When I first saw a trailer for this movie I remember thinking that it looked creative but was most likely going to be just another cookie cutter horror film. It has same formula as every other, with the twist being that they were drawing attention to that fact by having outside forces controlling and influencing every scene, like where the girl runs up the stairs instead of out the front door. One trailer shows the dad from HBO’s Six Feet Under (Richard Jenkins) slowly pushing a lever forward and a zombie-killer rises from a lake. So I read up on it, Chris Hemsworth (THOR, STAR TREK), Bradley Whitford (Billy Madison, The West Wing), and of course Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under, Step Brothers, Burn After Reading, Let Me In) all made it look promising. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford could have carried the movie on their own with brilliantly timed banter from the opening scene. A handful of newcomers peppered the starring line-up, and in a horror movie this makes me approach it with a “lets get ready for more of the same”. You have to have some new blood up front in a cheesy horror film if your making more of the same; you need someone who’s not too famous to do a nude scene or play stoned out of their mind for comic relief. Sure Brad Pitt and Jamie Lee Curtis are both guilty of this but it doesn’t change the formula, they were both early in their careers when they were flashing the audience and mumbling lines through bong smoke. So I went into this thinking I had it figured out and was a bit apprehensive. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The movie starts off behind-the-scenes as Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are discussing some ominous thing with a lower level worker in their sterile futury warehouse/workplace. They say some fun things and drive off on a golf cart. CABIN IN THE WOODS stamp across the screen. Cut to newcomer Kristen Connolly standing around half dressed in front of her apartment window and it’s what you expect from a horror movie. A classic set up as the rest of the cast piles in, preparing for their weekend in the woods, like that’s not cliche. “No cell phones, no internet…” Fran Kranz says stoned out of his mind while they climb into an RV. We dance back and forth from the “cabin kids” and “the puppet masters” and see two different movies playing out. On one hand you have the traditional horror movie unfolding, complete with people doing stupid things no one in real life would do and gratuitous nudity. Then there is the behind-the-scenes where we see why the cabin kids are acting this way. Sitterson and Hadley push buttons and flip switches to induce pheromones in the kids, add lighting to the woods and raise the temperature to make it feel safe enough to strip in.
This movie was genius on every geeky level. Okay, it’s not going to appeal to the hardcore horror fans. It does have more of a “teen horror”, ala Scream 4, atmosphere. A few sudden bursts had that fight or flight nerve twitching but there wasn’t a scene in it that made me cringe or even consider looking away. Remember where the nail splits during the flashback scenes in Stir of Echoes? How about the part where Jay Hernandez cuts that girls eye off in Hostel, because the dangling ball might draw TOO much attention to them as they tried to escape? Cabin In The Woods was lacking in everything that might make you jump or scream or hide your eyes in terror. It isn’t the atmosphere that made this great.
What made this so great was three things. The writing, Joss Whedon (Buffy, Firfely) and Drew Goddard (LOST, Cloverfield) who have serious claims to geek fame did an outstanding job. The character dialogue felt natural even though there are no natural situations. The concept, which was wholly original. What you think it is going into it, is only half right. It’s odd and left field and, as long as you have no trouble exercising willful suspension of disbelief, very creative and should be appreciated as such. Lastly, the execution. The writing and concept worked because the characters delivered and the director didn’t let anything slip. Drew Goddard took an off beat,off the wall story and lead us through it at an even pace. As the underlying story is slowly revealed the same approach holds. It doesn’t tumble into chaos and by the end you feel like your watching an entirely different film (that happens and sometimes, Shaun of the Dead, it works in other movies). But the steady atmosphere from beginning to end made a crazy story seem that much crazier, because it didn’t try to jar you to life as twisted creatures tear into the stars; Crazy things happen and it is almost as if your not supposed to notice that the world has gone insane around you.
Definitely a solid four and a half. It’s not gonna win the Oscar (I’ll keep my fingers crossed for it) and it won’t win over horror fanatics. But it was real fun and inventive and littered with geek cred (THOR and the creator of BUFFY together at last). I’ll buy it when it comes out on blu-ray and put it between 13 Ghosts and 30 Days of Night on my shelf. Don’t get your hopes up too high and be ready for something different, you’ll have a good time as genius rolls over you. It Also released on Friday the 13th. That’s nice.