"All this was like a personal checkbox, ticking off reason after reason why I don’t like the genre."
"We don't know much about these characters or care about them."
"I do love some self-aware movies"
The Cabin in the Woods is a pretty tough movie to talk about to anyone who hasn't seen it, as it’s definitely a movie you want to go into knowing as little as possible. The initial setup of the movie is a spoiler if you ask me. That said, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon manage to create a schlocky horror movie that keeps us engaged with a clever premise and a surprising payoff while adding no needless fluff to the events which transpire.
Right from the outset, this movie could have gone two distinct directions. Rather than hiding the big reveal for act 3, Goddard and Whedon actually start us in a sterile quasi-government facility, offering no explanation of what we are about to see or how this organization will affect the titular cabin. Actually having the control organization a part of the movie from the word go was a fantastic choice in my opinion. The actual story of the five campers was a boring retread by design. Goddard and Whedon clearly wanted the campers’ story to feel like the bad horror movies we remember from the 80’s, right down to the cheesy, over-the-top acting.
This decision puts the viewer in a decidedly different mindset. Think about what this movie would have been like without knowing about the controllers until an hour in. Would you have even bothered? Odds are you would have gotten extremely bored by “another crappy horror movie.” However, the ever present controllers force you to almost ignore the hacky store of the campers, instead forcing you to spend the bulk of the movie trying to figure out just what the hell was going on. This really makes the movie dance the line of several genres. I know it’s classified as a horror, but calling it a suspense thriller is almost as appropriate.
Fortunately, we don’t have to wait long to get to the big reveal that was skillfully teased throughout. Would it have been crazy and entertaining to see everything about the controllers revealed in just the last act? Probably. But would you have stuck with Thor & Co for an hour? Probably not. There would have been too much to explain at the end, and the method Goddard and Whedon used of explaining what was happening as we went made for a far more enjoyable experience. Cabin also did a great job of explainingjust enough while maintaining a torrid pace to its conclusion. Do we ever learn why this organization has an obscene amount of hellish creatures? Sure don’t. Do we ever learn what these “ancient” creatures are? Barely. Shit, I can’t even call the controllers by name because we never even learn the organization’s name. While the level of explanation was great, it did take away from the large reveal at the end. The very end was probably the weakest part of the movie as a result.
What The Cabin in the Woods ends up giving us is a “plausible” explanation for why bad things happen to good people in all the horror movies we’ve seen in the past, right down to the “horror” which befalls them and the abysmal decision-making that comes with being pursued by any sort of horrors. Initially, the conclusion annoyed me as we didn't learn enough about Dana & Marty to know what they would do in this extreme situation, but keeping it in the frame of mind that we were dealing with a stoner and a girl who had been huffing whatever drugs were getting pumped into that forest, it was at least believable in this movie’s universe.
Final note: There were some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments in this movie. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford practically steal the movie. The phone conversation with Mordecai and Whitford’s end were some of the funniest moments in any movie in recent memory.
+ Great setup and premise
+ Wasted no time
+ Way funnier than it had any right to be
+ “Totally plausible” way to explain why every horror movie ever would happen
- Ending ends up suffering
Final Grade: A-