Cabin in the Woods (2012) – An Innovative Good Time

Cabin in the Woods (2011) - Movie Poster

Overall: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The Cabin in the Woods, directed by Drew Goddard and produced by Joss Whedon, takes the audience on a ridiculous journey. The producers successfully take the audience on  journey. That journey traverses the backbone of an absurd premise. The directors offer the audience a choice. The viewer can accept the absurdity and have a bit of fun, or exit at the next station.

Ready or Not (2019) presented a similar dichotomy and succeeded in convincing the audience to come along for the ride. Horror movies in general are notoriously ineffective at successfully marrying comedy and horror, but Cabin in the Woods manages that effortlessly. Notably, this stars Chris Hemsworth. At the time of its release, Chris Hemsworth just completed his first Marvel film as super serious Thor. Cabin in the Woods allowed Hemsworth to open up his range a bit.

Cabin in the Woods - A Cast of Caricatures
Jules Louden, Marty Miklaski, Holden McCrae, Dana Pol, Curt Vaughan

Cabin in the Woods Cast of Caricatures

The producers of the film intentionally create a tapestry of over the top caricatures carefully crafted from standard American horror movies. At first it seems gratuitous, but over time they bring the audience in on the joke. Fortunately, the Cabin in the Woods cast is strong, and that helps sell the stereotypes. These stereotypes are carefully not only poke a bit of fun at itself, but also to call out the current state horror movies as an art form.

The Girls

Kristen Connolly takes the role of Dana Polk. Dana is simple girl that hasn’t found the right guy yet. Likewise, she retains her virginity. Anna Hutchison plays Jules Louden. It becomes clear early on that Jules gave up her virginity a long time ago and continues to exercise the routine on a regular basis.

The Boys

Chris Hemsworth plays Curt Vaughn, the stereotypical testosterone fueled jock. Chris Hemsworth excels at this role, but unsurprisingly, it is eerily similar to his later portrayals of Thor. Jesse Williams plays the role pf Holden McCrea, the studious book worm. They brought him along in hopes of generating sparks with Dana. Finally, Franz Kranz play the role of resident stoner Marty Mikalaski. He channels the spirit of Shaggy so completely that I half expect him to emerge from the Mystery Machine in a cloud of smoke.

The producers of Cabin in the Woods so clearly assemble a stereotypical bunch of  lambs, while flaunting the fact that they carefully chose each one by design. Much like Scream did years before, Cabin in the Woods set out to make a carefully crafted statement about the current state of the horror movies, for better or worse.

Cabin in the Woods - Gary and Steve Grooving
Cabin in the Woods – Gary and Steve Grooving

All Hail the Secret Society

Cabin in the Woods immediately reveals that a group of underground conspirators controls the cabin. Equipped with NSA level tools and intelligence, this conspiracy maintains eyes, ears and hands on the cabin. Their purpose is not immediately clear, but there is no doubt that this group of friend have been sucked into something bigger than they could have imagined.

The two main characters in the control bunker consist of Gary Sitterson and Steve Hadley. Steve is played by Bradley Whitford who among other projects would later play a critical role as Dean Armitage in 2017’s Get Out. The ever brilliant Richard Jenkins take the role of Gary Sitterson. In every movie he graces, Jenkins creates a center of comedic gravity. Cabin in the Woods benefits greatly from his performance.

Cabin in the Woods - Should we go in the Cellar?
Should we go in the cellar? Yeah, let’s go in the cellar!

Cabin in the Woods – Plot Summary

As the party bus navigates through the mountain pass, they enter a closed system. The bunker manages and manipulates everything on the other side of the pass. The mountain pass offers the only way in or out of that system. When the travelers arrive, they immediately find strange features like a one-way mirror between bedrooms.

As the story unravels, the process actually began before they even left. Agents added chemical agents to Jules’ hair dye. Lookouts perched on the roof of Dana’s roof. Even the old man at the gas station, The Harbinger, participates in the plot. The goal of the agents is to simply get the group into the cellar. There they unwittingly choose an ancient evil that spells their doom.

In the cellar, Dana opens a diary written by Patience Buckner, daughter of the original owner of the cabin. Upon finding a phrase in Latin, Dana reads the passage and inadvertently unlocks an ancient evil. Of all of the survival skills learned from horror movies, NOT reading Latin phrases from a scary book found in the cellar of an abandoned cabin sits at the top of the list. The Buckners, rise from the dead and the terror begins.

