- Rated R
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All photos © Lionsgate
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
eave it to Joss Whedon to take the horror genre and turn it on its head. The guy has been defying convention for years – from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” to “Firefly,” to “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog” – and if there was any genre in need of a shake-up, it’s horror. Directed by Drew Goddard (who made a name for himself writing on TV shows like “Buffy” and “Lost,” as well as the found footage monster movie “Cloverfield”) and co-written with Whedon, “The Cabin in the Woods” is an entertaining and wholly original genre hybrid film that, although it may appear to be a typical slasher flick at first sight, has more than a few tricks up its sleeves.
Taking a cue from classic horror movies like “The Evil Dead,” the story is simple: five college friends – Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Dana (Kristen Connolly), Holden (Jesse Williams), Jules (Anna Hutchison) and Marty (Fran Kranz) – drive out to a cabin in the middle of nowhere (so far off the grid that it can’t even be located on GPS) for a weekend of fun. But what starts out as an innocent retreat quickly devolves into something out of a nightmare when a family of redneck pain-worshippers is inadvertently resurrected from the dead, thrusting the friends into a fight for their lives. What the group doesn’t realize, however, is that the whole thing is being orchestrated by a third party with ulterior motives, although to say any more would not only ruin the surprise, but completely suck the fun out of experiencing it for yourself.
It’s an excellent twist on a worn-out genre, with Whedon and Goddard’s script playfully skewering the laws of horror movies much like Wes Craven's "Scream." Though it does have some moments of genuine terror, the duo keeps the mood surprisingly light for the most part with deft strokes of humor. The cast of victims is also much better than your average slasher film. Fran Kranz (who was pretty annoying in Whedon’s short-lived TV series “Dollhouse”) is the clear standout as the stoner comic relief of the group; newcomer Kristen Connolly does a great job as the geeky but sweet heroine; and Chris "Thor" Hemsworth shows why he’s fast becoming one of Hollywood’s most promising leading men in a role that predates his career-making turn as Marvel's God of Thunder.
Of course, the real stars of the film are Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford in a pair of hilarious roles as the mission control guys pulling the strings behind all the death and destruction at the cabin. Not only are they responsible for many of the movie’s biggest laughs, but it’s their part in the story that makes “The Cabin in the Woods” so unique. That stark originality is probably what scared away some studios from making the film, because while the script has no qualms about swinging for the fence, the fact that first-time director Drew Goddard was even able to pull it off is pretty amazing. “The Cabin in the Woods” does go a bit off the rails in the final act after its big reveal (although anyone familiar with Whedon's work shouldn't be too surprised), but for a movie this ambitious, sometimes it takes that kind of risk to yield such an unabashedly crowd-pleasing result.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
After enduring such a long road to theaters, it's nice to see that Lionsgate has packed the film's Blu-ray release with a strong collection of bonus material. In addition to a really fun and informative audio commentary by co-writer/director Drew Goddard and co-writer/producer Joss Whedon, there's also a great making-of featurette ("We Are Now Who We Are"), a pair of production featurettes on practical and visual effects, a behind-the-scenes look at Marty's various drug paraphernalia, a digital copy and much more.