I can distinctly remember watching The Cabin in the Woods for the very first time in a fairly well attended screening. I was with my girlfriend at the time and it was a near religious experience. I still look back on that as one of the most purely enjoyable times I’ve ever had in a movie theater. Since I reviewed the film in full only about two years ago (that review can be found right here if you’re curious), I’m not going to take that route this time, but rather talk in a more specific manner about why I love it so much. There was a time when I thought I’d be talking about Saw (Joseph luckily was also hoping for that title, so it was an easy one to let go) or Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but The Cabin in the Woods is just so much fun to think about, it turned out to be the only choice I actually wanted to make for this series. This very strange film from the minds of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon literally has to be seen to be believed. It’s not just one of the most visually interesting horror films of all time, it’s perhaps the most clever as well.
I do want to cite my initial review that I mentioned above, just to give a sample of how enraptured I was by the film. I began my review by saying this: “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.” That was in April of 2014, so obviously it didn’t maintain number one status, but it did make my Top Ten list that year. One thing I want to stress is that in every single way, it holds up.
If any of you don’t know what The Cabin in the Woods is about, here’s a quick refresher for you. The traditional horror plot of stock character friends heading to a, you guessed it, cabin in the woods for some hedonistic fun is intercut with an underground office populated by pencil pushers. It’s initially not clear what they’re up to, until it emerges that they’re involved in the cabin for some reason. Then, it becomes clearer that they’re engineering all of the horror movie scares that come for the teens. They even take bets on which monster will be unleashed. That’s enough for a whole flick, but about halfway through, things take a turn, before going completely and phenomenally insane in the third act. At that point, the survivors of the cabin wind up in the office, along with just about every creature you can imagine. Movie magic ensues, particularly in that one sequence when the elevator doors open and your literal nightmares come pouring out. Oh, how I squealed with glee.
In a film specifically trotting out archetype characters (though ones played to strong effect by the likes of Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, and Fran Kanz, to name a few of the teens), it’s the unexpected office drone characters played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford that really stay with you. There’s also that (mild spoiler alter…but serious, it’s not a new release) end of the movie cameo by Sigourney Weaver, but Jenkins and Whitford represent the best characters on display. Aside from that elevator door scene, the most memorable moments surround their banter, particularly Jenkins taking bets in front of that white board, as well as Whitford bemoaning the fact that he never gets to see a Mer-Man. It’s just pure joy, concentrated into movie form.
Much of the credit for this being the masterpiece of meta horror that it is has to go to the duo of Goddard and Whedon. With the two co-writing and Goddard directing, they openly mock the conventions of the genre. Usually, when a character in a fright flick says that the group should split up, you laugh out loud in a mocking fashion. Here, you laugh out loud in appreciation of how the two got the character to utter those asinine words. There’s twist upon twist on display, but it’s never done for the sake of doing so. The other thing to really appreciate is how packed with little bits of pleasure the film is. Off to the sides and on TV screens you see quick glimpses of other ridiculous events going on, all of which are utter amusing and worthy of their own story. They chose the right one to tell though, believe me.
Subsequent viewings of The Cabin in the Woods only further enhances its charms, mainly due to all of the above cited qualities. It’s not the kind of thing where knowing what happens ruins the experience. In fact, you can actively anticipate the next reason to smile. Some horror titles can bank on further viewings increasing their love from audiences, but it’s far from the norm. This is one that only gets better with age though, much like a fine wine.
In a perfect world, the Academy would have recognized the brilliance of the script and rewarded the film with a Best Original Screenplay nomination. That was always a long shot, but I sincerely believe that as the years progress, that omission will be seen more and more as a snub by Oscar voters for a truly worthy work. They almost never go for genre, as we all know, but this defied easy convention in such a way that it deserved the consideration that it didn’t receive, plain and simple.
With Halloween only days away, I can’t recommend revisiting The Cabin in the Woods enough. It’s the funniest horror film I’ve ever seen, while also being the smartest as well. You rarely hear that in relation to the genre, so don’t pass up a chance to pop this one in…you’ll be glad that you did.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!