13 April 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

Fran Kranz is shown in a scene from "The Cabin in the Woods."
If you are a fan of horror movies, or have even a passing interest in the genre, you must see "The Cabin in the Woods."

We're not debating this.

I don't even care if you read to the end of this review first.

Pull up the Fandango app on your phone, figure out when (sooner is better) and where you want to see it--make it happen.

Then we'll talk.


Still here?

OK, I'll give you a little more.

I won't be so bold as to declare "The Cabin in the Woods" the Best Horror Movie Ever Made, but it is sort of the ultimate expression of the genre. "Genius" is a word I'm toying with.

Creative masterminds Joss Whedon (producer/co-writer) and Drew Goddard (director/co-writer), who previously worked together on Whedon's TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," long have used genre conventions and expectations as their personal playgrounds. The brilliant concept they put to work here essentially sums up and explains the entire history of horror movies.

They start with a well-worn premise: A group of young adults--college students--leaves the city behind to spend a weekend partying at an old cabin in the middle of nowhere.

The characters are the types we know so well: the virtuous protagonist, Dana (Kristen Connolly); her more sexually liberated friend, Jules (Anna Hutchison), and her football-star boyfriend, Curt (Chris Hemsworth, aka "Thor"); the sensitive brainiac, Holden (Jesse Williams); and the stoner, Marty (Fran Kranz).

It all seems very "Evil Dead"-ish, right? Especially after they scare up some evil spirits, a family of zombies in this case.

If this were all the movie was, it would be a success. Whedon and Goddard's clever script lifts the characters above their initial stereotypes and the actors take them home.

Kranz, who performed a sort of sneak attack on Whedon's TV series "Dollhouse," starting as weird and annoying, and in a span of only two seasons, becoming the most sympathetic character on the show, pulls off a similar stunt here. His Marty is good for laughs early, then plays a more pivotal role when he is the first to discover something is amiss.

Hemsworth, meanwhile, shows he can bring a real presence and charisma to the screen even when he's not portraying a hammer-wielding god.

Smart and funny, the movie would work as a straightforward slasher. But "The Cabin in the Woods" is much, much more.

From left, Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker and Bradley Whitford are shown in a scene from "The Cabin in the Woods."
A team of men in white shirts and black ties (including two very droll characters played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford), and a few women, is in a high-tech facility, watching and manipulating the group's every move, providing reasons for Curt and Jules to have sex outside in the woods in the middle of the night, and for Curt to suggest the group split up as they barricade the cabin against the attacking zombies.

(I don't think it's a coincidence a new security guard (Brian White) at the facility is named Truman.)

Heading into it, you think the movie is one thing. Then it becomes something else. And then it becomes even more in a final act that plays out like the fevered dream of the world's biggest horror fan.

You could call it a twist, though it's one Goddard and Whedon roll out over the course of the film rather than in a single, shocking moment.

"The Cabin in the Woods" is not only a vastly entertaining film in its own right, it elevates virtually its entire genre.

Thinking about the future of horror movies, I keep coming back to two words: Now what?

Greg’s Grade: A

(Rated R for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language, drug use and some sexuality/nudity. 95 minutes.)


Marlon Wallace said...

Early contender for Best Screenplay of 2012???

Tam Hunt said...

This review seems to miss the metaphor in the movie: we are feeding a deep and ancient need for blood through the horror genre. And the also criticize American culture as being unable to rise above. It's certainly not a message picture primarily but the self-referential and self-critical aspects of the film are clear enough that they deserve mention.