If you have so much as ever dipped a toe in the waters of geekdom then you know that anytime you hear the name Joss Whedon attached to a project, you’re in a for a good time. Ever since the mid-nineties, geeks everywhere have been staunch fans of Mr. Whedon and for good reason. I’m very happy to say that Cabin in the Woods is no exception. As a writer/director, he has certainly seen a respectable amount of success although prominently on the small screen. Which has always baffled me, because I think that most of his fan base would consider Whedon one of the most underrated and consequentially one of the most unknown talents of our generation.
His resume reaches back to the late eighties and the list of ‘I didn’t know he wrote that’ projects are astounding. Names like Alien: Resurrection, the original Toy Story, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog even episodes of Roseanne graces his dossier. Being an unapologetic fan of Whedon’s for many years myself, I have been counting down the days until The Avengers premiere since last year. So much so in fact, I all but ignored this impressive little gem. Cabin the the Woods had the misfortune to not only be delayed for nearly two years (due to a dispute between the distributor and filmmakers about a possible 3-D conversion) but also be lost in the rising tide of the tsunami called The Avengers.
Cabin in the Woods is an insane rollercoaster of movie. If the trailer didn’t wow you, don’t feel bad; it didn’t bowl me over either. A common side effect of many genre mash-ups as the square peg of innovation is clumsily crammed into the round hole of movie marketing. Is it a comedy or a horror? Do we want people to laugh or cringe? Relax Hollywood; I think we can figure it out for ourselves. I happen to be a big fan of these movies because when they’re good, we get Shaun of the Dead, Kung-Fu Hustle and the Evil Dead trilogy. Though on the other end of that spectrum, when they’re not so good, we get schizophrenic messes like Cowboys & Aliens or The Green Hornet.
The opening scenes of Cabin begin with the well-tread premise of a painfully attractive group of college students headed up to a mysterious cabin for a weekend getaway. The set-up is predictable as it is intended to be. Communication and GPS problems? Check. A creepy and vaguely threatening local? Check. The doubting Thomas, voice of reason friend? Double check. A sinister and impenetrable force field of doom? Wait. What?
Meanwhile, as we watch the thrills unfold with the co-eds, yet another story is being told behind the scenes. A sparsely staffed command center manned by Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) and Bradley Whitford (West Wing) is somehow watching their every move a la The Truman Show. The casting of the college students is spot-on and they embody their semi-archetypical roles beautifully. A pre-Thor/Avengers Chris Hemsworth is the dashing jock with a heart of gold. Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) does what he can with his doesn’t know how handsome he is brains of the group. While Fran Kranz (Dollhouse) is a true delight as the caveat spouting stoner, who sees conspiracy around every corner.
The labyrinthine plot is like a Rubik’s cube with multiple personalities. The audience is only given glimpses of the whole as the story zigs just when you think it will zag. All the while, never in a way that feels frustrating, obtuse or intentionally laden with red herrings. Much like the aforementioned Shaun of the Dead, the laughs come just as often as the thrills. The end result, a satisfying film experience that feels very reminiscent of Sam Raimi films like Army of Darkness or Drag Me To Hell. As far as spoilers go, Cabin in the Woods boasts one of the best tweeests (you have to imagine that in a pseudo-M. Night Shyamalan accent) in recent history, sci-fi, horror or otherwise.
While it is more than likely that Cabin will not be receiving the type of box-office it so richly deserves, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I’m sure either way that it will find its audience on the home front like so many of Whedon’s pre-Avengers endeavors have. A reality that will more than likely change forever post-Avengers. So if you’re just a fan of original stories or whip smart writing that will keep you constantly on the edge of your seat, then Cabin in the Woods is absolutely the perfect way to spend a couple of hours.
4 out of 5 stars