By Jessica Delfanti | April 13, 2012
Director: Drew Goddard
Writers: Drew Goddard, Joss Whedon
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kanz, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Richard Jenkins, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford
With the advancement of CGI, sky-high budgets, and increasingly unscrupulous filmmakers, there’s little that a moviegoer cannot discover onscreen. While this development has brought the horror genre its grisly torture porn, its fantastically realistic monsters, and its believably disfigured serial killers, it fails to provide something essential to the experience: the unique. Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods is a smashingly fun, satisfyingly gory, unconventional deconstruction of the horror film that both exalts and ridicules the genre’s trademarks.
Considering its increasingly positive reviews and its smash release at SXSW, it’s hard to believe that Cabin nearly didn’t make it to theaters. Penned by the dream-team of Goddard (Cloverfield) and Joss Whedon (need we mention Buffy?) and produced by MGM before its bankruptcy, Cabin completed filming in May of 2009, only to meander in backlogs for years. However, more surprising than its long awaited appearance on the big screen is the fact that it was made in the first place. Because Cabin isn’t your typical horror film. In fact, it’s difficult to determine whether Cabin is technically a horror film at all.
Certainly, Cabin starts out with all the appropriate horror staples. A group of absurdly attractive college kids head out for a weekend in the woods. Deliberately, they adhere to the typical archetypes of horror film victims: the handsome, athletic alpha male, Curt (Thor’s Chris Hemsworth); the sexually inclined blonde, Jules (Anna Hutchison); the brain, Holden (Jesse Williams); the virginal heroine, Dana (Kristen Connolly); and the goofball, Marty (Dollhouse’s extraordinary Fran Kranz). Goddard’s fingerprints are all over the script in its careful pacing, setting up relationships and emotional ties with hyper-natural dialogue before any real action disturbs the flow. On the other side, Whedon’s taste for abstract humor slips into every line, but most particularly Marty’s conspiracy theory speculation and self referential asides.
As the friends enjoy the typical cabin getaway behavior–conversation, alcohol, sex–something is stirring in the background. Through unanticipated circumstances, a family of bloodthirsty ghouls rises from the graves, hellbent on murdering our bawdy youths. And that’s where things change.
Certainly, the experienced moviegoer will recognize the pattern of the cabin horror. It is difficult to isolate the greatest delights of Cabin, but certainly one of them can be deemed to be this reversal, this surprising turn of events that carries the plot in an unexpected direction and calls the lazy, comfortable viewers to attention.
However, Cabin’s success cannot be allocated to a specific gimmick. Goddard and Whedon’s script carries a distinct tension and humor from beginning to end, which is in itself a triumph in the genre. Refusing to fall into a more academic deconstruction, the film functions around existing staples–utilizing the appealing features of the virginal heroine, for example–to poke fun at its formulaic predecessors, while simultaneously delivering an exemplary example. Thus, Cabin is not just a joke about horror films, or just a discussion of what our taste in horror means, or even a slasher pic, but something that draws on each to create a hybrid that also happens to be a great film.
While Cabin’s tone and content ought to retrieve it a cult following and fantastic reviews, we can only hope that it will go on to influence other films in bending genres and delivering well written, well conceptualized experiences to the big screen. I, for one, wouldn’t mind if Cabin fever caught on.