The Cabin in the Woods was released in 2012, and began receiving attention from the moment its first trailer was released, for a couple reasons. Firstly, because among the actors playing the kids headed to the cabin was Chris Hemsworth, currently one of Hollywood’s more bankable stars with his role as Thor. But more importantly, because it was produced and co-written by Joss Whedon, one of the few people to achieve cult classic status as an individual. The excitement over Whedon doing a horror movie was sufficient that it was quite easy to overlook the fact that the film was also co-written by Drew Goddard, and that it was Goddard who directed the film. This is a shame, as Goddard does quite a good job with the film and deserves some recognition.
After the initial hype, the film lingered on in word of mouth due to the story itself. Catching up with the film, it’s easy to see why. This is the typical “group of young friends go to a cabin and are beset by supernatural horrors” story… and yet at the same time it’s not typical at all.
I wouldn’t vacation in an unknown cabin in the woods, and I live fewer than a hundred yards from the woods.
The setup, at least, is familiar. Five young adults are going on a trip together to get some R&R at a cabin by a lake. The usual group dynamic is in place. There’s the couple: Curt (Hemsworth) and his girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchison). There are the single ones who might potentially hook up: Curt’s friend Holden (Jesse Williams), and Jules’s friend Dana (Kristen Connolly), who is coming off of a bad breakup. Dana, as is customary, is the viewpoint character for much of the film. And there’s the goof-ball spare wheel, philosophic stoner Marty (Fran Kranz). The characters don’t really get a lot more depth and detail than is typical for this sort of film, but there’s enough there that the audience will see exactly how far they fit the stereotypes… and how far they don’t.
Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins also play important roles in the film, but it’s difficult to know just how much to say about those roles. The plot has a twist to it, as almost any film in this genre has to nowadays in order to seem fresh. And it’s a very worthy twist that makes the film not only fresh, but darkly humorous and innovative. But it’s the sort of thing that the audience should be allowed to discover on their own, and so even though that discovery comes about five minutes into the film, I’m loathe to say much more about it. The most I’ll say is that the genre of this film isn’t limited to just horror; there’s a very large science fiction component to it as well.
This aspect provides a different perspective on the goings-on at the cabin, and really is as refreshing as it intends to be. The usual appeals of a horror movie — scares and gore and laughing at characters behaving like idiots — are all in place to satisfy the traditional horror audience. But there’s a consideration to the approach that is unusual, and many of these elements are looked at from an entirely different angle than is usual. It’s a sharp film, and while it relies too much on familiarity with horror tropes to be someone’s introduction to the genre, for regular horror viewers it’ll help restore some of their affection for it.