The Cabin in the Woods (****)


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.

Thoughts? Discuss on the Forum!

  • koook160

    I loved it too. Brilliant horror-comedy.

    • Joey Magidson

      Brilliant indeed.

  • George

    I agree Joey. really fun movie with one of the best intros i’ve seen in years. the last third went a little too off the rails for my taste but it never lost that campy fun

    • Joey Magidson

      The intro and the entire third act are my favorite parts actually, but I can understand the final bits being too much for some.

      • George

        so I saw this again with some other friends and I liked it a whole lot more, especially the ending. watching a second time was pretty awesome and made the movie a lot better! i understood a lot more jokes and the third act seemed a lot more motivated. it’s a whole different movie the second time around!

        • Joey Magidson

          I’ll definitely be seeing it again soon as well…

  • Jessie Makowski

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Although the trailer had me thinking it was going to be a cliche horror movie and left me wondering Why are they making this same movie thats been done again and again…. I COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG. IT WAS AMAZING. Prepare to be surprised, laugh like crazy, and walk out of the movie thinking What just happened in there?? (in the best way possible). Everybody go see it NOW. It will likely make your top 10 this year too!

    • Joey Magidson

      Well said!

      • Jessie Makowski


        • Joey Magidson

          You’re welcome!

  • Steve Glansberg

    I had known about the hype for this movie for some time, so, having successfully avoided spoiling it, I went to the midnight premier. I practically had to drag my friend along, as he hates cabin in the woods type horror movies, but he was almost falling out of his seat laughing in the first five minutes saying “what kind of movie have you brought me to?”

    Everyone do yourselves and the filmmakers a favor and go see this movie. Good review Joey, you successfully purveyed the high quality of the flick without spoiling anything. I wonder how long we’ll have to wait before it’s safe to discus this very complex film without spoiling it for others?

    • Joey Magidson

      Much obliged.

      Hopefully not long, but I’m willing to be patient in order to get more people to experience it the right way…

  • Armond White

    Saw it tonight. It was awesome. But a few thing bothered me SPOILERS AHEAD.
    1. The ending
    2. Some people were like oh snap when Chris Hemsworth’s character got killed.
    I loved the comedic relief/elements by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. Overall I didn’t love it as much as you did but still a solid first directorial outing and i highly recommend it.

    • Joey Magidson

      I can see the ending dividing some, but I still find that to be one of my favorite parts…along with your mention of Jenkins and Whitford, who steal the show.

  • Jessie Makowski

    I agree with the comments mentioning how this review avoids spoilers well but still shows why this is such an amazing movie, but after looking at some of the reviews that spoil the whole thing, I appreciate this review even more!

    • Joey Magidson

      Well, I certainly didn’t want to pull a Rex Reed here…oh boy was he a card this week.

  • Kim

    The trailers did nothing for me, but wow…if it’s this good I’ll have to see it I guess.

    • Joey Magidson

      I literally can’t recommend it enough.

  • Shane Gentry

    Saw this movie today. I cannot express how awesome it is. It’s weird because coming out of it I actually wondered if a movie like this could get an oscar nomination. I chuckled and thought NO WAY!

    But then I started thinking about how it had so exposed the entire film industry so perfectly. Could this kind of film get an oscar nod? Are the voters so jaded that they would deny this incredible film a simple side nod and wink for it’s VICTORY?

    One can only hope.

    • Joey Magidson

      I think we’d both love some Oscar recognition, but I think it’s a long shot at best. HOWEVER…I am toying with predicting a surprise Best Original Screenplay nomination for the flick.

  • JJ

    This review pretty sums up my feelings on the film. It’s literally the most entertaining thing I’ve ever seen. It was genuinely scary and laugh out loud funny in the same breath. The subtlety of the parody (e.g. slowly looking around the room with dramatic music) was so perfect because it never kept you from being invested in the world at hand. Scenes were stretched to such cringe-worthy, hilarious, and completely twisted moments that I was giddy at the effect it was having on me as I watched. And not only was the film a wonderful commentary on the horror genre and the viewers of it, but it has bigger questions on its mind concerning what our obsession with such things really means, and Joss Whedon’s penchant for exploring existential terror has never been so poignant. The movie worked on so many levels that I’m still in complete awe and will definitely return for a second viewing. Oh, and the marijuana propaganda was ace.

    • Joey Magidson

      Glad to hear you enjoyed the film and the review so much!

  • I loved it. It was not what I expected after seeing the trailers but my trust was in Joss Whedon to deliver an awesome cinematic experience.

    • Joey Magidson

      Glad you loved it.