After waiting for three years, I finally got to “Discover the Secret.” Whedonists around the world are rejoicing as Joss’s The Cabin in the Woods finally hit the big screen this Friday the 13th. When MGM was sold, the Cabin was stuck sitting on a shelf… until it was picked up by Lions Gate.
Quite simply, Cabin in the Woods delivers the promise made on the promotional poster: “You think you know the story. Think again.” In one hour and thirty five minutes, Joss Whedon (producer and writer) and Drew Goddard (director and writer) deliver every horror trope, make every horror movie, and then completely flip it on its head. Even if you’ve seen a few leaked photos or heard a couple minor spoilers, you will NEVER guess what is really happening here. As the trailers reveal, you’ve got the quintessential athlete, whore, fool, scholar and virgin. And they’re all going to a scary cabin. In the woods. After being warned not to. That does sound familiar… however, nothing about this film is what you would expect.
You do NOT want to keep reading until you have seen this film!!!
First, a nod to the wonderful, familiar faces from the Whedonverse! Amy Acker (Angel, Dollhouse) plays Lin, one of the only lab coats that actually seems discontented over the peril of our clichéd horror victims. Tom Lenk (Andrew on Buffy and Angel) gets a few minutes of screen time as Ronald the Intern. Seeing his face just made me smile. I wish he could have shared some screen time with Fran Kranz. Yes, Fran Kranz. My beloved Topher (Dollhouse) stole the film, in my opinion. He first rolls onto the screen smoking off his custom stacked coffee cup bong and spends the better part of the film high. However, he also is the first to recognize “there’s definitely something unnatural going on here” (couldn’t help but quote Buffy here; Joss leans on some of the same tropes we are familiar with in his work).
When the film starts, you know you’re in for a non-typical horror film. The publicity has made sure you know that there will be the setup of a standard horror film here… with some big surprises. The first surprise was that the film did not even start with the five college students we know are doomed to suffer in a cabin in the woods. Instead, it starts at a NASA type establishment filled with lab coats, suits, tech, and a strange sense of ominous doom. But what do these suits have to do with the young adults we meet in the next scene?
As I mentioned, and as the final act of the film makes clear, the stereotypical horror tropes are present… except that they aren’t stereotypical at all. Dana (Kristen Connolly) is the virgin with an innocent persona, but she is not actually a virgin. Chris Hemsworth is brilliant as Thor. Woops, wrong film! (Fun fact: this was filmed before Hemsworth scored that title role.) Anyway, Curt is the athlete, but he’s not a dumb jock. And his girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchinson) is the whore, but when Mordecai calls her that, the guys are quick to rally to her defense. In fact, it’s safe to assume that she has always been true to the steadfast Curt. Holden (Jesse Williams) fulfills the scholar role, but he’s not uptight. And then there’s Marty (Fran Kranz) cast as the fool. Except that his pot smoking habit is the one thing that protects him from chemical manipulation. I love the reveal at the end that these five archetypes must be sacrificed to appease the ancient gods (was anyone else waiting to see Illyria rise from below??)
As the parallel plots of the suits and the victims quickly converge, it is clear that the college kids have been manipulated into entering this cabin. It’s also clear that they won’t be leaving alive, at least not if this “ritual sacrifice” (anyone else thinking of Anya and pie?) goes according to plan. We know it won’t go according to plan though – even if the plan already calls for death and mayhem – because Whedon is behind the helm with Goddard, assuring us that people will die but surprises will happen along the way. (LOST, Cloverfield, Buffy, Angel and Dollhouse all attest to this). In fact, Whedon racked up more deaths here than he ever did on any of his aforementioned series. They might not all be on screen, but the return of ancient gods and impending destruction of the world is pretty much an indication of full carnage. This time, Whedon didn’t just kill the characters he made us care about. He didn’t just kill some peripheral characters. He killed everyone. In the world.
Whedon and Goddard have poked fun at horror, developed horror, given us gruesome zombies, and turned us around at every direction. The onslaught of baddies in the final showdown was awe-some. Just before they all hit the scene though, kudos to the attack by zombie arm! What a great distraction to help our last two (for the moment) survivors get past the man with a gun. (This was a clear Whedon moment. Think of Buffy talking about guns: “These things? Never helpful.” And Oz: “Um…. Arm.”). Then we see everything imaginable. And I imagine if the budget had been better for Buffy in season three, Cabin‘s giant snake is more akin to the way Joss envisioned the Mayor . I want to rewatch the film already, and in part it’s to take inventory of all the beasties here. I especially want to look for the credited Sugarplum Fairy that I didn’t spot.
In the final scene, the appearance of Ellen Ripley, I mean, Sigourney Weaver, was priceless. Earlier this week, I watched a brief interview with Whedon where he named Alien as his favorite horror movie. What a way this was to pay homage! She was the number one pick to play The Director! She is the embodiment of revisioned horror. And we all know Sigourney was kickin’ ass way before Buffy, paving the way for the tough female characters that have made Joss famous. Speaking of which, Dana sure held her own in Cabin! The zombie attack on the dock seemed certain death, but she gave as good as she got!
I give Cabin in the Woods five out of five custom bongs and recommend it to everyone! Though I’m hoping if you’ve read this far, you’ve already seen the movie! What’s better than seeing Thor die to protect his friends while the pot-smoker momentarily saves the day alongside a tough chick during a brimming apocalypse?!?