The Cabin in the Woods (2012) Review

The Cabin in the Woods
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford
Directed By: Drew Goddard
Rated: R

Horror movies are a difficult genre to discuss. What’s scary and or entertaining for some is completely lost on another person. The stuff that will scare me in a horror film isn’t necessarily the same thing that will scare another person. What makes a horror movie typically memorable though is when it takes the conventional horror we are used to and flips it on it’s head. “Scream” took the tired slasher genre and made it’s audience and characters self aware of genre rules and tropes. The “Saw” franchise took the psychological thriller aspect of horror and added a twisted torture aspect not predominately apparent in most horror. “Cabin in the Woods” attempts this same kind of genre revision with the campy horror films where teenagers party in a cabin in the woods and are killed one by one by a malevolent force.

While I probably won’t go into heavy spoilers, it’s best to see the movie as fresh as possible. (Don’t watch the trailer, don’t listen to people talk about etc. and you’ll get maximum enjoyment out of it.)

The movie begins like most horror movies you’d expect them to. A group of friends are about to head out for a weekend of debauchery, sex, and a break from school. There’s the main girl Dana (an extremely cute Kristen Connolly), who had an affair with a professor that ended badly, Jules, her best friend whose dating Curt (an unrecognizable Chris Hemsworth), a football player, and his friend Holden, whose a potential set up for Dana. There’s also Marty, the classic sarcastic stoner. All of them fit a typical horror movie trope for a slasher or cabin in the woods genre horror movie. (The main girl, the whore, the jock, the nerd, the stoner) except theres a twist in this case. The opening also showcases two men (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) who are working in a mysterious lab that is actually surveying and controlling every move of the five teens. This side subplot gradually unravels itself and makes it the unique, fun aspect of the film that separates it from being a run of the mill horror film and a genre reinvention.

Like when Scream made the characters self-aware of the idiotic decisions people make in horror films and yet still follow the conventional slasher format, it was a breath of fresh air into a tired genre. Cabin in the Woods attempts to do the same thing and eventually throw everything but the kitchen sink into a mishmash of horror genres and tropes into an unexpected, over-the-top love letter to horror film fans. The movie does start off shaky but is refreshing to see such typical characters be unlike their typical horror roles and eventually slide into the cliched stock characters we are used to seeing. The real fun of the film is Jenkins and Whitford’s characters who are sarcastic, juvenile and in charge of the bigger side plot and an absolute joy to watch making bets on, and commenting on the film while it is going on. It’s almost like watching The Evil Dead with commentary by writer Joss Whedon and director Drew Godard. Jenkins and Whitford are the highlight but Kristen Connolly is a serviceable scream queen and a pleasure to watch on screen and carries the film well. Hemsworth is very good as the jock, Curt and easy to see how he would eventually become a star (this film was shot in 2009) but unfortunately doesn’t get the deserved screen time but it works for the story in the long run.  Fran Kranz as the stoner, Marty does fine and what he is supposed to in the role but for me became too much of a caricature of whom his character was supposed to be.

Don’t watch Cabin in the Woods expecting scares or even a typical horror movie but instead a mish-mash of genre elements from the past 30 years blended into a horror-comedy cocktail served to please the likes of most nerds and fans of the genre.

RATING: 8/10

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Netflix Watch Instantly: Halloween Recommendations

 

As much as people complain about the lacking titles on Netflix streaming. I believe there is a great wide variety of titles especially underrated genre films. So Halloween is the perfect time to set aside your worn out copy of  The Nightmare before Christmas and expand your horizons.

DEMONIC POSSESSION

The Exorcist:

The epitome of Horror and usually the one that gets the most recognition as being one of the scariest movies of all time. For good reasons too, the movie still holds up today as a creepy, skin-crawling tale of a young girl possessed by the devil and the two priests who try to exorcise her. It’s hard pressed to find a horror fan who doesn’t have this on their list of scariest films of all time.

Double-feature it with:

The Last Exorcism:

Not in the same league as “The Exorcist” but one of the better demon possession films to come out recently, this film has been overlooked and underrated especially since 2/3rds of the film aren’t really that scary. Another entry in the found footage genre about a Priest named Cotton (Played with tremendous charisma by Patrick Fabian) who has a documentary crew film his final exorcism. Cotton has used exorcism as a magic trick to have a placebo effect on people with psychological problems but calls his faith into question when a young girl may be really possessed or mentally disturbed. An interesting watch that may not be what people expect.

