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth) preparing for their sexcapade into the woods while two scientists (yes, that’s Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, who never won an Emmy for his excellent work on “The West Wing”) in their lab for what seems to be an industry-defining experiment. Most of the film’s laughs come from the scientific setting, with the exception of a brilliant invention by the film’s genre-required pothead who is surprisingly endearing throughout the film. A funny phone conversation between the scientists and a stereotypical, backwoods hick straight out of every “The Hills Have Eyes” film of the past fifty years makes it clear early on that the two casts of characters are very closely related and that something is going on. I’ll leave it at that, as every early review calls what comes next an exhilarating surprise.
“Cabin in the Woods” is not scary and it is not that surprising, but it’s a refreshing new direction for horror films and should earn the audience’s respect for trying and often succeeding. It is almost gory enough to satiate the bloodlust of the “Saw” crowd, almost funny enough to entertain “Shaun of the Dead”/”Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” fans, and nerdy enough to win over the Joss Whedon fans who would probably see a two-hour film of paint drying if it said “written by Joss Whedon.” It also has a scene that, in a PG-13 manner, blends necrophilia and bestiality if that’s your thing.
However, there is a pervading feeling that it could have done more. This is especially evident when the film briefly focuses on a side plot straight out of a terrifying Japanese horror film. Although it amounts to only two short scenes, the viewer might wish they were watching more of that film.
This is also the rare horror film when they start killing off the kids too quickly, as if the writers want them to all die so they can move on with the story. The speedy slaughter makes sense from the lab setting side of the plot, but much more could have been done with the zombies which serve their murderous purpose and then fall into the background.
When the film does start to wrap up, though, there is a scene that will be talked about for years on horror blogs that cannot be described without ruining the twists. It is a very bloody, very entertaining fanboy-type moment that would make any SyFy movie director step back in awe. And for those entertaining moments and Joss Whedon’s creative take on the horror genre, it doesn’t need to be scary or surprising to be a fun film worthy of your Netflix queue.