Friday, April 13, 2012

Spoiler Free: The Cabin In the Woods

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

There's a lot of buzz surrounding The Cabin In the Woods, most centered on a "ZOMG DON'T SPOIL IT!!!" plea from publicists and fans. As such, I avoided as much as I could before seeing it, even fearing that the above trailer was giving away more than I might want to know.

Turns out, I was wrong about that trailer, (watch it without fear of major spoilage), and, in fact, I think The Cabin In the Woods would probably be completely enjoyable even if you go into it knowing everything it has up its sleeve, (a theory I hope to test when I see it for a second time). As it is, I was always a few steps ahead of the movie, but it still manages to throw in a few surprises, and even when predictable, it is never anything but completely entertaining.

That said, I'll do my best to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but if you don't trust me, or really want to know NOTHING about the movie, stop reading now...

OK, first off, the whole movie is a dream, and Rosebud is Luke's father.

What? I told you to stop reading! Jeeze!

As the title suggests, this is another horror movie about a bunch of dumb kids who take a trip to a spooky cabin in the woods. At least, that's how it looks on the surface. But as is revealed within the first five minutes, (in a scene that includes the best title smash cut in a movie ever), there are bigger things at play here, and powers higher than some random zombies in the woods.

The college students fit your archetypal horror movie characters: There's the jock (played by Chris "Thor" Hemsworth); the brainy guy ("Grey's Anatomy"'s Jesse Williams); the stoner (Fran Kranz from "Dollhouse"); the party girl, (Anne Hutchison); and the virgin, (Kristen Connolly).

Along the way, they meet a requisite Creepy Guy, and if the cabin in the woods looks suspiciously like that cabin in the Evil Dead's woods, that's no accident. This is all supposed to look and feel very familiar. The fun comes in seeing how these cliches are turned on their heads, and how character does not always determine fate.

Ah, but is it fate? Revealed alongside these victims are two men, (played Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford), who seem to have a lot of control over these kids' lives. Like I said, these characters are introduced within the first few minutes of the movie, so I'm not giving anything away there. That this Cabin in the Woods is not your run of the mill horror movie cabin isn't the surprise. It's the who, why, and how of it all, which is slowly revealed over the course of the film, that is the real surprise.

The movie was written by Drew Goddard, (who also wrote Cloverfield) and Joss Whedon, and directed by Goddard. And of all the things Whedon has done post-TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," I think this comes the closest to matching that show's perfect blend of creeps, comedy, and character. This is a world in which Buffy Summers would feel right at home.

Whedon and Goddard have made a movie that is, essentially, about making and watching horror movies, and I think some might criticize it as being too clever for its own good. And as far as horror movies go, it's not terribly scary, (although it is pretty gory, and definitely deserves its R).

The Cabin's biggest success is in its humor, which always manages to stay firmly planted within the realms of horror movie genre. (There are so many terrifically horrible sight gags to be found, and to discuss them would spoil the fun, so let me just say one thing: mermen.) Ultimately, in its own meta way, it does resemble that other horror comedy, Scream.

But where Scream was commenting on one type of horror film, The Cabin In the Woods is about all horror films, humanity's ultimate need for cathartic violence, and--

Oh, but I've said too much already...

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