The Cabin in the Woods is One of the Smartest Films of the Year

There are massive spoilers in this review. There’s just no way around it. To avoid being disappointed by having the plot ruined, simply go and see the film that everyone has been raving about. Even if you don’t like horror films, this is so much more.

The Cabin in the Woods Theatrical Poster

TitleThe Cabin in the Woods
Director(s)Drew Goddard
Genre(s)Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Release Year2012
Rotten Tomatoes91%

Oh how advertising can absolutely ruin your excitement to see a film. Being marketed as a generic, run-of-the-mill horror film is the worst thing that can happen to you from a critical standpoint, but from a commercial point of view, there’s a high chance of success. People don’t go to horror films to think, they go to be scared. How I would have loved to have been in the audience when The Cabin in the Woods premiered in theaters. To see those expecting a generic horror film introduced to two characters who begin the film by talking about fertility issues in what seems like a clip from The Office, must have been an incredible experience. This film is the perfect deconstruction and criticism of horror films, while still being a solid addition to the horror franchise. But what I will try to express throughout this review is that there is so much more to The Cabin in the Woods, from homages to outright insults, all while delivering the perfect mix of horror and wonder. This movie is more than what the advertisements sold it as, and there is no shortage of enjoyment for horror fans and those who normally avoid horror films like the plague.

The movie plays out like your standard horror film: five kids go to a cabin in the middle of nowhere for a weekend getaway, and suddenly stumble upon a journal from a deceased family member. Once reading the journal, that deceased family is raised from the dead and is now killing off the kids. Well, that’s about as generic as horror films can get. Fortunately, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard were not content with making the film I just described and instead went completely left field with the story. In between the scenes of the kids in the cabin, the audience is shown a control room where they are orchestrating the foundations of what will occur in this horror film. The two men controlling everything, Hadley (Bradley Whitford) and Sitterson (Richard Jenkins), are attempting to outdo Japan in creating horror films that kill all the necessary people and maintain a high entertainment value.

And yes, they do take bets on what type of monster will infest the scenario. Could have been a Merman. Or an angry molesting tree.

But they aren’t dictating who dies, because as is said in the film, it’s entirely up to the characters and how they react to the situation. When things aren’t going their way though, they try to influence character’s decisions more obviously. One such scene where where this occurs is when Chris Hemsworth’s character decides that everyone should stick together comes to mind, because if they had stuck together the movie would have been a lot less exciting. Because of that, Hadley and Sitterson put a chemical in the air that makes Hemsworth change his mind and decide they should all split up. As ridiculous as that sounds, nothing compares to the absurdity that fills the rest of the film. Once they have left the cabin and try to escape, if you hadn’t figured it out yet, it is obvious The Cabin in the Woods is so much more than previously thought.

What is important to take from the film, however, is that it has an almost unlimited replay value. It’s a movie that is perfect for watching at home because you can pause scenes such as the first basement scene in the cabin and just scan the entire environment for references to moments in the third act of the film. Did you know the Merman that Hadley mentions only twice in the film is referenced in that scene with the conch Hemsworth almost blows on? Did you remember the zombie daughter with one arm has a portrait of herself in there as well? There’s so much attention to detail in that scene alone. Then you get to the third act of the film where Whedon and Goddard go to the absurdest of lengths, packing every monster they can think of into the last 30 minutes of the movie. Nothing is off-limits in this movie, and the fact that the horror film that’s being created breaks out of its setting and wreaks havoc upon those who are controlling the whole thing is a testament to how it is not merely a film criticizing horror movies, but also one that is one in and of itself. Every beat feels meticulously planned, and once the audience realizes what is happening, this movie breaks the door off of the hinges and goes wild.

One-way mirrors mean so much in this film. Just think about that for a moment…

Not to mention there’s a cast in here that has to do some great acting, from being normal people before they enter the woods, to fitting into archetypes that Hadley and Sitterson have implemented. Hadley and Sitterson take note of these archetypes and feed into how we believe they would react, and characters like Hemsworth go from being nice guys to complete assholes to feed into their stereotype. It’s also the dialogue, which has always been incredible in anything Whedon does, that lends to the sincerity of the character’s performances. It’s that witty banter from Hadley, Sitterson, and Marty (Fran Kranz) which makes everything feel more authentic, even though what is happening is ridiculous.

As you can tell, I’m really praising this film, but it’s not without merit. Another film that I really enjoyed was Tucker & Dale vs Evil from last year, which also satirized the horror genre while being a very straightforward horror film in its own right. The reason this movie is so much better than that is it becomes an apocalypse movie, seemingly out of nowhere, but actually has that apocalypse notion embedded in the film from the beginning. There’s this talk of the Harbinger, and then an incredible cameo from Sigourney Weaver as The Director (fitting due to her status in horror culture), the idea of sacrifices and punishment, and the concept of something bigger than us all. We don’t know what it is, but those who know what it will do are content with pleasing it, no matter the cost. What would you do if you had to kill a few people to save the entire world? Is that a world worth living in? Nothing about The Cabin in the Woods shows people happy with how the world is, but it shows people who are either blissfully naive, or willing to sacrifice in order to keep the status quo. Unfortunately, the world isn’t ready to change the way The Cabin in the Woods wants to, but is willing to acknowledge that things could be different if they really wanted them to be, and hopefully that means more original films like this in the future.

Overall: Recommended


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