The Cabin In The Woods (2011)

APRIL 13, 2012


Usually when a film sits on a shelf for a year or more it's because it's a piece of shit that they don't know what to do with. But The Cabin In The Woods' delay had nothing to do with the film's quality - the studio just didn't have any money to release it. Originally produced at MGM, the film was rescued by Lionsgate and finally hits theaters three years after it was shot, and as a bonus, it does not feature the post-converted 3D that was originally planned (and the cause of one delay). Long story short - this delay has actually been a benefit.

As they did on Buffy, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have delivered something truly special here; a comic-horror blend that plays with the conventions of a genre that both writers truly love. Unlike Scream, not a single movie is directly mentioned in Cabin, however it similarly makes its audience laugh by letting us know that they've seen all of those other horror movies too, and that this one isn't going to be like those. It's a tough balancing act; you don't want to get too jokey or else there won't be any real suspense - a problem that is exponentially more precarious when you consider you're dealing with Whedon here. His most famous works were lauded partly due to his refusal to play safe, often killing characters in a shocking/brutal manner without any foreshadowing. He pulls off the same sort of shenanigans here; you're never sure who's safe or who will be first to die, and that gives the film the rare ability to be suspenseful and funny in equal doses.

The plot, for the most part, is nothing really new. Our heroes are pals despite being very different in demeanor (a jock, a stoner, a bookworm...), and they're heading off to a family member's remote cabin. They stop at a creepy gas station, they discover their technological devices are of no use, they find creepy things in the basement... it's the same movie you've seen a million times, in other words. But the approach is wholly unique, giving the film not only a strong identity of its own while also making you re-think how you look at movies such as Evil Dead or Friday the 13th (hey, that's today!).

It also helps that the kids are likable and charming, particularly Chris Hemsworth as the jock and Kristen Connolly as the heroine. Their characters might be going through the usual motions, but I'm so used to hating at least half of the people in these movies that it didn't bother me in the slightest. Hell even when the third act inevitably resulted in (once again) our heroes succeeding where so many others have failed (we're told early on that the cabin has had many owners/visitors that have vanished). Sure, I would have liked a more interesting reason for THIS group having better luck against their tormentors, but I certainly wouldn't complain about it - it'd be akin to bemoaning the lack of a toy prize in your favorite box of cereal.

I also loved the shit out of the Buckner family, the film's primary villains. Sort of like the zombie version of the Sawyer clan from any Chainsaw film, they're imposing and scary, with enough variety to keep their frequent attacks from getting repetitive. The main dude has a great weapon, too: a variation on a cat o' nine tails which looks to be a bear trap attached to a chain. So he whips it around and when it catches something he can pull/drag it away in a most painful manner, an act that never gets less than cringe-worthy. Some might feel they enter the story a bit too late, but I liked how the film was structured - it didn't spring a giant glob of information on us at the halfway point as I had expected. Instead it tells you a bit of what's going on at the cabin from the first scene, and reveals things at a steady clip throughout, which allows for a pretty action-packed (and shockingly bloody) third act that only lets up to provide the final piece of the puzzle.

AND IT'S SCOPE!!! As an OCD movie nerd, I get so sad when big movies use the more common 1.85:1 ratio (like Avengers! Why, Joss?), and it's even more common in horror, particularly many of the films that this one is aping: Wrong Turn, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Evil Dead (which is actually 1.33:1), etc. Hell they even use the frame correctly for a scare; the stoner character goes out to pee and is standing in the center of the frame, but if you look to the right you'll see an out of focus Bruckner clan member start making his/her way toward him. This bit won't work on TV when cropped (if anyone crops down to 4:3 anymore, that is), something that I appreciate a filmmaker not giving a shit about in this day of "I'd rather watch it at home" viewing. Kudos to Goddard (and ace DP Peter Deming, who also shot Evil Dead 2, bringing this full circle) for giving this material the big theatrical look it deserves. He also offers the best freeze-frame/title reveal in years, so another round of applause on that one.

Hell, why be so specific? This may be the best horror film in years, too. As I look over my last couple of top ten lists, I see movies at the top that I love but aren't as excited to revisit. Obviously this review has left out some crucial information (even stuff the trailer gives away - hence why I did not embed it below), but I wanted to give you guys a chance to go in the same as I did - knowing almost nothing about the plot (without spoiling anything, let's just say I didn't know how some of the film's more familiar stars fit into the plot beforehand), plus attract those few who may be reading this site and somehow haven't even heard of the movie yet. I think I'll do another piece on it for my weekly Badass Digest column (next Tuesday) that gets more into that stuff. Until then, just be satisfied knowing that even after dozens of these movies, not to mention watching a horror movie every day for 5+ years, that there is still room not only to deliver something fresh and original, but to floor my jaded ass as well. Nothing but respect for every person involved in its production.

What say you?


  1. I gave into temptation and read spoilers for this one.

    The end sounded so lame, it really did put me right off - you've made me want to see it after all!

  2. Saw it tonight. Not perfect by any means but perhaps even more brilliant because of its imperfections. Definitely the most satisfying and FUN horror film I've seen since "Drag Me To Hell."

