© 2012 Ray Wong
In an interview, Josh Whedon said he wanted to pay tribute to the best horror films in the past. And so he did with the making of The Cabin in the Woods.
Five college friends decide to spend their break at a remote lakeside cabin. Dana (Kristen Connolly) is an introverted and studious girl who has a crush on her best friend Jules' (Anna Hutchison) boyfriend, Curt (Chris Hemsworth). Tagging along are their pothead friend Marty (Fran Kranz) and gentleman Holden (Jesse Williams). Before they arrive at the cabin, they come across a creepy old man who warns them about the cabin, but they ignore him.
Once at the cabin, they discover a secret cellar filled with strange artifacts, including a diary from a girl whose entire family was killed in the cabin. Despite Marty's warning, Dana reads from the diary and awakes the dead long buried in the woods.
But little did the five young people know they are being watched, and everything has been set up. Who are these people who are watching and manipulating them? What do they want? It's time for Dana and her friends to find out, and they are not going to like what they see.
Kristen Connolly (The Happening) has the innocent look that serves the role well. She plays the shy and demure "nerd" quite well, although I find her a tad too pretty (not that nerds can't be pretty, mind you). By far the most familiar face among the five young stars belongs to Chris Hemsworth (Thor), whose pre-Thor slim build and youthful looks are convincing as he plays the smart jock, Curt. Anna Hutchison (Go Girls) has fun playing Curt's free-spirit "wild" girlfriend. Fran Kranz (Homeland) is particularly effective as the pothead goofball, and Jesse Williams (Grey's Anatomy) is sharp as the kind and gentlemanly Holden.
The veteran actors who play the "men and women behind the scene" are all excellent. Richard Jenkins (The Rum Diary) gets to flex his comedic muscles as Sitterson, one of the men in charge of their "operation." As his partner in crime, Bradley Whitford (Bottle Shock) is equally energetic and "charming" even though what they are doing is anything but. Brian White (Fighting) seems underused and irrelevant -- in fact, I am not sure what his character does except serving as some kind of "moral compass." Sigourney Weaver (Abduction), on the other hand, makes a perfect cameo at the end.
Written by Drew Goddard (Cloverfield), the screenplay is clever and innovative, meshing various ideas together into a seamless story. There's the science fiction part, and then there's the gory horror. He manages to reinvent the horror genre, and I am sure more movies like this will made to spoil the pot in the future. But for now, Goddard's story is unique and fresh, while paying homage to many horror classics such as Friday the Thirteenth and Night of the Living Dead.
I also like the fact that most of the characters are interesting and likable -- yes, even the behind-the-scene bad guys. They are so engaging and three-dimensional that we can't help but like them, even though we know they are going to horrible things. We simply believe they must have a good reason. The screenplay is also full of wit and humor; it's hard not to laugh even though bad things are happening to our heroes and heroines. Still, the writing isn't flawless. Certain things, including the foreshadowing and exposition, can be heavy-handed. The humorous tone also at times lessens the impact of the horror, making it feel like a mockery instead of homage. Thus the movie sometimes feel uneven.
Director Joss Whedon (The Avengers), together with Goddard, does a great job creating this entertaining and provocative science-fiction horror-slash-thriller. In truth, the whole production is more suspenseful than horrific, and the humor makes it even less frightening. Still, the execution is masterful and there are jaw-dropping scenes that will make you keep thinking about them. The twist at the beginning of the third act is unexpected, and the ending is rather unconventional, a perfect commentary for the themes. Once we realize what really is going on, we can't wait to see how it's going to end, and we're treated to a surprising and, once again, humorous ending.
I enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods very much even though I am usually not a horror fan. The suspense and thrills and humor and performances as well as the originality of the story make it all worthwhile. You surely won't pay me enough to watch it while alone in a cabin in the woods, though.
Stars: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Brian White, Sigourney Weaver
Directors: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard
Writer: Drew Goddard
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language, drug use, sexuality and nudity
Running Time: 95 minutes
Script - 7
Performance - 7
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 8
Production - 8
Total - 7.8 out of 10.0