THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE CABIN IN THE WOODS"
The Cabin in the Woods is a horror movie, but it's also not a horror movie. Actually, it's more than a horror movie, if that makes any sense. I mean, when a horror flick manages to scare you simply with the unexpected arrival of the opening title, you know you're onto something special. This will be a difficult film to review, because the less you know about it, the more fun you'll have. Perhaps the best way to put it is that if you love horror movies (or are often frustrated by the sameness of them), you will absolutely want to see The Cabin in the Woods.
The story begins with five friends preparing for a weekend trip to a remote cabin. There's the athletic Curt (Chris Hemsworth), his newly-blonde girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchison), stoner Marty (Fran Kranz), innocent Dana (Kristen Connolly), and the new guy, Holden (Jesse Williams), who everyone is trying to set Dana up with. The gang heads out in an RV, then stops to ask for directions at a ramshackle old gas station, where the inbred-looking proprietor grimly warns them against going anywhere near that-there cabin. Now, this likely sounds very familiar to you. If you're a true horror buff, I'm guessing you can name at least half a dozen pictures off the top of your head that have included this very set-up. And you doubtlessly know that the young 'uns don't follow the man's advice, which leads to very bad things. What you may not anticipate is that there are two other significant characters, played by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, who are not at the cabin, yet have a very large stake in the events that occur there.
I'm not going to tell you what happens in The Cabin in the Woods; instead, I'm going to tell you what the movie does. Director Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) and his co-writer Joss Whedon turn the entire horror genre on its ear. Literally. As you watch, you will notice recognizable horror movie images and familiar plot conventions all over the place. These are intentional. The film plays more or less according to formula for the first hour; then, in the last 30 minutes, it picks up all those images and conventions and carries them into uncharted territory. Nothing can prepare you for where The Cabin in the Woods goes in its third act. Goddard and Whedon create a story that works perfectly well on its own, and then use that story to deconstruct modern horror cinema. They essentially comment on the very genre in which they are working. This approach is a lot of fun. Although you don't have to be a horror expert to get the point, audience members who are well-versed in the many forms of horror will be most rewarded.
The Cabin in the Woods has blood and gore, yet that's not its point. There are many funny scenes too. I suppose the obvious comparison would be to Scream, which similarly worked as both a fright flick and a satire of one. Cabin is a little more ingenious though, in that it goes deeper, recognizing that many horror movies squeeze themselves into pre-programmed rhythms or fall back on the same old tropes. It knows that you know this too, which is where the entertainment factor really comes into play. Watching the story assemble them in new ways is sublime.
I wish this review could be longer. I wish I could be more specific about the details that delighted me again and again. I wish I could talk about What It All Means. Giving away too much would not be fair to you, Reader, when so much of my own enjoyment came from savoring the many unexpected twists. So let's leave it at this: The Cabin in the Woods is the most daring, original, and innovative horror movie I've seen in more than a decade.
( out of four)
The Cabin in the Woods is rated R for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language, drug use and some sexuality/nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.
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