For the most part the horror genre survives by utilizing well worn clichés. Unfortunately, this approach has made much of the genre into a color-by-numbers book; delivering cookie cutter experiences that seemingly get more and more unsatisfactory each time out. However, there are some films that take these clichés, do something new with them, and deliver thoroughly entertaining experiences. The Cabin in the Woods is one of these films.
The Cabin in the Woods features five college kids setting out on a weekend getaway to, wait for it… a cabin in the woods. The five fit the stereotypical horror roles, there is the dumb jock (Chris Hemsworth), the slut (Anna Hutchinson), the nice guy (Jesse Williams), the stoner (Fran Kranz) and the virgin (Kristen Connolly) and being a horror film that is working with standard genre clichés, bad things are bound to happen to these kids. But there is something else at play as well. Talking about this something else would spoil the fun but let us just say that this is not your normal trip to the woods.
The film, written by Joss Whedon and Drew Godard (also the director), is smart and witty throughout. It has fun with the genre, playing with genre conventions in such a way that made the 90 minute run time some of the most fun I have had in a theater in a long time. Knowing beforehand that Whedon was involved in the writing of the film, I expected witty dialog and a frantic pace mixed in amongst standard genre tropes and that is exactly what I got. But, it should be noted that while it plays with the tropes of the slasher genre, the film is not particularly scary. This is not to say that The Cabin in the Woods is any less of a horror film than say the latest Friday the 13th film, but rather that ingrained expectations can be deceiving.
Most people walk into a horror film knowing what to expect and The Cabin in the Woods manipulates these expectations to deliver something unique. If the film is about anything other than delivering a good time, it is about shattering expectations. On one hand it openly mocks the conventions of the genre and what they have become, while at the same time it treats the genre with the reverence it deserves. Each turn of the film plays with the viewer and at times I felt like the film was actively mocking me, leading me down familiar paths with unexpected outcomes.
It is a shame that the lack of genuine scares in the film might be seen as a turn off to some viewers and that others that will not be able to get past their pre-conceived expectations for the film. But for those that can accept it for what it is and what it does with and to the horror genre, The Cabin in the Woods offers a fun, thrill ride that should not be missed.
4 / 5