In The Cabin In the Woods, cliches turn to genre subversions almost seamlessly. By the end, you look back 90 minutes and can’t believe where it started.
With a setting that arbitrarily gives off the vibe of late-’90s/early-’00s teen horror films, we get five vicenarians with slasher film archetypes going away on a trip to a relative’s cabin in the woods. At the same time, in an undisclosed location, there are a couple of government employees, played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, who are involved in what immediately comes next in these young adults’ lives.
Written by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, it brilliantly detaches the audience from any of the characters, both becoming like the many slasher films it mimics, and fulfilling a vital part of its satire. If we cared too much about the characters, we would, in turn, be alienated once bad things start happening to them–being more invested in them than in the film’s point. But actually establishing certain appealable traits also prevents the movie from becoming flippant.
The film gets very close to actually becoming self-aware–to where the satire becomes parody–but never does. Jenkins and Whitford’s characters mirror the audience, providing the subtle commentary for us. In fact, becoming commentary for audiences of horror films in general–getting too excited when someone dies or when a woman’s blouse comes off. Their perspective is the satire–but luckily that’s not its sole purpose
What’s great is that the film is about more than just critiquing the horror genre. It also gives us a fresh new story.
Visually, it’s very appealing. Narrative-wise, it’s a blast. The payoff is worth it. Whedon and Goddard give you exactly what you want and what you want to know, answering mostly all of your questions by the end.
The film isn’t without its holes, but I don’t think it really cares. And neither do we, because that’s never the point. It’s a throwback to when horror movies were simple. This time with a more involved premise–proving that it’s possible for the genre to survive and grow.