Sometimes a genre of film becomes so overused that the only possible next step for it is to delve into the realm of parody. Horror has most definitely been a casualty of such circumstance, and to a greater extent so has its sub-genres. It happened to the slasher with Scream, whose extreme subversion and comical clichés wholly brought about the genre’s death almost immediately, and it also happened to the zombie genre with Shaun of the Dead, whose quirky and dark humor overshadowed subtle jabs at the film’s more serious counterparts. The Cabin in the Woods attempts such parody with these and many of the other sub-genres of horror, but ultimately pushes past any and all boundaries.
Under the creative directing and writing of Cloverfield’s Drew Goddard and Buffy’s Joss Whedon, The Cabin in the Woods really shines as a horror genre buster. The overt cliché of teens going away to an isolated cabin is the main focus here, as one could garner from the name, and pays homage to some of the greats – Friday the Thirteenth, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, the not very well known Cube and of course, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. Yet, what makes this movie truly amazing is that it combines various other aspects of horror along with science fiction, which is used partly as a narrative mechanism to give logic to everything that happens to the teens.
Every interaction the teens engage in around the cabin activates a clichéd outcome, whether they are reading strange Latin from a diary, which raises the dead from their graves, or solving a puzzle sphere that summons a hellish creature (both of which are very Lovecraftian in essence). The film pokes fun at the very clichés that inspired it through their executions, while at the same time making obvious their stagnating presence in the horror genre. Of course, this is all supplemented by the controlling party’s knowledge of, and power over, what is going to happen to the teens. The comedic, office-buddy duo of Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford really get the laughs going through their explicit expression of what evil is going to pop up next – almost in the same vein as MST3K – while at the same time giving clues to the audience as to the overarching purpose of their actions. The teens themselves add to the comedy as well through their stereotyped and role-specific characterizations, which is partly caused by the people behind everything. All of their responsive actions are reflections of what the average stupid teen would think of doing in the films that CitW pays homage to, while at the same time offering up a sort of character-revealed, meta-reflexive insight that works against these clichés and turns them into moments of pure comedy.
Goddard and Whedon obviously came into this project with the intention of raising a giant middle finger to the declining horror genre, while simultaneously revitalizing it through a unique mish-mash of its various aspects. They succeeded terrifically. The Cabin in the Woods is equal parts scary, funny, and weird with a strongly knit, yet overly fast-paced narrative that keeps your attention sharp for its whole ninety-five minutes of run time. If you’re a huge fan of horror, you’ll have no problem picking out the multitudinous references that are scattered, both obviously and subtly, throughout the film. It definitely takes a bit of knowledge regarding the horror genre to appreciate everything they attempt to convey, which may be off-putting for some, but The Cabin in the Woods is undeniably a visual treat for anyone that enjoys a well-made and detailed parody.
Trust me, go see it before any of it gets ruined for you. You’ll be happy you did.
Score: 9.5 out of 10