Most horror movies follow such a set formula that you can almost count off the story beats with your fingers. Get a bunch of stereotype young ‘uns together. Set up the threat. Things go wrong, and then slash, stab, and slice up your cast with gleeful abandon. Cabin In The Woods does that, sure. But in doing so it takes apart the pieces of a horror movie so it can examine the blood-soaked parts with abandon. And stitch in some throbbing hunks of comedy whilst it’s at it.
It is shortly into the movie that it becomes obvious that all is not as you would expect. First, we are introduced to our gaggle of youth that includes Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchinson, Jessie Williams, and Fran Kranz. They are gathering their things for a road trip to the eponymous Cabin In The Woods.
Dialogue cues give away that something is up, with the cast observing that their personalities seem to be becoming warped into odd tropes. Their intelligence seems to be being dialed down, and the hormones dialed up…
Intercut with all this are some nondescript science types (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Amy Acker) who, spying on the teens, chat over coffee about oncoming monsters and creatures. Although this movie has been out for a while now I still don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it. Because Cabin In The Woods is best enjoyed not knowing how events are going to unfurl.
What I can say is that the movie is a smart dissection of horror tropes. It uses a meta-set up so that the science team are essentially proxies for you – the audience. A lot of the fun comes from knowing that things are not as they would normally be and trying, therefore, to sneak a peek at the reveals just over the horizon.
From a horror aspect, Cabin In The Woods is definitely your ‘Evil Dead’ style. A murderous group of nasties starts mangling our malfunctioning mates. The gore is not ‘torture porn’ horrible (aka Saw, The Hostel, etc) but more 80s video nasty. Which suits the self-referential tone just fine.
Comedy-wise, the hand of Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) is strongly felt. The dialogue snaps with witty back and forth and you find yourself warming to the mysterious scientists. Despite their casual observation of the screaming cast dying on their screens.
The most enjoyment from Cabin In The Woods definitely comes from going in blind with the first viewing. However, there is plenty of re-watch value due to the quality of the writing. It’s a shame that some of the performances get somewhat drowned out due to the movie’s glee at its own clever concept. Chris Hemsworth doesn’t get a lot to do and Anna Hutchinson serves a very specific purpose.
But there is no denying that this is a movie that knows why you like horror. And it takes great satisfaction twisting it all up in front of you.
Words by Michael Record