ZOMBIE NATION

Night of the Living Dead:

The original zombie film. Like “The Exorcist” paved the way for many films in its genre. The black and white gives the movie a timeless quality that is still creepy and haunting to watch. Everyone knows the story and the outcome but it is still arguably George A. Romero’s greatest achievement.

Double-feature it with:

Dead Snow:

A modern pick, but there are what seems like literally thousands of B-level zombie films on Netflix. This Norwegian film (yes, there’s subtitles) is a spin on the zombie genre as a group of medical students encounter a group of Nazi zombies frozen since World War II. The film doesn’t offer anything new besides the Nazi angle but it is a fun/entertaining foreign horror film that has some great gory moments.

MODERN DAY SLASHERS

Hatchet:

Instead of the traditional picks of Halloween, Friday the 13th try this modern backwoods slasher that is surprisingly funny as it is unexpectedly gory. Featuring a solid lead from Avatar’s Joel David Moore and cameos from horror legends Tony Todd and Robert Englund. The movie is about a new Orleans swamp tour that runs into Victor Crowley aka the legendary Hatchetface. Not original but helluva lot of fun.

Double-feature it with:

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon:

Speaking of slasher movie tributes this film is another film filled with cameos from Robert Englund, Zelda Rubenstein and Hatchet’s Kane Hodder. The film itself is not gory or bloody but a great deconstruction of the slasher genre when a documentary crew follows a wannabe serial killer. Hilarious especially for horror fanatics.

FIGHT FOR YOUR LIVES

From Dusk Till Dawn:

Not only a great movie but one of my favorite horror films. George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino (who wrote the film) are outlaw brothers who kidnap a family to get across the Mexican border and accidentally wind up in a bar run by murderous vampires. Director Robert Rodriguez brings his spaghetti western style with Tarantino’s whip crack dialogue and makes a fun, fast-paced horror film that has memorable turns by Clooney, Harvey Kietel, and Salma Hayek.

Double-feature it with:

Evil Dead:

A low-budget horror classic that launched the careers of Bruce Campbell and director Sam Raimi. The story of Ash and his friends unleashing an evil force in a cabin in the woods features some great memorable gore, animation and camera shots. Constantly duplicated by others but never matched the brilliance of this film which features a sequel/remake that nearly tops the original in terms of gore and comedy but sadly not on streaming. 😦

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Frozen:

I don’t so much fear ghosts or zombies as a I fear being stuck in one place with no escape. Frozen takes that concept to an extreme as three friends take one last ride on a chairlift at a ski resort and accidentally get left behind as the place shuts down for the weekend. Now stranded as the cold sets in and wolves gather down below them they are forced to decide the lengths they will each go in order to survive. While the movie won’t satisfy everyone it takes a simple concept and pushes it to an extreme length or stomach-churning suspense. The three leads also have a great believable chemistry but it is a definite must-see for those with claustrophobia or fear or heights. Director by Adam Green who also made Hatchet.

Double-feature it with:

Session 9:

This is another film where the location is just as important as the main characters. This overlooked film is about a team asbestos removers who agree to work in an abandoned mental hospital. The movie is not particularly gory or boo-scary but has an unbearable amount of tension, dread, and atmosphere. Also features a pre-CSI David Caruso.

HORROR ANTHOLOGY

Trick r’ Treat:

An overlooked gem that is a perfect Halloween movie. An anthology of interlocking stories feature a school principal who moonlights as a serial killer, a group of kids who play a mean prank, a dark spin on the little red riding hood story, and an old man haunted by a mysterious trick or treater. Anyone who has love for the holiday will enjoy this love letter to the traditions and spirit of Halloween. Also features great turns from Dylan Baker, Brian Cox, and True Blood’s Anna Paquin.

Double-feature it with:

Creepshow:

A horror anthology from Stephen King and George A. Romero inspired by 50’s comics is still equally fun and gross. Featuring great character actors like Ed Harris, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson, and Hal Holbrook. The story has a vengeful father on Father’s Day, a farmer who finds a meteor turning everything into plant life, a jealous lover who buries his wife and lover up to their necks on a beach, a creature living in a crate, and a businessman who is attacked by cockroaches. Not every section is a winner but is a pinnacle in 80’s horror cinema.

 

HAVE A SAFE AND HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!