The Cabin in the Woods Laughs the Chills Away

The Cabin in the Woods ended up being a test for me on several levels. I was unable to catch the theatrical release of the film. This normally would not have been an issue if it were not for the “go in knowing as little as possible” buzz the film generated. The problem with this though is that avoiding spoilers has become increasingly difficult in an age of twitter, blogs, Youtube, and podcasts. Miraculously, I managed to go through the better part of the year only knowing that Joss Whedon was involved, and that several people found it to be extremely scary. Having finally watched the film, I wish I had known a little more going in.

The film starts off just like your typical horror excursion. A group of attractive college students embark on a weekend of fun at a secluded cabin in the woods. All the standard character archetypes are present. There is Curt the jock (Chris Hemsworth), Jules the temptress (Anna Hutchinson), Holden the brains (Jesse Williams), Marty the pothead (Fran Kranz), Dana and the good girl (Kristen Connolly). However, things start to take a turn for the group of friends when they discover some strange artifacts in the cellar of the cabin. Furthermore, unbeknownst to them, the group’s movements are being monitored by two mysterious men (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford).

To say anymore about the plot of The Cabin in the Woods would be a disservice as it is a film that does indeed need to be experienced. What I will say is that, and I wish I had known, the film is a horror-comedy and not a straight horror film. This may seem like a miniscule point for some, but it really makes a huge difference on how you interpret the film.

The Cabin in the Woods feels like a child spawned from a union between The Evil Dead series and the Scream franchise. While there will no doubt be those who will argue that The Cabin in the Woods is far more “meta” than Scream, which it is, the film is too smart for its own good. Yes we live in an era where hardcore cinephiles love to feel intellectually superior to the average filmgoer. However, just because something is meta does not necessarily mean it is enough to sustain a film. Say what you will about the Scream franchise as a whole, but the original Scream had genuine scares while still managing to dissect the slasher genre. The Cabin in the Woods, for all its great self-aware moments, lacks the chills it needed to be a truly memorable horror film.

Part of the reason for this is that Whedon’s script neglects to leave any room for the audience to put themselves in the character’s shoes. There is never that “what would you do in that situation” moment that all good horror films have. Even as a commentary on horror films, The Cabin in the Woods tends to go a little overboard in pointing out every little nuance being deconstructed. Even the idea of external forces manipulating the outcome of events does not seem as interesting if you have seen films like The Arena and The Tournament. These moments only help to emphasize how bland the “mystery men” really are. Once the tables are turned you feel nothing when watching the mysterious men experience some terror of their own.

Although The Cabin in the Woods did not turn out to be the horror experience I was expecting, I must admit that I did have a fair bit of fun watching it. The humour in the film hits the mark more often than not. Plus the opening and closing sections are fantastic. In regards to the latter section of the film, director Drew Goddard offers some of the film’s most visually interesting aspects of the entire film. The creature designs used in the film payoff well when utter chaos occurs in the last act.

There are some interesting revelations that strive to tie everything together in the last act. However, at times you wish that Goddard had explored some of the ideas revealed a lot earlier in the film. This would help to really sell the choice one of the characters must make at the end. The film spends so much time focusing on the concept of choices, and manipulating things to evoke particular choices, that the reasoning behind the biggest choice in the film feels rushed and out of left field.

The Cabin in the Woods may become a film that I come to appreciate upon repeat viewing. Knowing what to expect may change my overall view of the film. As it stands, the film is one that, while entertaining for the most part, misses the mark in regards to being the scary horror film I was led to believe it was

Born and raised in Toronto, long time film lover Courtney Small shares his passion for all things cinema through his daily blog Big Thoughts From A Small Mind.  Courtney also contributes two monthly features for the Large Association of Movie Blogs as well