Review of The Cabin in the Woods

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Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, where they get more than they bargained for. Together, they must discover the truth behind the cabin in the woods.
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Movie Review: "Cabin in the Woods"

--Rating: R (Strong bloody horror, violence and gore, language and some sexuality/nudity)
Length: 95 minutes
Release Date: April 13, 2012
Directed by: Drew Goddard
Genre: Horror/ Thriller

The bulk of B-movie horror films tend to be rather formulaic. A group of high school or college-aged teens visit a strange cabin in the middle of nowhere and are hacked to death by some evil being. It could be a zombie, witch, immortal demon or all of the above.

"Cabin in the Woods" takes all of your conceptions of classic horror and turns them on their ears with a modern twist. At its heart, the movie is a mix of every horror classic ever made, "The Truman Show" and the science-fiction classic "Westworld."

In many ways, "Cabin in the Woods" is an homage to classic slasher films like "Friday the 13th" and "The Evil Dead." Savvy audience members will recognize many similar landmarks and plot points that have become horror movie fodder, such as the ominous lake, an eerie gas station attendant and a group of stereotypical teens. Director Drew Goddard did an amazing job of mixing these classic horror motifs with high-tech gadgets and surveillance.

Goddard has a long tradition with mind-bending action and horror. He helped write "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" and helped produce both "Lost" and "Alias." You can definitely feel the impact of J.J. Abrams on how the movie is filmed and paced. Ironically, a smoke monster is one of the few creatures not thrown at the protagonists.

The cast is typical of a horror movie: The Jock (Chris Hemsworth), The Virgin (Kristen Connolly), The Seductress (Anna Hutchison), The Brain (Jesse Williams) and the plucky comic relief (Fran Kranz). You can tell from the very beginning that this isn't going to be your standard horror fare. Mixed with scenes of the teens are glimpses of a large laboratory or scientific complex headed by Sittersson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), who portray the puppet masters orchestrating the horrors behind the thrills.

Under the helm of Goddard and horror genre favorite Joss Whedon, this movie examines the very nature of horror and why we love to be scared. It's the rush of adrenaline as you watch the heroine being stalked by the monster while you're safe and sound in the plush theater seat. People have become desensitized to horror because they have seen it all before, but Whedon accomplished something truly amazing by creating something new and original.

"Cabin in the Woods" is a thrill fest, but it also has no problem making fun of the horror genre. Hardcore horror fans who treat the genre as serious business may find "Cabin in the Woods" too much of a dark comedy, but they'll definitely get a chuckle or two.

Whedon is known for his tendency toward strong female characters, and the tough-as-nails heroine, Dana, would have made Buffy proud. He also included some members of his own stable of actors and actresses in that production, and "Cabin in the Woods" is no different. Kranz was in "Dollhouse," and Amy Acker was in both "Dollhouse" and "Angel." It's Kranz who steals the show as the comic relief who finds himself drawn into an underground world of sadistic high-tech voyeurism and mechanical monsters. As the movie progresses, the stereotype is stripped away and what's left is a desperate man just trying to survive... just like the rest of us. That's where Goddard and Whedon truly shine in "Cabin in the Woods."

By the end of the movie, the audience no longer feels like the voyeuristic observer idly watching events unfold but rather a participant who is drawn not only to the action, but also the characters. It borrows a little from Alfred Hitchcock's brand of dark comedy, Sam Raimi's over-the-top theatrics and Wes Craven's ability to give the audience genre-bending twists and turns.

Audiences were treated to a visual feast of monsters straight out of their nightmares as the characters were hit with everything from zombies to killer clowns. The sheer number of creatures thrown at them is one of the primary comedic aspects. There are no sparkling vampires or sensitive teen heartthrobs in "Cabin in the Woods," and on the surface it is the most basic of horror movies, but as they begin to peel away layer after layer, we find the truth is much stranger than any fiction or supernatural beast.

"Cabin in the Woods" is a movie that will make you scratch your head as you leave the theater and contemplate not necessarily the plot, but instead the very nature of the genre and what you love and hate about horror.