Directed by Drew Goddard (who has a film out right now which I highly recommend: Bad Times at the El Royale) and co-written by Goddard and Joss Whedon, The Cabin the Woods is a comedy-horror in a similar vein to the Scream films, in that it is a satire of conventional horror tropes and comments on them in a post-modern, self-referential way. It contains many Whedon hallmarks – including his signature style of humour which comes across in the writing, but also some of his regular actors, including Amy Acker and Fran Kranz (both of whom feature in Whedon’s lovely version of Much Ado About Nothing).
Cabin in the Woods was actually filmed three years before it was released, in 2009, which goes some way to explaining why the actors are all ten years older than their characters. It also helped that it was filmed before Chris Hemsworth made Thor, but was released in 2012, just as he was getting super famous, thanks to Thor (2011) and The Avengers (2012). Having seen Hemsworth as Thor does it make it slightly harder to buy him as a college student, however. Same with Jesse Williams, who is best known for playing a doctor on Grey’s Anatomy.
The five main characters are all college student friends and are archetypes, but audience assumptions are subverted throughout the film. Hemsworth is Curt ‘The Jock’, Williams is Holden ‘The Scholar’, Kranz is Marty ‘The Fool’, Anna Hutchison is Jules ‘The Whore’ and Kristen Connolly is Dana ‘The Virgin.’ Even as the characters are introduced, these stereotypes are played around with, picked apart and commented on. Dana, the Final Girl is introduced in her underwear, Curt is clearly a very well-read Jock, Holden has abs, Jules may be a ‘dumb blonde,’ but she’s only just dyed her hair (and this will have consequences) and Marty is clearly the wisest one amongst them. Marty is very much playing the Randy character (from the Scream series) here – he is one step ahead of the game, he can see it being played and he makes many references to ‘the puppeteers.’
Before we are introduced to this group of young people who are going to the titular cabin in the woods for the weekend, we meet Hadley (Bradley Whitford) and Sitterson (Richard Jenkins), in their corporate scenario, bitching about their boring home lives. The mundanity of their lives and jobs is constantly juxtaposed with the task they are actually doing, which is orchestrating the brutal murders of the group of young people. This is the main source of the humour in the film, particularly with Whitford’s deadpan delivery. Their rivalry with Japan is another source of amusement and seeing the ‘evil’ in Japan defeated by a bunch of 9-year-old school girls working together is one of the film’s highlights.
There is much foreshadowing that happens at the start of the film and not just from the creepy gas station harbinger. One of Marty’s first lines is (referring to himself in the third person); “they fear this man. They know he sees farther than they and he will bind them with ancient logics.”
There are two pivotal scenes in the film – the first is when the group go into the cellar of the cabin and find it stuffed full of old artefacts. Each one (apart from Marty – who warns them all against being in there) picks up an object and starts examining it. Each of these objects could summon an unspeakable horror, but Dana starts reading the Buckner diary, which summons the Zombie Redneck Torture Family. This cuts to one of the most famous scenes in the film – Hadley and Sitterson with a whiteboard, taking bets from the office on which hideous creature would be chosen; “I’m never gonna get to see a merman.”
The second pivotal scene is when Dana discovers Marty (who she believed to be dead). Marty has been hiding in what appears to be a grave, but on further inspection, is actually an elevator. This leads to one of the most ambitious and audacious scenes in any film that I’ve seen (horror or otherwise) – the elevator is made of glass and through it, other glass elevators can be viewed. Each one contains an unspeakable horror, some of which emerge slowly from the inky black darkness and others appear suddenly, without warning. It gives me thrills and chills just thinking about it now. This sequence culminates with my favourite line from the film; “good work, zombie arm!”
Once in the underground complex, Dana and Marty make two nihilistic decisions – the first being to release the contents of the elevators into this confined space, creating chaos and flushing out the ‘bad guys.’ The second is right at the very end, when they make the ultimate decision to let the ancient ones rise again; “it’s time to give someone else a chance.”
The Cabin the Woods is one of the funniest comedies of the last decade, plus has some genuinely scary moments. It manages to pull off a high concept and successfully juxtaposes two contrasting worlds until they collide in an explosion of blood and zombie vomit at the end. The inventiveness of the creatures and the way they’re revealed to the audience is one of the most original sequences in movies. It features a fantastic cast, a witty and clever script and is very well structured. The Cabin in the Woods is one of THE best horror movies and should definitely be included in your October viewing line-up.
Directed by: Drew Goddard
Cast: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford