Ed. note– Mike Cucinotta and I followed our breakfast buffet today with a showing of CABIN IN THE WOODS. Dimming our experience, both literally and figuratively, was the theatre’s projectionist. As Mike explained to me, he hadn’t changed the 3D lens on the camera, so we lost about 50% of the film’s lighting, leaving us a dark, muddy viewing. I hope you have better luck with your theatre.– P.F.
Worth a sixer? Hell, this flick is worth full price. See it.
One wouldn’t expect a flick named THE CABIN IN THE WOODS to open with two business class guys shooting the breeze in a lab’s break room. This is, however, the perfect opening for a flick that challenges every expectation one would ever have for a horror flick. As they head to work through the facility, greeting a woman in a lab coat who tells them that something has gone terribly wrong in the Stockholm facility, I could not wait to find out just what had gone wrong. What I would discover was that THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is an awesome commentary on the entire horror genre, that subverts everything from FRIDAY THE 13TH and THE EVIL DEAD to lesser known titles such as APRIL FOOL’S DAY, and squarely takes on no less than H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. That it creates a patchwork from so many influences, so flawlessly, and turns them all on ear with such devastating perfection absolutely floors me.
Take the second scene. It introduces us to five college kids heading to the title cabin. There’s Kurt the jock; his easy on the eyes girlfriend Jules; prudish bookworm Dana; intellectual, good looking wide receiver Holden; and stoner wiseguy Marty. All right out of the 80s slasher end of the Generic Stereotype Generator, right? Not even close. Turns out Kurt is actually smart, and not the typical dick jock you remember from high school. Dana… well, she might not be quite a virgin. And though Marty is a stoner, he’s wise beyond most people, with a keen insight to the happenings around him.
The five head off to the cabin and what would look to be a straight path to the 1980s. So how do the two guys in the lab tie into things? I’m not spoiling things by telling they’re manipulating the situation, and are responsible for the horrors to come. But even that’s not as simple as it seems; as there are layers to this story that go far beyond its appearance. Every time it looks as if the last bloom is off the rose, there’s a more profound level of surprise (notice how the geography of the film parallels this: the cabin, its basement, below its basement…).
Writer Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard are smart enough to deliver the gruesome goods in the foreground, as the more analytical puzzles play out behind. As redneck zombies rise from their earthy graves, body parts fly under the brutal force of a rusty saw, blades of all sorts, and a wicked turn on a bear trap. This is a horror movie, where kids are meant to get drunk and stoned, have sex, and die horribly. The flesh is vulnerable, ripping and tearing easily.
Whedon and Goddard also infuse a lot of humor, which takes the edge off things, sometimes as that edge is right in your face. Take the archetypal “you’re all gonna die” zealot made famous by Crazy Ralph in FRIDAY THE 13TH. On the phone with the lab guys, he goes on a whacky religious diatribe until he realizes he’s on speaker phone. He stops midsentence to complain in common language, and then thinking he’s off speaker launches right back into his crazy speech. There’s plenty of this sort of humor, but the film never gets jokey, as many modern horror flicks do to their detriment.
Of course, this is a modern horror film, but had this merely been the story of the five kids and removed the layers, I still would’ve been satisfied. They’re a nice ensemble that adds depth to the characters, an accomplishment most 80s slashers wholly lacked. Chris Hemsworth is likable as the hunky jock, and he does even better when not saddled with the epic language of Thor. Kristen Connolly as Dana stands out as the one most likely to survive—because hey, almost every 80s slasher has the final girl, and of the two she’s the good one—but she’s much more believable than all those dull, one note actresses filling the roles in the Reagan era.
But the revelation here is Fran Kanz as Marty. He’s the greatest stoner in the history of film, a funny, profound, utterly brilliant visonary, and Kanz plays him to sweet perfection. The character steals the film.
Also noteworthy is Brian White as Truman, the lab’s head of security. Last week I watched him in the Will Keenan flick POLITICS OF LOVE, and I loved him in it. He’s solid here in a minor role, and he has a real future in movies. There’s also a noteworthy actor who appears in the final moments as the lab’s Director… but Death Ensemble pledges to be 120% spoiler free, so you’ll have to see for yourself.
And see THE CABIN IN THE WOODS you should. It’s gotten a lot of hype the last several months, and it’s one of those rare films that deserves every good word of mouth it gets. It’s visceral fun on one level, and an intelligent puzzle box on so many others. And it’s got a killer last 20 minutes, once the horrors of the world get out of the box…
Two of my favorite directors are George Romero and Joe Dante, men known for their subversive film catalogue. With THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard join that rarified air with possibly the most subversive horror film since DAWN OF THE DEAD. If you call yourself a horror fan, you need to see this one while it’s still in theatres.