Teens enter eerie forest: What could go wrong?
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, Apr. 13, 2012
A fiendishly clever brand of meta-level genius propels "The Cabin in the Woods," a pulpy, deceivingly insightful send-up of horror movies that elicits just as many knowing chuckles as horrified gasps.
Like its spiritual heirs - the "Scream" franchise, Eli Roth's "Cabin Fever" and the collected works of Sam Raimi - "The Cabin in the Woods" comes not only to praise the slasher-, zombie- and gore-fests of yore but to critique them, elaborating on their grammatical elements and archetypal figures even while searching for ways to put them to novel use.
The danger in such a loftily ironic approach is that everything in the film appears with ready-made quotation marks around it. And "The Cabin in the Woods" - which was directed by Drew Goddard from a script he wrote with Joss Whedon - occasionally teeters on the brink of fatal self-awareness, especially in its Grand Guignol of a denouement. But by then, the audience will have picked up on the infectiously goofy vibe of an enterprise that, from its first sprightly moments, clearly has no intention of taking itself too seriously.
Those opening scenes are when viewers meet the principal players, who hew telegenically to horror-movie conventions: We have the Jock (a football player named Curt, played by Chris Hemsworth); the Stoner (a hilariously bleary-eyed bong-hitter named Marty, played by Fran Kranz); the Nice Guy (the equal parts ripped and bookish Holden, played by Jesse Williams), the Good Girl (a redhead named Dana, played by Kristen Connolly) and the Dumb Blonde - in this case, a college student named Jules (Anna Hutchison) who's neither, but who just conveniently dyed her hair. When they all pile in to an RV and head for Curt's cousin's new place on a rural lake, carnage is sure to ensue; when they encounter a spooky old coot at an abandoned gas station on their way, their tragic fates are all but sealed.
Why do kids continue to ignore such clear danger signs, despite having been cinematically schooled at the University of John Carpenter? Why do they split up instead of staying together? Why, dear reader, does the Good Girl always Go Into The Basement (faulty flashlight suggested, but not mandatory)? Such are the Talmudic questions that Whedon and Goddard cheekily contemplate as they put their resourceful but conveniently clueless protagonists through their paces.
In a parallel plot featuring faceless bureaucrats played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, "The Cabin in the Woods" becomes a witty essay on the exigencies of Hollywood narrative (taking a few jabs at trendy incursions from Sweden and Japan along), with its world-weary gaze finally settling squarely on the audience, whose appetite for ritualized violence and sadistic sacrifice seems never entirely sated.
We come for blood - and Whedon and Goddard duly comply, allowing it to run in copious rivulets of viscous fluid that resembles cherry jam or motor oil, but never the real thing.
As a playful departure from the torture porn that it obliquely lampoons, "The Cabin in the Woods" marks a welcome return of cheap thrills and simple bump-in-the-night frights, with some stinging self-critical commentary on the side. Rarely have quotation marks been so on-point, or diabolically entertaining.
Contains strong bloody horror violence and gore, profanity, drug use and some sexuality/nudity.