Written by: Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins
Horror conventions come with a relaxing formula, which allows for the horrifying material on display to have a level of comfort at its base. It arrives in the jump scare formula, but also in the character archetypes entering the story. The Cabin in the Woods seeks to poke fun at these formulas in a fun and inventive way.
Heading out to a cabin for a nice getaway, Dana (Kristen Connolly) and her friends encounter situations very similar to horror movies we have seen before. As they begin to feel the impact of the horror heading their way, they begin to discover that everything around them might not be as conventional as it seems.
Opening on two men walking through some fluorescent-lit building begins the obscure nature of this film. What promises to be a story about spending time in a cabin starts out with two men in a place that could not be further from the location described in the title. Then we see the introduction of the main characters we’re set to follow in this horrifying journey. A group of five friends heading out for a bit of a getaway where cell phone reception will be minimal and any other form of support would be far out of reach. If this premise sounds familiar, it’s because of the intention of setting up the story like a prototypical horror movie, only for it to unravel into a completely different concept.
Talking about the reveals within this film has become quite difficult because much of the fun presented in the story comes with the twists and turns it takes. While utilizing the horror genre for all of its tropes, the film directly spoofs them for our entertainment. It becomes a meta reading because of the set up of these two men manipulating the story for the entertainment of others. Ths story becomes a constant loop, which Drew Goddard works through deftly. He knows exactly what he’s doing with the telling of this story and at times it gets a bit too cute, but overall it works at such a strong level because of the commentary of the horror genre overall.
The five characters visiting the cabin each represent the typical archetypes found in horror slasher films. We have the promiscuous female, the jock, the scholar, the pothead, and the innocent final girl. The way the story plays out feels formulaic because it entirely becomes the point. Manipulation becomes necessary because these characters do not fully exhibit these characteristics from the very beginning, but they mold to it throughout the story and the machinations of the two men running the show. It begins with Jules (Anna Hutchinson) dyeing her hair blond at the beginning and then acting in a way completely different than her friends have witnessed in the past. The same happens with Curt (Chris Hemsworth), where he goes from being a decent guy to acting like the basic jock found in all substandard horror films. Pointing out all of the small details becomes such a fun game to play, as the film continually winks at the audience with its meta-commentary.
It’s always great to see Richard Jenkins in films because he always brings an equally calm and chaotic energy to his roles and he pairs incredibly well with Bradley Whitford to portray the two men behind the glass. They operate the system and must successfully find a way to kill the hapless young vacationers. They give the best performances of the cast because of the confidence they effuse only to see it disappear when they see everything not going exactly to plan. They serve as our introduction to this world, which happens to revolve outside of this crew of college-aged students. The world-building happens as we continue to unravel and learn more about the circumstances of this horror setup.
The Cabin in the Woods comes with plenty of fun surprises, as it takes a formula everyone sees comfort in and attempts to mold into something else in such a meta fashion. The revelations and reveals expounded on in the film further display a truly horrifying world where others get killed for the entertainment of others. The blend of horror and comedy works at a proficient level, as the film attempts to have its share of scary moments while also continually winking at the audience.