We review The Cabin in the Woods – The smartest, funniest horror film you’ll see

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It’s something of a challenge to talk about horror comedy The Cabin in the Woods because to get maximum enjoyment out of it, you should really be clueless when entering the cinema, and just go along on its wild, witty ride. It helps too if you’re a long-time fan of horror movies, because a good chunk of the fun while watching comes from playing “Spot the influence.” The Evil Dead. Hellraiser. It. The Ring. The Howling. Resident Evil. The Strangers. Hell, even the Cthulhu mythos pops up for some screen time…

Distinctly postmodern and self-referential in nature, The Cabin in the Woods is stuffed with nods to its influential genre predecessors. At the same time, co-writers Joss Whedon (who produces the film) and Drew “Cloverfield, Lost” Goddard (who directs it) have been clever enough to realise that identifying influences alone does not an entertaining movie make. From their dozens, if not hundreds of sources, these geek gods have crafted a horror film that – just like its protagonist band of college students in a camper van – heads off the beaten track to a destination unlike any you’ve ever visited before.

After the opening credits, and bewildering first scene in an industrial complex that seems out of place in something called The Cabin in the Woods, the film embraces expectation… at least for a bit. So we meet Dana (Kristen Connolly), the good girl heroine still hung up on her professor ex; Dana’s freshly blonde roommate, the fun-loving Jules (Anna Hutchison); Jules’s towering jock boyfriend, Curt (Chris Hemsworth); Curt’s nice guy friend Holden (Jesse Williams) and perpetually stoned Marty (Fran Kranz). Together these kids head off to a remote lakeside cabin, only to find themselves manipulated into deadly scenarios by sinister “puppeteers”.

Tonally, The Cabin in the Woods is closer to Whedon and Goddard’s Buffy (an R-rated version at least), or Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell (without the madcap cartoonishness). The film is very different to the Saw series, House of Wax and all those other torture porn efforts where you’re expected to revel in the cruelty and depravity onscreen. Although the callousness of the “puppeteer” technicians (played by scene-stealing Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) is clearly designed to mirror that of today’s horror movie audiences, it’s difficult to get a cheap thrill from character suffering here, given that they’re all a likeable bunch straining against imposed cliché.

The Cabin in the Woods is at its most conventional – and least interesting – when our heroes have to contend with a family of sadistic, and unstoppable, zombie rednecks. After some hack-and-slash thinning of the cast though, the survivors make a shocking discovery… and what follows is a bloody, over-the-top blast as all hell breaks loose. Approaching the climax, the horror movie clichés come on thick and fast; as do the Whedon cameos – culminating in one glorious surprise. There may be a few dips in audience engagement along the way but The Cabin in the Woods is one of those rare movies that actually improves as it progresses.

This said, I don’t know if the casual moviegoer will get as much pleasure from the film as horror aficionados. In fact, I suspect the former might find it all a little too unusual and alienating for their tastes. This is a pity because The Cabin in the Woods is head and shoulders above most contemporary horror flicks, in smarts if not special effects quality. Either way, one thing’s for sure: The Cabin in the Woods is destined for cult status, forever altering the way you look at horror movies.

Last Updated: August 8, 2012

Noelle Adams

Sometime Tomb Raider. Full-time Pop Culture fanatic and Geekaissance Woman. Most often spotted outputting Pop Culture opinion pieces, writing fanfic and original genre fare, cosplaying and bringing the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu smackdown. Editor of the Comics and Toys section.

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