Hey there, folks. Due to some personal matters, I’ll likely be taking a break from doing theatrical reviews for awhile. But because I am by my very nature, a writer, I can’t just not write. So in spirit of the encroaching holiday of Halloween, I have opted to use this month to write reviews of my favorite movies to watch this time of year, basically horror films, or Halloween-themed movies. For those of you that don’t know, I generally hate horror as a genre. Far too often the movies follow a very specific formula: stupid character making stupid decisions getting other stupid characters killed. By the day’s end, there’s nothing to invest in. It’s just violence porn, which I’m not a fan of. It’s too cheap and easy. But for this month, I’ll be writing about the ones that I think break that formula and actually look like they gave a shit about making a good movie, with good characters, good scares, and above all else, a good story. At least, for the horror films. Like I said, I’ll be touching on Halloween-themed films that could be for kids. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my opinions.
Cast: Kristen Connolly (REVOLUTIONARY ROAD , and TV shows ZOO [2015 – ongoing] and HOUSE OF CARDS [2013 – ongoing]), Chris Hemsworth (GHOSTBUSTERS , THOR: THE DARK WORLD , STAR TREK , and upcoming films THOR: RAGNAROK  and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR ), Fran Kranz (THE DARK TOWER  and TV show DOLLHOUSE [2009 – 2010]), Bradley Whitford (MEGAN LEAVEY , and the upcoming GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS ), and Richard Jenkins (KONG: SKULL ISLAND , THE KINGDOM , and the upcoming THE SHAPE OF THE WATER ).
Support: Anna Hutchison (TV shows ANGER MANAGEMENT [2012 – 2014], SPARTACUS [2010 – 2013], and POWER RANGERS JUNGLE FURY ), Jesse Williams (BAND AID ), Brian White (12 ROUNDS , BRICK . and TV show CHICAGO FIRE [2012 – ongoing]), Sigourney Weaver (A MONSTER CALLS , and upcoming films THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES  and AVATAR 2 ), and popular mocap actor/stuntman, Terry Notary (WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES , THE INCREDIBLE HULK , HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS , and upcoming films AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and AVENGERS: ENDGAME ).
Director: Drew Goddard (4 episodes of TV show THE GOOD PLACE [2016 – ongoing] and the upcoming X-FORCE, no release date announced). Writers: Drew Goddard (THE MARTIAN , WORLD WAR Z , CLOVERFIELD , and the upcoming X-FORCE) and Joss Whedon (AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON , SERENITY , TOY STORY , and upcoming films JUSTICE LEAGUE  and BATGIRL, no release date announced). Composer: David Julyan (THE PRESTIGE , THE DESCENT , and MEMENTO ). Cinematographer: Peter Deming (NOW YOU SEE ME 2 , THE JACKET , AUSTIN POWERS , and the upcoming THE NEW MUTANTS )
For those not in the know CABIN IN THE WOODS was actually a creation of Joss Whedon. Yes, the same Joss Whedon who gave us TV shows BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1997 – 2003), FIREFLY (2002 – 2003), and films THE AVENGERS (2012) and AVENGERS: THE AGE OF ULTRON, and briefly took over filming for the upcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017) and is slated to make a Batgirl movie that may or may not have anything to do with the DC Extended Universe. My point is, Whedon is one of the most celebrated names in Hollywood, for his smart stories, brilliant direction, creating some of the most kick-ass women on screen, he’s an all around icon in geek culture.
I bring this up because this is weirdly enough one of his films that got pushed to the wayside. Yeah, though I don’t know the full history, CABIN was originally made years before. Hell, I have a theory that the only reason it was released was because of the success of Marvel’s THOR (2011) and the popularity of Chris Hemsworth, whom is in this film. Kind of funny how things turned out. The common person is probably still looking at this title and wondering why they haven’t heard of it. If it had such big names attached, why aren’t more people talking about it? Well, the sad fact with Whedon is that many of his projects in the past, post-BUFFY and pre-AVENGERS, weren’t always given the best chances, likely due to marketing failure. FIREFLY, for example, is considered to be one of the greatest sci-fi TV shows of all time, but much like CABIN, not many people have heard of it, and seemingly fewer have seen it. So what does that usually mean? Popular, fresh, different, and amazing work that goes completely over mainstream becomes, what else, a cut classic. There’s plenty who talk about these slices of celluloid wonder. You just have to look for them. That was the case for FIREFLY, such is also the case for CABIN.
So what makes CABIN IN THE WOODS so special? Well, take a look at the trailer when this movie first came out.
Doesn’t seem too special, right? A generic horror film about a group of teenagers that get out of town to get high, get drunk, have sex, and an all around good time in a cabin in the woods. But then shit starts to get real and they start getting picked off, one by one. Yup, it’s about a generic as it looks, right?
HA!!! Fools, the lot of you!
The film lets you know exactly what kind of movie you’re really in for in its opening sequence, which is what threw off more than a couple people who saw this. It’s a comedy. A horror-comedy, one of my favorite mash-ups when it comes to the horror genre. The very first set of images we get are of ritual sacrifice from ancient civilizations and then cuts to a pair of business suit-wearing men, Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), who talk about their normal everyday lives combined with some ominous talk about something something or other. It’s a lot funnier than I’m making it sound.
