Friday, April 13, 2012

In Theaters: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)


Directed by Drew Goddard.  Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard.  Cast: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Brian White, Amy Acker, Jodelle Ferland, Tim De Zarn.  (R, 92 mins)

Completed in 2009 and left in limbo by MGM's financial woes until Lionsgate ended up acquiring it, the much-anticipated THE CABIN IN THE WOODS has been generating over two years worth of buzz that it was a game-changer of a horror film like nothing we've ever seen before.  Contributing to the chatter was the involvement of producer/co-writer/cult-TV god Joss Whedon (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, FIREFLY, ANGEL, DOLLHOUSE, DR. HORRIBLE'S SING-ALONG BLOG) and director/co-writer Drew Goddard (writer of CLOVERFIELD and veteran of BUFFY, ANGEL, ALIAS and LOST).  To call these two critics' and fanboy darlings would be an understatement, so the question is, does THE CABIN IN THE WOODS live up to the hype?  Mostly, yes.

It's impossible to map out a plot synopsis of CABIN without going into spoiler territory, so I won't, other than to lay out what's in the trailers:  five college students:  jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth, who went on to star in THOR), his girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchison), her brainy friend Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt's buddy Holden (Jesse Williams), and stoner conspiracy nut Marty (Fran Kranz) head to the titular location, owned by somebody's cousin, for a weekend of partying.  Of course, scary things start happening in the woods.  Meanwhile, in what appears to be some kind of high-tech underground research facility, Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) oversee a wall of monitors displaying what's happening at the cabin, and they seem to be able to control and decide the goings-on.  There's talk of "Stockholm going south" and things not going according to plan in Japan.

At the cabin, we have a fairly typical horror film going on.  The winds howl, doors fling themselves open, creepy artifacts are found in the basement, and soon all manner of evil starts assaulting the cabin and its five archetypal occupants.  But there isn't anything typical about what Whedon and Goddard have up their sleeves.  It ends up being--no spoilers--essentially a meta-commentary on the horror genre and its audience.  But they're not done.  Then some really crazy shit starts happening, and a good chunk of the fun is trying to figure out how the cabin ties into the work at the research facility.  Also, all of the little character bits throughout.  Nothing is what it seems here, and the character arcs can be quite surprising.

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is an ambitious, audacious film that almost requires a second viewing to see how everything falls into place.  This is largely a love-it or hate-it proposition, and I almost wish the trailers didn't reveal as much as they do (but even that barely scratches the surface).  We already know going in that things aren't what they seem, but what if we went in just under the impression that it's about scary stuff happening at a cabin in the woods and didn't even show us Jenkins and Whitford?  But then, are they bringing in more of an audience by essentially announcing "This movie is not what it seems and you won't believe it when you see it!"?  What I find most shocking is that the twists have managed to stay unexposed for going on three years.  I intentionally avoided reading anything about it, but even then, this is one of those rare instances where people at industry or test screenings really have played fair and not ruined it for everyone.  I imagine that'll change after this weekend, but it really is best to go into THE CABIN IN THE WOODS cold.  It's far from a perfect film and I think Whedon and Goddard bite off a bit more than they can chew, but it's one of the most original and exciting we'll likely see this year, and one of those films that leaves the audience buzzed and enthusiastically discussing and debating at the end.  And it's a pretty bold ending for what's being sold as a mainstream horror movie.  I'll be seeing this again soon.

Lionsgate's original poster art for the October
2011 release, which got bumped to April 2012.

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