  3. It's a simultaneous middle finger and salute to the horror genre. Most fun I've had at the multiplex all year.

  4. I WANNA SEE IT NAO! When is it gonna be released in the Philippines?!

  5. It was so fantastic! Since your a l4d fan did you notice the Boomer in the giant cube reveal section?


    Let me begin by saying that I enjoyed the movie and would recommend people see it in the theater. It is a witty, unique, extremely fun film, and more so for fans of the horror genre.

    That said, however, the film suffers from to flaws (for the same reason in my opinion) that I wondered what other people's thoughts might be on them. The issue revolves around what ultimately become the stakes of the film: THE FATE OF THE WORLD. When the stakes are this high there is a more strict standard by which the actions of the characters end up being judged.

    For this reason I'm in the camp of people dissatisfied which the ending. It's hard to plausibly understand how anyone could let the entire planet be destroyed instead of themselves dying, which is going to happen either way. I understand the argument that the two survivors of the cabin are actually the "bad guys" of the film, and letting the world die is the typical, downer horror movie ending. I'm just not sure this holds up. We've spent too long with the characters to buy the lame "you killed my friends" motivation in destroying the planet. I think this is a fault of both the script and the performances.

    Second, again if the stakes at this point are the end of the world, and you have the two people you need trapped in a glass box, the solution is to send ONE security guy? We see later that they have entire highly trained teams, so why send one guy? In addition, you need him to die first, so why not just shoot her in the leg, and then shoot him in the head and be done with it? When the stakes are the end of the world, I don't think this is over thinking it. The choice was done, in my opinion, to let the zombie arm bit pay off, and it ultimately weakened the film for me.

    As I said, it's a lot of fun, but the flaws I perceived were jarring for me.

    Oh, and who's the "whore" in a class of nine year old Japanese girls?

  7. Hahaha on the last part. Just not as funny as their way of solving the problem :)

    As for the one guy being sent, I don't know... it didn't dawn on me but you're the second to point that out. I know he can't just shoot him because they have to put the blood in that room (if I'm understanding correctly) so maybe he was just supposed to escort them somewhere. Or perhaps it was just against the "rules" of the Old Gods entirely.

    As for the ending - the stoner guy was the wiseass deconstructionist that wants to poke holes in the reality of the world around him. In other words, guys like him are killing movies with their "I'm smarter than this" attitude, so by doing that he's just following through with what seems to be the thought process of these people, albeit in an exaggerated way.

    1. The one security guard thing didn't seem like he was the only guy sent, more like he was the only one there, like he works out of the little booth that they escape to once the others show up.

  8. One idea is that the whole movie is a commentary on the modern desensitization toward violence as represented by the Office Employees. If that is the case, then it makes sense that at the final moment, the anti-establishment character would opt to clean the slate and start over. No?

    On another note, anyone else curious as to why the film opened with the main character longing over an ex-lover, only to never revisit it again? Also, what about all those close ups of the black guy who was new to the office complex, having moral issues with killing kids, only to have him torn apart without any real resolution?

    It's moments like these that give the impression that mistakes were made and things were reshaped post production. Maybe Cabin sitting on the shelf for so long was more then lack of marketing funds?

  9. It's been years since the last time I had that much fun watching a horror movie in a theater.

    The flick's intro is plain GENIUS, so glad you mentioned the freeze-frame title reveal which made me go absolutely nuts. To me, one of the best moments of the genre in general.

    Didn't mind the little things. The flick is one huge fountain of fun, can't wait to watch it again.

  10. "Oh, and who's the "whore" in a class of nine year old Japanese girls?"

    Well, at one point one of the lab guys says there are different archetypes for different societies. So, Japan would not have the same "Whore, fool, scholar..." archetypes as we.

  11. Many people have pointed the connections between the Scream trilogy and Cabin, and also the line that goes from Scream to Behind the mask. But what about the point that Behind the Mask and Cabin are such similar movies? If you get over what is obvious and redundant (like the use of mockumentary), those two movies are remarkably similar in spoofing horror movies by "explaining" the formula. But lets admit it was Craven who let the cat out of the bag.

    Oh, by the way, the ancient gods symbolize the bloodthirsty audience, but lets treat it as what it is, another joke. Treating some violent movies as "serious commentary" on violence on movies/news/TV shows makes me wanna puke.

  12. this is not an original thought of mine, but something I read in another review, that "the Cabin" and it's characters represent your typical horror movie, The "control room" and those character are the writers , directors and producers, And the "Evil Gods" are the fickle and picky fans. Therefore the message of the movie is that the Evil Gods(Fans) should not always get what they think they want, and should destroy the status quo paint by numbers of horror movies(the World) and look for something new and original instead of the same old fluff

  13. Finally got around to watching and had to read your opinion on it. I loved it, deliriously entertaining. Going again tomorrow to catch all the details I'm sure I missed (especially in the brilliant final act)!

  14. I watched this today. It's a strange yet entertaining film. The twists definitely make it unique. I'd rate it 4/5 star.


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