Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – five college students take a vacation at a creepy, deserted cabin in the woods. They intend to party and hook up in the midst of all the scenic natural beauty, but they’re interrupted by… something horrific.
Of course you’ve heard it, it’s like the basic plot of one out of every six horror movie ever made. But “Cabin in the Woods” is decidedly different. Right from the opening it informs the audience that everything is not as it seems, and then proceeds to unfold a witty, self-aware, genre-exceeding, half-parody that’s entertaining and enjoyable to watch, especially for fans of the horror genre.
The titular cabin in the woods is actually a highly monitored, controlled environment, overseen by an entire team of scientists in a bunker far below. They science team is not only watching and listening in, but is capable of manipulating events through a variety of physical controls and chemical stimuli. Now, I realize that that sounds like a spoilerific thing to say, but it’s actually not. For anyone who had seen the trailer, it was revealed there that there was some element of virtual reality/science fiction going on, and then the movie itself opens with the project administrators.
The science fiction element is interwoven throughout the film, it’s not held out as some sort of “twist” or “reveal”.
When the students arrive at the cabin, they find some unsettling things. A creepy painting, a two-way mirror. It doesn’t slow them down, however, from your typical college students on vacation behaviors. Swimming, getting wasted, fooling around… in fact, they’re smack in the middle of a game of truth or dare when the science team running the experiment blows open the hatch to the cellar door.
Down in the cellar are every conceivable style and make of horror talisman known to fiction. Music boxes, creepy diaries, dolls and masks, puzzles, amulets, a conch shell, dozens more that I haven’t even mentioned. Still not suspecting what’s going on, or that they’re being monitored and manipulated, the students begin to play around with all the things that they shouldn’t… to disastrous consequences.
There, the horror begins, but to me, it was always overshadowed by the science element. I was always far more interested in why this was happening to what was happening. Not that the horror angle wasn’t decently shot, acted, directed, made, whatever word you want to use, but having the “Control Room” angle completely neutered it for me. I never really cared that the kids were getting terrorized/brutalized/traumatized, I was wrapped up in WHY. Which kind of undercut the horror for me, and wound up being an element of disappointment.
Also, unfortunately, the final reveal was a considerable let down to me. The ultimate underlying reason behind all the goings on here was a disappointment to me. A big let down. It felt hackneyed, cheap, and lame. Which is the reason that I won’t be pitching in on the building of the altar for this movie that’s currently going on out there. I’m sure you’ve seen it.
Which is a testament to the rest of the movie, I guess, seeing as I still enjoyed the film quite a bit and plan on recommending it on the podcast. “Cabin in the Woods” strikes me as more of a genre send up than an actual entry into the genre. It’s far too self aware to come across as sincere, and in many ways comes across as satire. That’s the kind of thing that can interfere with a first viewing if the film doesnt announce its intentions properly. There’s a good twenty to thirty minute period though when the secrets are on the table, and the movie is approaching its climax, where all hell breaks loose and the movie is literally batshit crazy. I think it’s pretty much impossible not to be watching with a huge ass grin on your face.
It’s a fun movie that references and samples from almost every horror movie ever. Once it’s “wound them up and let them go” there are segments that border on legendary. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and keeps a good sense of humor throughout.
I just don’t want to get carried away.