Brilliant Take on Old Tale Enlivens Not for Squeamish 'Cabin in Woods'

by Jeff Beck, Guest Film Critic
Brilliant Take on Old Tale Enlivens Not for Squeamish 'Cabin in Woods'

“The Cabin in the Woods” has had a heck of a time trying to get released. Shot back in 2009, it was originally delayed so that it could pointlessly be converted to 3D, something that luckily never happened. In the delay, the studio that made it went bankrupt, causing many to wonder if the film would ever make it to theaters. Eventually the film was picked up by another studio, but instead of releasing it around October as many expected, they delayed the release even longer. Usually this many delays means terrible things for the film in question. However, in this case, it merely built anticipation for what becomes the first great film of 2012.


The film follows five friends, Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Marty (Fran Kranz), and Holden (Jesse Williams), who are taking a vacation at a remote cabin. They’re there to do the things teenagers usually do when they party, mainly drink and get high. However, things don’t remain upbeat for long as they soon find themselves being attacked by creatures from the surrounding woods. Meanwhile, this story is intertwined with the mysterious Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), two “controllers” who are keeping a close eye on the kids, but as to for what purpose is something that is slowly revealed.


I’ve opted to end the synopsis there and use a little discretion, something that others have decided against. This is a horror film of surprises, and not just of the “boo with a sharp musical chord” variety. I mean that in the sense that it takes you in directions that you won’t expect. If you think you know what’s coming, you’re most likely wrong. Writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have taken the story you think you know and turned it on its head.


The best way to describe it without giving too much away is as a cross between “The Evil Dead” and “The Truman Show.” “The Evil Dead” is, of course, the original “cabin in the woods” story that most people are familiar with, and just from this film’s trailer, you can tell that things get a little crazy, but there are other elements that Whedon and Goddard have thrown in that make this a uniquely original and amazing tale.


One of the best features of “The Cabin in the Woods” is the storytelling technique. We are immediately introduced to the characters of Sitterson and Hadley in the first scene, but their dialogue is rather cryptic and non-revealing about what their purpose is as we’re given bits about how “Stockholm went south” and “There’s just Japan and us.” This is a technique that carries through to their next several scenes. This mystery element is what draws the audience in and keeps up engaged as we slowly learn the horrifying truth about what’s really happening.


Another great feature is Whedon’s and Goddard’s ability to throw in some well-placed humor in such a terrifying situation. Those already familiar with “The Evil Dead” trilogy will recall how Sam Raimi brilliantly changed the tone of his films from horror to comedy, striking a really good balance in the middle. Here, the writers have struck such a balance, allowing for bits of humor to come through while still maintaining the seriousness of the horror plot.


Of course, these writers aren’t unfamiliar with strange and unusual plots. Whedon is well-known for being the creator of such shows as “Firefly,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “Angel,” while Goddard wrote several episodes of “Lost” and gave us the screenplay to “Cloverfield,” another film with an interesting mystery element that slowly unravels itself, but which is known more so for its style. These guys have fashioned an excellent screenplay that shows us something that we haven’t seen before, something that’s a treat to us horror fans as it’s hard to come up with something nowadays that is not already clichéd.


As with most horror films, “The Cabin in the Woods” is not for the squeamish. However, if you can stand the gore, you’ll be treated to a fascinating and well-told story. A horror film like this only comes along once every several years, the last time being back in 1996 when Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson brought us a great dissection of horror films called “Scream,” a film that revitalized the genre. 16 years later, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have gone all out to revitalize it once more with their brilliant take on an old tale that proves there’s still some life in the genre yet. 3.5/4 stars.
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