It’s very hard to talk about this entertaining and at times ingenious horror thriller without giving too much away. It really is one of those films where the less you know, the better the experience will be. Therefore I shall do my best to keep the secrets of The Cabin in the Woods.
It starts off with two middle-aged men (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) chatting at their place of work. It could be an accounting firm, or the head offices of a car manufacturer or maybe a government agency. They joke about their upcoming day’s work, but not a lot of it makes sense to the viewer. Yet.
The film then cuts to a bunch of college students preparing to go away for a relaxing break in, you guessed it, a secluded cabin situated in the middle of the woods. All the classic Hollywood archetypes are here. We have the hot jock (Chris Hemsworth), his equally hot girlfriend (Anna Hutchison), the stoner (Fran Kranz), the hot bookish boy (Jesse Williams) and the hot, but insecure and a little vulnerable, bookish girl (Kristen Connolly).
The group of excitable young things travel off and experience unsettling experiences in the Cabin in the Woods. But this film is not your run-of-the-mill gory horror slasher movie. The real horror, and most brilliantly written scenes, come from Jenkins and Whitford’s characters. But what do these two professional-looking men in a high-tech office have to do with a load of teens in the woods? You’ll have to see it to find out.
The movie is written by Cloverfield writer Drew Goddard, who also directs, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer scribe Joss Whedon. Their screenplay demonstrates a highly intelligent understanding of the horror genre and a lot of their tricks and gimmicks work very well.
Not everything comes together as nicely as one would have hoped. The film has managed to drum up, helped along by Lionsgate’s impressive advertising campaign, a reputation for having, as one critic put it, ‘twist after twist’. This isn’t exactly true; the revelations aren’t really twists, just brave and clever concepts. This is fine, but don’t expect a stomach-punching moment of realisation akin to The Sixth Sense. The final scenes do however involve a cameo by a major Hollywood actor; it’s playfully entertaining, but ruins the atmosphere somewhat.
There is also a moment where the camera zooms out to show us a huge array of terrifying creatures in a place where you really wouldn’t expect to find them. But the effect is let down by unconvincing CGI and the scene doesn’t have the real wow-power it needs.
Although it’s not flawless, The Cabin in the Woods does dare to be different and has a good go at doing something more or less original with the genre of the horror movie. It’s a shame that irritating phrase ‘game-changer’ has been attached to it. Any film these days that doesn’t do what its audience expects is suddenly a ‘game-changer’. The film isn’t, but it does make you jump, laugh and think, which isn’t a bad mixture.
The Cabin in the Woods (2011), directed by Drew Goddard, is distributed in the UK by Lionsgate, Certificate 15.