Mania Review: The Cabin in the Woods -

Mania Grade: A+

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  • Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Anna Hutchison, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford
  • Written by: Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon
  • Directed by: Drew Goddard
  • Studio: Lionsgate
  • Rating: R
  • Run Time: 95 mins.
  • Series:

Mania Review: The Cabin in the Woods


By Rob Vaux     April 11, 2012

 Once upon a time, there was a movie called Scream, which presumed to upend the horror genre and divest it of its clichés. This it did to the ungodly profit of all involved, a fact that eventually transformed it into the very product it once so fiercely condemned. It also evinced a troubling contempt for the genre and its fans: aiming hateful barbs where knowing mischief was required. Nevertheless, it set the tone for horror movies in the 90s and remains the final word in self-referential slasher send-ups.

Until now.

The Cabin in the Woods delivers the basic Scream idea with ten times the wit and panache. It approaches horror from a loving and affectionate place where its predecessor displayed only sneering contempt. Its creators mock the grisly staples of the genre the way only intimate film lovers could, infused with boundless imagination and a scenario that – damn it to hell – I can hardly describe without giving the whole thing away. 

Shall I try? I can try. There’s a cabin. In the woods. Horrible things once happened there, and have apparently been happening there for some time. A quintet of dipshit college students arrives for a weekend getaway and things get grim. Each victim seems to conform to easy stereotypes – the slutty blonde, her virginal friend, the douchey jock etc. – but even before they show up, strange details curl around their shopworn edges. The jock possesses a strong knowledge of economic theory, the virgin just got out of a disastrous tryst with one of her professors, the blond is only a blonde because of a recent dye job, etc. It’s almost as if something is trying to fit them into easy molds: reducing their human complexities to quick clichés for the purposes of…

Okay, I’ve said too much. Everyone knows exactly how this weekend will go and The Cabin in the Woods resolutely meets our expectations. We see a thousand trappings from a thousand earlier horror movies: particularly The Evil Dead, which clearly donated its vacation home for this flick. But even as the protagonists start dying off in thoroughly predictable fashion, a far more complex mechanism kicks into gear, and turns the emptiest of all possible genre exercises into a work of subversive genius.

Director Drew Goddard worked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and co-wrote the screenplay here with his mentor Joss Whedon. Their signature wit is on full display, but harnessed to more than just making us chuckle. They delve deeply into the fundaments of the genre, asking not just why we enjoy it but what needs it fulfills in us. Does it help us vent our own demons? Is that why we often root for the monster? Is our identification with the victims masochistic? Are we purging our own fears in the process? Scream and its ilk had no interest in such issues. It just riffed on the Meta and let things be. The Cabin in the Woods puts the Meta on full display – with in-film references to audience expectations and the way we’re simultaneously comforted and exasperated by knowing what will happen next – but actively studies it instead of simply acknowledging its existence.

More importantly, it treats the audience like a trusted friend rather than an object of ridicule. Whedon and Goddard share our love for horror movies, but also our frustration at those numerous occasions when they let us down.  Their critique thus comes from a place of absolute devotion – like all great satirists – and their attacks carry real bite in the hopes of improving their target. “Monster movies can and should do better,” The Cabin in the Woods tells us before following up with a surprisingly insightful examination of the genre’s psychological foundations.

It does all that in the context of one of the wildest roller coasters you’ll ever experience. The final act, in particular, attains a deranged genius that has to be seen to be believed, and should cement its status as an instant classic. My entire career as a film critic is predicated on experiences like The Cabin in the Woods: movies that upend everything we think we know and rearrange it in entirely new ways. The greatest horror film since Silence of the Lambs? Yeah, I’ll make that claim. The greatest horror film of all time? Perhaps not, but you can at least broach the question without getting laughed out of the room. Anyone who presumes to love horror movies needs to see The Cabin in the Woods; you’ll never look at a slasher flick the same way again.


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fatpantz 4/11/2012 12:40:15 AM

Holy SHIT!!  I can count on one hand how many A (plus) Rob has ever given.  As a true horrow and SciFi fan, I was excited for I CAN NOT WAIT!!!

Thank you Rob for 1. not giving away any of the plot twists and turns and 2. getting me as excited as $#@! to see this film.  I feel like a kid at christmas waiting for Thurs/Fri night....damn I hope my theatre has a Thurs midnight show....

whiteandnerdy75 4/11/2012 2:06:21 AM

I saw the trailer and thought this looked different, but reserved it for a Netflix rental.  Now...  it's a toss up between Luc Besson's 'Lockup' (I love that guy) or 'The Cabin in the Woods'.  May be time for a matinee double feature :D

MrJawbreakingEquilibrium 4/11/2012 3:32:59 AM

I was able to see a test run of it at the theater. My friend works at one and to make sure things run well after closing they get to watch the new movies early to see if they run fine by Friday.  I tell you what - I can't believe they were able to hide the secret for so long. I mean another Freddy vs Jason movie under the guise of this? I was shocked. Especially when the other slasher film mascot appears.

hanso 4/11/2012 4:38:40 AM

 Not a horror guy but will definitely try to see this.

wish 4/11/2012 5:14:54 AM

As soon as I heard Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon were looking to re-invent the "cabin in the woods" horror movie I knew it was gonna turn out like this.  I've been waiting a long time for this movie and as a superfan of the Buffy/Angel-verse I can't even begin to explain how excited I am to see this movie!!!!  Add to that a stellar review by a curmudgeon like Rob and it looks like my weekend will go as whiteandnerdy suggests! 

Lockout and The Cabin in the Woods double feature!!!!! 

InnerSanctum 4/11/2012 6:03:33 AM

 Rob has definitely been taking some form of medication.  The last few films he has reviewed have all earned, sometimes an unwarranted, A.  Maybe it was all the backlash the poor guy takes when he bags on a genre film.  Either way, this is something that has my attention and I'm interested in seeing it.  I'm hard pressed to think a film that has been shelved for years is an A , but I am always happy to be proven wrong.  

Now, what does this mean for the new Evil Dead remake?  I mean, they have no turned the genre into a parody...Tucker and Dale and now Cabin.  A cabin in the woods with a "flavor of the week actors" (not a Bruce) and a bunch of monsters is really going to have to be stand out and not just a cash out.  

Roqueja 4/11/2012 6:30:54 AM

Okay, okay, they can have my cash.  I was actually waiting for something on this one to make up my mind on whether or not to see it on opening weekend, and you sealed the deal for me Rob.  I get the feeling that if I don't see it right away, somebody is going to spoil it for me, and if it near as good as you say, I'd be forced into extreme violence.  Thanks for a preventative heads up!

hanso 4/11/2012 6:32:26 AM

 The movie was shelved because the financial stuff going on with the studio which I think held up the hobbit too, not cause of the quality of the flick.

fenngibbon 4/11/2012 7:10:43 AM

 Do not diss Tucker and Dale, InnerSanctum.  

InnerSanctum 4/11/2012 8:34:09 AM

 Diss Tucker and Dale?  I LOVE that movie.  You must have misunderstood my post.  I was talking about how anyone can make a "cabin in the woods movie"  ala Evil Dead remake, with a solid parody and a "Scream" twist to the subject.  

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