A the plot progresses, more and more details slowly leak. The agents are part of a cult that secretly pull the strings on an ancient annual ritual that demands sacrifice.

Sigourney Weaver makes a late appearance as ‘The Director’. Making full sense of the events, The Director explains that they have been chosen for a ritual. The purpose of this ritual is to satiate the Ancient Ones and prevent them from destroying the earth. To complete the ceremony, five archetypes must be sacrificed. These are The Whore, The Athlete, The Scholar and the Fool. The Virgin may live through the event, but if she dies, it must be last.

The is a lot to like about Cabin in the Woods

Created to cater directly to the young adult market, Cabin in the Woods excels at piecing together a very entertaining horror film. It does a superb job stitching together light hearted comedy with over the top gore and violence. Just when the audience thinks they have a grip, Whedon and Goddard smash the accelerator pedal and speed in to madness. Again, the plot is ridiculous, but by diving in head-first so early, the audience buys in.

The Cube
Reminds me of Cube (1997)

The Secret Society is the Key

By introducing the conspiracy in the open frames, the produces dive headlong into the inner working of the bunker. This allows full exposure to some of the more comedic aspects of the film. From the menagerie of mythical horrors to the agents booking bets as to which path to doom the group will choose much of the entertainment comes from the bunker. for example, the great scene with the agents party down to REO Speedwagon as Dana fights for her life in what they think is the final step of the ritual.

Early on in the film, I drew comparison to the 1997 Canadian film, Cube. While not revealed until Cube Zero, that film too had an underground bunker that managed the circumstances of those imprisoned in the cube. At the I had no idea how appropriate that metaphor was. While Dana and Marty try to find way to save themselves, they find themselves in a strange elevator complex. The agents use the elevator to put the appropriate horrors in play. These ‘cubes’ move around much like they did in the movie Cube.

Quirky, Laugh-Out-Loud Moments

Cabin in the Woods is a genuinely funny movie. In a memorable scene, Curt assumes the role of hero. Confidently, he gives a motivational speech to the survivors. He promises to jump his motorcycle over the chasm and get help.

We are talking Chris Hemsworth here, so all of the cocky masculinity you can handle drips from his pores. After the build up and given center stage, he revs the bike, burns out and launched the bike. Comically he face-plants into an invisible force-field and helplessly falls to his doom.

Release the Beasts!
Release the Beasts!

When Marty and Dana are backed into a corner with armed soldiers swiftly approach to finish the botched ritual, Dana reaches for a hail Mary and hits the “System Purge” button. Instantaneously, all of the hidden monsters are released on the soldiers at once. The result is fantastically hilarious. In a running joke, Steve laments never getting to release the Merman. In the end, he lays on the ground helplessly as the Merman approaches, sealing his fate.

All Good Until the Final Moment

For some reason, the final moments failed for me. Up until this point, I bought into the Illuminati conspiracy and the ancient ritual. It all boils to a head as The Director informs Dana that she has to kill Marty to not only save herself but the whole world. As the director take matters into her own hands, she falls victim to one of the ghouls. Together, Dana and Marty decide that humanity is not worth saving, releasing the Ancient Ones upon the earth.

From the directors chair, it’s not an easy film to finish. I fully believe that Whedon and Goddard could have done better than this. Typically I am okay with poor outcomes for the heroes in horror movies, the end of the world is a bridge too far. I prefer my brooding endings to leave space for another day and another fight.

Cabin in the Woods – The Wrap

Cabin in the Woods set out with a clear mission. Greatly, it achieves what it intends to do. It takes tropes from common horror movies that we all know and love and puts them in an entirely new circumstances. This all occurred at a time where horror movies where defaulting to the shock and awe on body horror and torture porn. The approach meets with fantastic results.

Had I seen this film with friends in the theater, I can totally picture us laughing and carrying on our way through the parking lot. Most horror movies these days lack that level of fun. Despite the ending, I recommend the film as a great way to get away from the all to familiar grind of typical modern horror.

Cabin in the Woods (2012) - An Innovative Good Time - Malevolent Dark
cabin in the woods poster e1624546562499

Director: Drew Goddard

Date Created: 2012-01-01 00:00

Editor's Rating:
3.5

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