The Cabin in the Woods is just plain great. And in a way that’s frustrating to talk about because much of the joy is in the discovery. The less you know, the better off you’ll be. And so there’s almost nothing I want to share for fear of revealing some element that you may not know that you could discover for yourself.
Heck, I didn’t even watch the trailer until after I’d seen it. Seeing it recently it shows more than I would have preferred. I read one review that, in retrospect, is startlingly like what I’m writing now. It talked in frustrating vagaries while giving a gushing recommendation and I’m happy it was written that way having seen the film basically from trusting that reviewer and trusting in Joss Whedon’s involvement.
But I’ll at least try to give some sense. First, you have to like and watch a lot of horror movies. The movie is ostensibly about a group of teenagers that encounter a nightmare scenario when they get away from their normal lives for a weekend at the eponymous cabin. But more than that, it’s about movies where teenagers encounter such nightmare scenarios in remote areas. The closest analogue would probably be Scream, where they deconstruct the rules of slasher movies in movie to both humorous and clever effect while still producing an actual slasher movie. Cabin is a similar love letter to a broader array of horror movies including supernatural themes that Scream never broached. And it’s hilarious, smart, and gory. The one thing it isn’t is particularly scary. It doesn’t try too hard for jump scares, or to unnerve the viewer like the recent spate of torture flicks or Japanese (and Japanese-influenced) moodies. You won’t walk out depressed about humanity, or unsettled by some concept or visual that will haunt you.
The film’s happier being a crowd-pleaser. I’m not kidding when I say people were talking in the theatre and it was a good thing. The crowd was engaged, and when someone shouted out “Oh my god!” or “Did that just happen?!” it was more cathartic than annoying.
Another thing worth mentioning is it’s not a “twist” movie per se. It’s not like Sixth Sense (feel free to insert your favorite offender) where once you know the twist there’s little incentive to revisit the film. It’s about discovery and building on the situation they set up in the very earliest frames, before the title even. I walked out intending to buy it the day it’s released for the home so I can watch it again, and share it with anyone willing to invest the time that I couldn’t convince to see it on the big screen. I hope you aren’t one of those people…