Drew Goddard’s peculiar horror/comedy “Cabin in the Woods” begins with a pre-credit sequence that finds two average Joe looking men (Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins) in a plain looking government facility building of some sort. The walls are cement and people are running around in lab coats. The two mysterious men are just chatting about random subjects, like the kind of banter you would see in a workplace comedy. There’s something fishy about this but you can’t quite put your finger on it.
After the title of the movie flashes onto the screen in blood red writing, we’re taken to a scenario that’s much more familiar: Five college students are getting ready for a weekend trip to a cabin up in the woods. The neighborhood they’re in is typical upper class suburban (like the kind we saw in “Nightmare on Elm Street” or “Halloween”). The five kids are the slasher movie regulars.
There’s Dana the virgin brunette (except she’s not really a virgin but she exhibits all the other qualities of the character type: good spirited, likes to study, shy, etc.), there’s Jules (Anna Huchison) the blonde large breasted whore, Curt (Chris Hemsworth) the obnoxious jock who’s dating Jules. The sensitive smart guy (Jesse Williams) and finally Marty (Fran Kranz) the goofy stoner character who has a lot of theories and stoner advice to give. Sounding familiar? Just wait, it gets even more recognizable.
The five load up in an RV and make their way deep into the mountains. First they stumble upon a creepy looking gas station run by a creepy old gas station attendant named Mordecai, who chews tobacco and says creepy stuff about metaphorical lambs going to the slaughter. When they reach the cabin they do what teens always do in horror films: go swimming in the lake, smoke, drink, wander around and finally get themselves into trouble that they could have avoided. Dana reads from an old diary she finds in the basement and summons a group of killer redneck zombies back from the dead.
Again, I know this all sounds familiar but it isn’t. You think you know the story but you don’t. Remember those two guys I mentioned before in the government facility having casual banter? Well as it turns out those two have a lot to do with the fate of these five teenage clichés. And that’s all I’m going to say about that because “Cabin in the Woods” is one of those movies that has so many surprises and oddball moments that in trying to explain them I would bore you.
I’ll say this however. Much like the “Scream” movies “Cabin in the Woods” takes what we know about the horror movie genre and twists it around and upside down. The picture embraces the corniness and predictability that horror movie nerds have come to relish about watching those B grade trash flicks.
In the script, Goddard and co writer Joss Whedon (yes, the guy who created “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” that Joss Whedon) have basically taken the conventions of dumb teen slasher movies and low rent monster movies and mixed them together to create something wholly original (similar to what Quentin Tarintino does). On top of that they have added in allusions to “The Truman Show” as well as an HP Lovecraft-esque curveball of sacrifice and the gods. All to make one big stew of movie nostalgia ridiculousness.
Before writing this review I was fortunate enough to see the movie twice. Once with only members of the press and the second with press and members of the general audience. To my shock both screenings were met with cheering and applause (that rarely ever happens with press only screenings). That’s a sign that this movie should do well both critically and in the box office.
Now, I admit the film is filled with so many subtle homages to cult horror films (like “Evil Dead”) that only critics and horror movie geeks will catch them, but overall I think it is broad enough and fun enough to appeal to regular people too. “Cabin in the Woods” is the first movie of 2012 I can say with complete certainty to go see immediately.