Movie Review: The Cabin in the Woods

Mike Finkelstein has learned many things from horror films. One of the greatest lessons: never go camping in a deserted area with four friends. Except for this one time-maybe this time, it'll be fun-maybe? Here is his review for The Cabin in the Woods.

Mike Finkelstein has learned many things from horror films. One of the greatest lessons: never go camping in a deserted area with four friends.  Except for this one time…maybe this time, it’ll be fun…maybe?  Here is his review for “The Cabin in the Woods”.

PLOT: It’s the classic, cliche horror story: five teen friends (the jock, the blonde, the prep, the pothead and the virgin) head into the woods for a weekend camping trip, only to meet a force outside of themselves that wants them dead.  Wait, did I say cliche?  Heh…I take that back…

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW: When SCREAM hit theaters back in 1996, it tore open the horror genre.  No one was expecting a meta-slasher flick that was both funny/self-aware and smart/terrifying at the same time (that comment doesn’t exactly include the sequels…).  Now, over fifteen years later, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS has completely blown SCREAM (and all its imitators) out of the water by going 20 steps further, and has easily taken the title of best “horror” film of the past decade.

Yes, I know…that’s a huge title to live up to, but there’s a reason why the word “horror” is in quotation marks.  Can you really call CABIN IN THE WOODS a horror film?  On one hand, yes you can.  It has its main cast of idiotic teen friends, consisting of the Jock (Chris Hemsworth before he hit it big in THOR), the virgin (Kristen Connolly), the dumb blonde (Anna Hutchison), the good guy (Jesse Williams), and the pothead (Fran Kranz), all of whom get hunted down and killed off in some gruesome manner by a terrifying family of redneck zombies.  They have their warning signs, their cliched moments of playing truth or dare and splitting up, and their very, very bad decisions.

But then, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard do something that the phrase “thinking outside the box” can’t even remotely justify.  How, exactly?  I can’t tell you that, or it’ll ruin all the fun.  All I can say is that all those B-movie cliched moments are turned on their heads, and we are left with no idea of what the hell is going on.  And I ain’t talking about some little twist that comes halfway through, oh no.  We’re screwed within the first minute, because we go in expecting one film, and end up getting something completely different.

Now, you may be a tad confused, and rightfully so.  (Not since MIDNIGHT IN PARIS have I had a harder time trying to write a review without giving away a thing about the plot.)  So let me try to sum this up one more time: imagine a complete deconstruction of the horror genre in one film that both honors and laughs at every joke, every formula, and every wrong move and turn and scream that your five favorite friends (the idiots getting killed) could make.  Imagine a horror nerd’s wet dream when all those movies and villains and souls you love from movies past meet face to face in one hallway.  Imagine taking that deconstruction to the Nth degree and finally meeting the man behind the curtain. That’s what you get when you see THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.

Oh, and whatever you think I mean right now, throw it out the window.  You’re wrong.

As for our five main actors, they all went through the motions of their performances with no issues, and seemed to be having fun every step of the way.  (Having been shot in 2009, this was made before Chris Hemsworth was cast in THOR, and it’s safe to mention that you could still see the star power in him even then.)  Alas, the only character of the bunch that was truly memorable—and in some strange, Freudian way, it makes complete sense that no one else stood out…they never do—was our loveable pothead, Marty, played hysterically by “Dollhouse” favorite Fran Kranz. The kid steals the show in every scene he’s in, whether it be with a giant bong-turned-coffee-mug, or the sheer confusion that comes out of his mouth every time a stupid decision is made. (A complete 180 from his work in Mike Nichol’s Broadway production of “Death of a Salesman”…even more stunning.)  He is right on level with Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, who were absolutely brilliant and perfectly cast in their roles (you’ll see) and helped deliver every unforgettable moment in the film.

Again, I will reiterate: I am not a fan of horror films.  To me, they are long, cliched, and completely unoriginal.  But then, once in a while, we are lucky enough to experience a movie that completely resets the bar.  Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard just did that.  Whether you’re a fan of horror movies or just film in general, you will leave this meta-fest with a smile on your face, amazed at not just the thrills and chills, but the humor and the brains that bring THE CABIN IN THE WOODS to a whole new level.

Oh, and one more piece of advice…never bet on the merman…

GRADE: A-

Mike’s LIKES:

1) BRADLEY WHITFORD AND RICHARD JENKINS: These two vets are absolutely brilliant in their roles as…well, you’ll see…Humor, sarcasm, and just play narcissistic…  Loved it

2) MARTY/SMOKE A GIANT BONG IN YOUR FATHER’S VAN?: For a stoner, Marty is the smartest guy in the entire movie.  Mix his impeccable logic with moments like “a giant bong” and “I’m going to take a walk”, and you got the show stealer.

3) TAKING BETS:  I would have bet on Kevin, but that’s just me…

4) A HORROR NERD’S WET DREAM:  If you’re a horror movie fan, get ready…by the end of the movie, all your dreams and fantasies will come true, and you will be in heaven.

5) A NOTE ON JOSS WHEDON: My respect for Joss Whedon is growing by the day, not just for his directing style, but for all the love and care that he puts into his movies.  If Whedon puts as much effort into THE AVENGERS as he did in CABIN, we’re in for an incredible film…

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) NONE: I’m not a fan of horror movies, and I loved this one.  Completely out of the box and different than anything you’ve seen before, yet not.  (I know what I’m saying makes no sense, so just go see the movie already!)

EXTRA FACTS:

1) The film’s release date was postponed because the studio wanted to convert it to 3D.  The plans were eventually scrapped (much to the relief of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard).

2) In the tie-in book “The Cabin in the Woods: The Official Visual Companion” co-writer Drew Goddard said that Kevin was meant to be “a sweet-looking guy who seemed like he might work at Best Buy–until he dismembers people.”  (If you haven’t seen the movie yet, don’t expect to understand this.)

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