Then we get right to the traditions of horror: the five victims of circumstance. Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Holden (Jesse Williams), and Marty (Fran Kranz). Though the difference here is that unlike most horror films, as generic as they appear, there is a likability to each of them. They’re written in such a way that you may not be able to talk about them very much, but they still have some charm to them. Marty is probably my favorite character, being a pothead and a conspiracy theorist, but he’s so damn funny and barely takes what he himself says seriously that I can’t help but laugh my ass off.
On the surface, the film is about a super secret organization that periodically must sacrifice at least four of five victims to giant ancient gods to keep them in their slumber. A slut, an athlete, a scholar, a fool, and the optional virgin. They lead the young people to this cabin in the woods and basically rig this system in a way that these young people choose how they die. How do they do that? By making them curious enough to go into the creepy basement and fiddle with a bunch of knickknacks that will ultimately trigger a horror that ultimately kills them, like, a conch shell will decide on a merman that will kill them, or a creepy journal that if read, will trigger a zombie torture family to kill them. Things like that. What’s hilarious is that the people in suits take bets on what will be the horror that the teens face. At this point, the teens must die in a specific way. The whore dies first, then the others, so long as the virgin is last. There’s also clichés that are played with. You know that age old “let’s split up, we can cover more ground that way” bullshit that even Scooby Doo made a career out of doing that? Well, this is addressed in brilliant way. At first, one of them will say that they should stick together at all costs. But then the guys in suits will release a tiny amount of gas that fucks with their brains and then that same teen will say, “On second thought, let’s split up.”
However, things go wrong when one of the deaths doesn’t happen as intended. Marty, the fool, was originally thought to be killed, but ended up surviving and accidentally stumbled upon an elevator that would them to the underground facility of the people that have been doing this to the teens. It’s here that they discover all sorts of horrors, the list of which is too great to go through. But eagle eyed fans of the video game franchise Left 4 Dead may notice a boomer, a tank, and a witch in the cubes. Upon entering, the organization desperately tries to nullify the situation by sending their own personal SWAT guys after them, but equally desperate to stay alive, Dana and Marty unleash the monsters upon the SWAT guys and it’s a shit load of gory fun, from giant snakes, giant a giant octopus, ghosts, and . They navigate to the heart of this facility and discover where the leader of this crap is, The Director, played amazingly by Sigourney Weaver, and basically reveals everything, only for her to die in a climactic fight and dooming the world to extinction because Marty was unwilling to die for humanity and Dana sorta failed at killing him. The gods rise up and the movie ends. Just like that.
Well, alright, that can sound like a bit of fun, right? But what makes it such a modern classic, aside from the video game and countless pop culture references, like THE EVIL DEAD (1981), which heavily influenced this set-up? Because it’s social commentary, specifically about horror fans who love the formula of bad and repetitive horror films. Really think about it. The Old Gods that are referenced in the movie represent those audiences who need that formula. See what’s happening? When you go to a horror movie like this, you expect the whore to die, you expect the asshole jock to die, and because these movies are bought and paid for so frequently with no wide-spread demand for diversity, these movies become “another day at the office,” getting the same ole routine down to appease you, the audience, that demands this formula, and any deviation or defiance of it results in y’all being angry and shunning it. The perfect example that I read about that the movie uses is in the line, “We haven’t had a glitch since ’98.” If it’s not too far off the mark, this line references the movie THE FACULTY (1998), in which none of the young people die by the end of the movie. And if I’m not mistaken, it wasn’t the best received by viewers.
But the fun-poking doesn’t stop there. I think the corporation represents the producers that finance these movies, as represented by the betting pool of what horror the teens will face and who makes the profit, and the teens represent the minority of audiences that want change, that want an overhaul of the system, but either succumb to the will and demands of those more powerful and in control, or die trying break the mold. All of this is just the tip of the iceberg of what people can extrapolate and it’s a load of fun to read other opinions… except from those that didn’t like the film. Fuckin’ old gods. GO BACK TO SLEEP, YOU FORMULA-LOVING BASTARDS!!!
About the closet thing to a problem that I have with the movie is of the playful variety. Like, now that Whedon and Goddard have incepted this into my brain, you know what, you forward-thinking genius bastards, I want to see a merman killing spree! Fuck the sequel that people have been asking for- how would that even work, dumb-asses? – I want a prequel with the merman! If you can find a way to make space cowboys work, the you can make a god damned movie about a killer merman! Get on it, Whedon and Goddard, or I’ll… I’ll… bitch and moan online some more?
Overall, I think this is probably one of the best and most unique films of its class. It’s hilarious, it’s intelligent, it’s a brilliant love-letter and middle finger to the conventional. I say if you haven’t seen this film, you’re doing yourself a grand disservice. This is one of my favorite movies to revisit around Halloween, so get together with some buddies and have a magnificent time with it.
My honest rating for CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011): 5/5