Writer-producer-director Joss Whedon is known to the larger entertainment world primarily as the originator of the multi-platformed Buffy the Vampire Slayer properties. But to diehard fans of fantasy and horror he's the slickest thing since foam latex prosthetic appliances, a mini-industry unto himself. Since the movie version of Buffy in 1992, the 47-year-old Whedon has had a hand in Toy Story; Alien: Resurrection; the Angel and Dollhouse TV series; and the upcoming Marvel-ized putative tentpole The Avengers. His fondest creation, though, has always seemed to be the eternal teenage staker-out-of-territory, Buffy. However, Dana, the heroine of The Cabin in the Woods, may give Buffy some serious competition.
Whedon and frequent collaborator Drew Goddard evidently cooked up The Cabin in the Woods as a sort of horror spoof they could show at SXSW (that crowd eats up rural zombie scenarios), and that would also serve as a lead-in to the main summer gun, The Avengers. Whenever we hear the words "horror spoof" we instinctively want to run away, because it usually means someone is trying to cover up an inept horror flick by labeling it as a parody. Happy to report that The Cabin in the Woods is smart, even haphazardly profound in spots. Geeks will gobble it up, of course, but there's quite a bit of character gristle left for the rest of us in there amongst the remains.
Five collegiate-aged friends take their RV into the woodsy hills for some relaxation at a depressed-looking little homestead, and terrible things begin to happen to them, one by one. Oh merciful lord, how many times have we heard that setup? One of the rituals involved in watching this type of movie is deciding the order in which the characters drop off. Who's going to get eviscerated first? Will it be Curt, the alpha-male jock played by Chris Hemsworth (Thor)? Or Holden (Jesse Williams), the nice guy? How about Jules (Anna Hutchison), the sexy playgirl who French-kisses a stuffed tiger's head during a game of Truth or Dare?
There's an unmistakable feeling — from the first reel camera-shot count — that Dana (Kristen Connolly) is destined for bigger things, so that leaves Marty (Fran Kranz), the stoner comic relief, as the odd man out. We can't help playing a game with these characters' fates, knowing full well that most, if not all, of them are going to end up skewered, burnt, or otherwise eliminated in the course of things. That's the way it's done.
Cue undead hillbillies, bear traps, scythes, signs and portents, etc., etc. Speaking of games and rituals, there's something else going on in The Cabin in the Woods, something that lifts it up into another level of perversity in which co-writer Whedon and director Goddard get to romp unfettered in the fields of fantasy — some of it more obvious than it needs to be. But still. We won't discuss it further. Other reviewers might, but not this one. Suffice it to say that if "more is more" describes you, you'll dig the last quarter. Every monster that ever was. Unfortunately, many of the very concepts that make The Cabin in the Woods worth discussing are the ones that need to be kept under wraps, so as not to spoil it for audiences. Maybe we'll revisit the discussion at a later date.
Special kudos to Connolly, the latest in what seems like an unbroken string of interesting female avengers prowling the nation's multiplexes; and to Kranz as the target aud's prime determinant, the lackadaisical but insightful slacker Marty. Bradley Whitford and the wonderful Richard Jenkins, as a pair of jaded technocrats who really need to get out in the sun, contribute greatly to one of the few open-ended slasher/horror pics of recent memory. The J-horror parody is also terrifically funny, if you know the subject. Whedon & Co. obviously have more fun with this genre than most people, and their cabin is our cabin for 105 minutes.