I don’t call a movie “an instant classic” lightly, but The Cabin in the Woods certainly qualifies. Drew Goddard’s horror comedy transcends genre boundaries, questioning the very nature of scary movies, cross-examining the relationship between filmmakers and audiences, and illustrating the complex generational divides surrounding the concept of morality. It’s also a very funny movie with gore, boobs and monsters that suggests that smoking pot makes you smarter. Revealing much more seems like a spoiler, which is why it saddens me that Lionsgate’s Blu-ray edition – available this week – includes a lenticular cover that ruins one of the movie’s many surprises. One of the big ones, too. That's pretty shameful. It's a good thing the rest of the release compensates for that deficiency.
You may recall a more critical component of my initial review, which a second viewing of The Cabin in the Woods bears out, and which I suspect that kept some audience members from embracing the storyline. (The film wasn not a major success in theaters.) The Cabin in the Woods may actually be too smart for its own good. This is not to imply that audiences are dolts who don’t know a good thing when they see it (although that’s an argument some have made on occasion, with some genuine observations to back it up), but rather that The Cabin in the Woods is an intellectual exercise first and foremost, with the more fascinating character dynamics only illuminated upon returning to its storyline with the twists and turns now known quantities, influencing your interpretation of early events.
About those early events, for those who missed The Cabin in the Woods in theaters: a group of college students pack up a camper for a summer getaway in the woods, where they intend to reside in a cabin. There’s a stoner (“Dollhouse’s” Fran Kranz), a football star (Thor’s Chris Hemsworth), a generally nice guy (“Grey’s Anatomy’s” Jesse Williams), an outgoing and attractive young woman (Anna Hutchinson) and a bookish but also attractive leading lady (Kristen Connolly). The tropes are neither lazy writing nor coincidence, we discover, as the youths are being watched – even herded – to their destination by unknown puppet masters played by The Visitor’s Richard Jenkins and “The West Wing’s” Bradley Whitford, who influence the young cast’s lives towards an adherence to genre clichés that belies the characters we were introduced to in the early scenes. They are acting out of character in order to act, from a horror movie’s perspective, in character, and give the audience what they want.
Events transpire as horror fans expect them to – drinking and sex are enjoyed, monsters are called forth, body count arises – until eventually they don’t. The nature of the horror movie being presented, surreptitiously directed by Jenkins and Whitford, has greater ramifications than the players within it could possibly suspect, and raises serious questions about every horror movie you have ever seen in your life. Partly from a social perspective, as the audience is deemed complicit in the puppet masters’ crimes, but also from a simple plot perspective, which retcons the whole horror genre as a whole into a vast continuity along the lines of the DC and Marvel comics universes.
Horror fans are likely to accept The Cabin in the Woods right off the bat, playing as it does very cleverly with the nature of the genre, but for those who may be put off by its off-kilter storyline, which might inhibit an emotional connection to the protagonists, I encourage you to watch the film a second time knowing what you know now, and placing your empathy in every member of the cast. They’re each doing the right thing, in their own minds, and their decision-making processes are indicative of youthful idealism and cynical maturity. Every character is sympathetic, every character is to blame, making The Cabin in the Woods one of the most rewatchable movies in recent years.
The Blu-ray from Lionsgate, despite the problematic cover, helps with that replay value, offering a bevy of special features that displays obvious enthusiasm from every member of the production. The commentary track from co-writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (who also produced and directed the film, respectively), is one of the better tracks on the market lately, which should come as no surprise to fans of Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly” DVDs. Informative and often insightful in regards to the creative process, and pumped full of fun stories from the production, it makes the “Bonus View” mode provided on the same disc rather redundant. Indeed, the actual video content for that bonus view mode occurs so sporadically that the supplemental content feels more like an interruption to the film than a welcome inclusion. But the video looks lovely and the surround sound is mighty absorbing, so overall the disc deserves very high marks.
The Cabin in the Woods deserves credit for intellectualizing the horror genre to the nth degree, creating something new within existing genre frameworks. And if that’s too snooty for you, it’s a total blast from start to finish. It may require a second viewing to appreciate the story beyond the clever satire, but the emotional substance is certainly there. This Cabin is more than worth a weekend rental. You should own this today.
The Cabin in the Woods: