As the newest, and perhaps strangest, entry in my Top 10, Cabin in the Woods is easily the most difficult to review and rank. For one, it hasn’t had the years to leave an impression that the rest of these films have, so I can’t quite stack it up to them yet. It’s jumped all around my Top 10 since this list was formed, bottoming out at # 9 and even spending a brief stretch of time in the # 1 spot. I do believe it is just that good, but at the same time I can’t say for sure just yet that it really deserves that spot. For another, this film, more than most, requires discretion from a reviewer’s standpoint, as most of the fun of this movie for first-time viewers comes from not knowing where exactly it’s going. You think you know the story, you think you know where it’s going, but Cabin in the Woods will surprise you at every turn, often in the most insane way possible. As of now it probably ranks in my Top 10 favorite movies of all time. Though only time will tell if it will earn my # 1 spot on my horror list, right now it sits at a much deserved # 3.
Five college kids head out for a weekend of fun and debauchery at an isolated country cabin. They’re familiar archetypes, the jock, his scantily-clad blonde girlfriend, the sweet, quiet girl, the stoner, the smart guy (you can tell because he sometimes wears glasses). Like most kids in these types of movies, they are only interested in sex, drugs and ignoring the warnings of the crazy old guy who runs the gas station nearby. However, things aren’t entirely as they seem. This cabin and the surrounding forest are rigged with thousands of video cameras, monitoring their every move. Drugs waft in from hidden vents, controlling their actions. An unseen energy barrier keeps them from escaping these woods. They are being watched and controlled by unseen puppeteers for a greater, more sinister purpose than any of them could ever imagine.
…and that’s where I have to stop describing this movie, lest I give anything major away.
This film is a genre fan’s dream come true. Creators Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have painstakingly deconstructed the entire horror genre with this film, sprinkling it with hundreds of little references and nods to classic films and tropes, seeking to explain them while at the same time subverting them. They know what we go in expecting, and then they come in to pull the rug out from underneath us in a lot of wonderfully unexpected ways. The fact that they do that with a very clever, infinitely quotable script makes it all the better.
And again, it’s the people who truly bring this film into another realm of awesomeness. Though each of the main five college kids was cast to fill their archetype, each brings something more to the film. A pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth brings charisma and intelligence to spare to the role of Kurt, the supposed meathead jock, proving once again that he is one of the best up and coming talents of the day. Fran Kranz brings most of the laughs and the quotes with stoner character Marty, who seems to be pretty dim but ultimately turns out to be the smartest one in the group. The true stars, for me at least, are character actor greats Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins. Playing two of the “puppeteers” working behind the scenes to manipulate these kids every move, they look like 1960’s NASA engineers, boring, stiff, but ultimately bringing out some of the biggest laughs the movie has to offer.
I’d love to go into more detail, but I really don’t want to ruin any of the surprises this movie has to offer. Cabin in the Woods is one of the rare works of art that manages to succeed at the metafictional narrative. It succeeds at parodying, and even explaining many of the classic horror movie clichés, showing not only why they exist, but why they *must* exist in their universes. It could have easily failed at its lofty goal of providing an explanation for basically every horror movie in existence, but with a top-notch script, a charismatic cast, and some of the best creature effects in recent memory, it succeeds in almost every way imaginable. It may very well be the ultimate horror movie.
See this movie. See it as soon as possible. It will make you believe in unicorns.
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-- Matt Carter
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