Most films are released with some sort of hyperbole on their packaging: “The best film to come out of England!” or “An Oscar-worthy performance by Lead Actress!” Understandably, people tend to skim over these glowing reviews, which more often than not reek of prepaid endorsements or blatant lies.
All that being said, I have a grandiose claim to make today: The Cabin in the Woods is the best horror film in a decade. But wait! I promise to back this up.
Like all genres, horror tends to fall into periods of stagnation. Every decade or so a new trend comes along to rejuvenate it: the ’70s were all about serial killers, the ’90s belonged to vampires, and the last decade saw “torture porn” and a lot of creepy grey people who moved weird—and usually spoke Japanese.
But sometimes the best way to rejuvenate a genre is to go back to the basics and acknowledge everything that’s come before. To reinvent the wheel, so to say. And this is precisely what The Cabin in the Woods does. In the most glorious, exciting way possible.
The setup is so basic it’s usually boring: five hot twenty-somethings go out to party in the eponymous cabin. We automatically assume that we know this story, that we’ll predict every bloody death. But the film promptly subverts our expectations, pulling the rug from beneath our feet and shaking things up in a way that’s marvelously meta.
This is a horror movie about horror. The mechanics of it, the reasoning behind it, and the violent implications of our fascination with it. This is tongue-in-cheek deconstructive horror. Why do people like to be scared? Why do so many attractive young people have to die in our movies? Why are monsters so terrifying, and why is there a warped moral code that decides who lives and who has to die? Cabin answers all of these questions while referencing, and this is no exaggeration, dozens of past films.
And this is no surprise, when you consider the creative forces behind the camera: Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame and Drew Goddard, who last worked on Cloverfield. Whedon and Goddard are both well versed in the genre and their fanboyish love is on ample display here.
What makes The Cabin in the Woods stand out from the crowd of recent releases is the writing. The characters are set up to be typical horror stereotypes (the virgin, the stoner, the jock), but also to subvert them. They’re fully realized people, which makes their plight emotionally compelling. So often in horror the audience is more invested in the death scenes, the “money shots” of the genre. Not so with Cabin. We’re rooting for these characters to overcome the monsters at every turn, which is a refreshing change of pace. They’re also much more aware than the typical bunch of victims; if you’ve ever screamed at a character for running up the stairs when they should have called the police, you’ll appreciate this film.
The gallows humor is riotous. While this is a horror film with plenty of creepifying, gross, and startling moments, it’s also laugh out loud hilarious. The stoner Marty provides most of the sarcastic wit while also being the smartest and most observant of the group. Cabin is very much in the vein of the Evil Dead series, seamlessly mixing frights with grins.
I fell in love with Cabin from the very first scene, which was the opening I’ve always wanted from a horror film but never knew until that moment. It sets the tone for the following story perfectly. And this may actually be the first horror film I’ve seen where the third act nearly surpasses the rest of the action. Trust me when I say that this is an ending you could never see coming, and is so impossibly crazy that only someone like Joss Whedon could have pulled it off.
The effects are impressive, the monsters are fantastically realized, and the entire cast—which features many Whedon alums—does a spectacular job. This is truly a horror movie that has everything. I’ve watched it several times now, and it has yet to lose its potency. If you’re looking for a funny, scary, all around entertaining movie for Halloween check out The Cabin in the Woods.
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. You can find her at Livejournal.com under the handle “zombres.”
Read all posts by Angie Barry at Criminal Element.