The Cabin in the Woods (****)

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You really shouldn’t be reading my review of ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ right now. Honestly, you shouldn’t be reading any reviews of ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, you should just be making the time to see this masterpiece of a film. In fact, go now and see the movie…I’ll wait (and when you get back you’ll understand). For those still here, be warned that it’s almost impossible to review this movie and express just how magnificent it is without spoiling key parts of the flick. I’ll do my best, but be warned that it’s going to come down to taking my advice. What Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon have achieved here is nothing short of a cinematic miracle. Just as meta as ‘Scream’ but far more intelligent, this is a hybrid horror-comedy that can literally make you shriek, laugh, and frankly utter “what the fuck?” within the same scene (even at the same time during a few choice moments). I’m still in shock over how amazing this film is. Not only is it going to be a cult classic (hell, I’m willing to call it a modern classic right now), it’s easily the best thing I’ve seen in 2012 so far. It’s early, but I’d bet heavily that you’ll be seeing this on my year end Top Ten list, and not at the very bottom of it either.

Any true description of the plot does a real disservice to the movie itself. Yes, there’s a cabin that a group of friends (each fitting a traditional horror stereotype) go to in the woods in order to have a party filled weekend, and yes, a number of events go down that you won’t see coming, but you’re best left discovering them for yourself and how they fit into a couple of office drones (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) who have a keen interest in the happenings. In a way, I’ve already said too much. The joy here is in seeing how incredibly well so many of these surprises come together. Things progressively get more and more out there and ridiculous, but Goddard and Whedon never go over the edge and become a mockery of themselves. Right from the start you can see that the events in the movie are both paying homage to, and deconstructing all of the expectations of the genre, even down to why certain types of characters always show up. It’s really nifty, I assure you, and for those who think this is merely a story of people in the woods getting hacked up by something evil…trust me, you’re not even close.

The cast all show an ability to have fun with what would, in other films, be pretty generic characters. We have the “good girl” Dana (Kristen Connolly, the sex kitten Jules (Anna Hutchison), the jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth), the nice guy Holden (Jesse Williams), and the stoner Marty (Fran Kanz). Each show a great deal of aptitude for playing up their “type”, while also subtly subverting that in all sorts of interesting ways. Credit must go to the amazing script, but also to their performances as well. Kanz especially is good, even when he’s just being the comic relief at times. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are the acting highlights, even if the less you know right now about their characters the better. Both are very dry, but also very funny. This isn’t new types of roles for them (Whitford is more or less doing what he did for Aaron Sorkin on ‘The West Wing’ and also ‘Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’), but they absolutely nail it. There’s a real nice surprise appearance by an actor as well, but you’ll have to see the movie to find out about that.

Drew Goddard is making his directorial debut here, and he knocks this one right out of the park. Primarily known for his previous screenwriting contributions on the small screen and also for penning ‘Cloverfield’, here he not just co-writes the work, he directs it in the best way possible. He evokes lots of classic horror titles, but always makes things his own. I’m willing to say that this is one of the best directorial debuts that I’ve seen in some time, he’s so effective as a director here (you’ll be especially grateful to him during a few select scenes during the third act). As good as his direction is, the script he co-wrote with cult icon Joss Whedon is even better. The ideas they come up with and the way they manage to put them in the film are nothing short of stunning, especially during the last 20 minutes or so…wow. They managed to leave me giddy with excitement over what they pulled off, and that’s a rare occurrence these days.

As some of you may know, the movie was completed a few years ago and has been sitting on a shelf. Quality wasn’t the question here, money was. MGM went into the toilet and there wasn’t a budget in place to release the flick. That makes it an interesting time capsule of sorts (plus it’s just kinda cool to see Chris Hemsworth in a pre-‘Thor’ role, but with post ‘Thor’ fame). Years of anticipation in certain circles of the film world can weigh down a movie when it opens, but this one doesn’t run into that problem. In fact, it positively soars in spite of all that.

In a perfect world, ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ would be a lock for a Best Original Screenplay nomination and would be a dark horse early contender for a Best Picture nod, but I know that won’t happen. That doesn’t take away from the film’s quality, but it’s a reminder of the reality of this business. Frankly, after MGM went bankrupt, it seemed like the movie would never even see the light of day (as mentioned above). Film lovers the world over can take solace in that, knowing that the film is in wide release now (in glorious 2D after an ill fated decision to convert the flick into 3D about a year ago…they backed off of that, and the work is better for it). I don’t know how anyone could not love ‘The Cabin in the Woods’. It’s just about a perfect piece of cinema. It’s not always high art, but it’s definitely a brilliant work of art, and the best of the year so far.

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