April 24, 2012

MOVIES: The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2012)

I am not generally a big fan of horror movies, especially in recent years, when it seems to me that they've too often become less about scaring the audience and more about disgusting the audience with massive amounts of blood and extreme gore. But I had heard such good things about The Cabin in the Woods, and am a big enough fan of Joss Whedon, that I thought I'd give it a shot.

And it's fabulous.

It is very much a movie that you shouldn't know too much about before you head in, and I'm being very careful here not to give away things that should be surprises. We start with a familiar scenario, and some rather archetypal characters. Five college buddies who can be (and in fact, pretty explicitly are) quickly summed up as the jock (Chris Hemsworth), the brain (Jesse Williams), the stoner (Fran Kranz), the good girl (Kristen Connolly), and the bad girl (Anna Hutchison) take off for a weekend vacation at a remote cabin. It will come as no surprise that things go horribly wrong.

It will also come as no surprise that on the way there, they meet a menacing old hillbilly (Tim de Zarn, milking his cliche for all it's worth) who utters cryptic warnings of doom, or that there are a pair of governmental authority figures (Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins) who provide the kids with no help whatsoever.

The movie's not without its share of blood and gore, especially in the final act, when all hell really breaks loose, but the gore isn't the point of the movie. Whedon and co-writer Drew Goddard (who also directed the movie) have something more complicated in mind than you might expect from the obvious cliches and stock characters, which are often subverted or presented in unexpected ways. (The obligatory "not quite dead yet" moment is a delightful surprise.) They get right to the point, too; the major twist of the film is in large part revealed in the very first scene, and the rest of the movie gradually fills in the details.

The movie is also funny. Whitfield and Jenkins work together with the ease and timing of people who've shared an office for years; Kranz (who Whedon fans will remember from Dollhouse has a marvelous loose rhythm as the group's pothead; Sigourney Weaver, who has a key small role, gets huge laughs with some impeccable line readings ("we work with what we have").

Smart, funny, genuinely scary -- what more could you want? The Cabin in the Woods is a spectacular surprise.

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