Review: Cabin in the Woods (2012, Goddard)


IMDB Summary: Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, where they get more than they bargained for. Together, they must discover the truth behind the cabin in the woods.

Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon clearly have a love-hate relationship with horror. In Cabin in the Woods, affection for clichés and tropes linger even as it lambasts every last one of said formulas. They get that when characters make bad decisions, it never feels organic. The genre forcefully places stupidity and bad judgment onto placeholder characters that are trapped in an unoriginal scenario that never derails off-course.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the slasher film, the most repetitive of horror subgenres. In recent years, a push towards meta-horror has already outstayed its welcome, despite several worthy entries. This is mainly because meta-horror rarely goes beyond exclamations of ‘hey we’re being self-referential, get it?  Wink wink!’ Cabin in the Woods takes things into uncharted territory.

But to simply label Cabin in the Woods as meta is reductive. The film works on several different levels, fully committing to its ideas with an admirable audacity. It carries a fondness for its underdeveloped characters; an immediate deviation from the norm. It refuses to conform; every time you think it has, director/writer Goddard and producer/writer Whedon have another trick up their sleeves. Every cliché it takes on serves the film’s larger purpose. It places an additional layer of onlookers/stakeholders who are central to the story (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and the incomparable Amy Acker) between us and the victims, forcing the audience to dissect how we interact with horror films and what we really get out of them. It does all of this without the false sense of superiority Michael Haneke insists on seeping into every frame of Funny Games (love the director though I do). Goddard and Whedon fully implicate themselves into the genuine curiosities the film ponders.

Is it self-congratulatory? Of course it is. Is it scary? Not really. However, neither of these minor quibbles can detract from the whole. It is almost mind-boggling to think what Cabin in the Woods accomplishes in a tightly-packaged 95 minutes. Goddard and Whedon are freakishly on-point every step of the way.

Cabin in the Woods sounds like a fictionalized essay; but it manages to deconstruct an entire genre while being one of the funniest, entertaining and genuinely involving films to come around in quite some time. And it manages to go into surprisingly off-the-wall directions to boot. It is surreal to have finally seen this after years of anticipation stemming from the three-year gap between filming and release. I am happy to say that Cabin in the Woods was worth the wait.

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