THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is well worth your time. If you’d rather skip the rest of the review, there’s your verdict right there. It’s a rollercoaster-ride much like DRAG ME TO HELL, but also like that movie (and indeed both movies share the same cinematographer), it starts to fall apart if you give it too much thought. So if you’re the type who likes to avoid thinking and just enjoy the thrills, you’ll love it. Unfortunately, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS wants you to think that it’s a smart, cerebral horror fan’s film, which invites the kind of further scrutiny under which the film falls short.
You probably already know the setup, so I’ll keep it brief: Five college kids head off on a trip to a remote cabin somewhere in the mountains. Yep, been there, done that. But you haven’t, because almost from the outset it becomes clear that the kids are being manipulated by some kind of NASA or Black Ops-like organization who proceed to dump all manner of horrors upon our poor heroes. Zombies, ghouls, ghosts…oh my! The question becomes: why are they doing this? As the kids get bumped off one by one and the truth begins to emerge, we are treated to a whole host of nods to our favorite horror films while the very nature of horror is disseminated.
It’s an undeniably clever concept, one that was tackled just as effectively in SCREAM back in the 90s, and just like that movie, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS pokes fun at genre conventions while still managing to be respectful of its audience. Clearly Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) are horror fans, and they know what horror fans like. The problem, however, is that in lampooning horror tropes and analyzing what makes horror work, they forget to make the film scary. Sure, there are a couple of effective jump scares, but I found the main antagonists at the cabin disappointing and stale, especially considering the wealth of monstrosities revealed as available in the film’s Pandora’s Box.
The risk in making a film that studies genre cliches is that you have to employ them to explore them. So naturally, much of what we see here has been done a million times before. But that’s intentional. It’s when the movie shows us things we haven’t seen before that it gets exciting. A scene involving a dirt bike is worth mentioning, so is the Pandora’s Box sequence, as is damn near every scene with Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford in it. The dialogue is very, very funny at times, particularly in the scenes with Fran Kranz’s stoner. A cameo towards the end of the movie is a neat surprise too, though a more logical choice would have been Bruce Campbell.
And it’s towards the end that things begin to get a little shaky. The concept here is fine, as is the explanation for all that’s come before, and I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of a much-loved and criminally underused genre element, and yet in throwing everything at the canvas in the last twenty minutes, the film loses some of its charm and impact. CGI is employed to lackluster effect, characters who seemed destined to have more of an effect on proceedings are dispatched with nary a second thought, and the ending is…well, inaccurate would be how I would put it without delving into spoilerism.
Overall though, it’s a movie that sets out to be a fun experience, and in that it succeeds 100%. It’s a fun little satire that’s just not as clever as it wants you to think it is, and by the end, it runs out of steam, inexplicably pulling back a little from what could have been a masterpiece.
I’d give it an 8/10.