Cabin in the Woods

Originally posted on Melissa O’Neil’s blog. 

How does one begin to talk about this film without giving anything away? This is the struggle that many critics have faced when reviewing this film and, alas, I find myself in the same shoes. I was told that even the trailer is a spoiler – and in hindsight, I guess it is – but let’s just assume you’re where I was entering the film: five beautiful young people find themselves on a getaway to a secluded cabin in the woods where they will face horrible dangers; dangers, they soon learn, that are being controlled by a higher power. A typical horror movie setup. Even with the added twist my mind immediately associated it to the workings of Jigsaw or sadistic European business men. Basically, this is nothing we haven’t seen before. Or so the film would have you think. As the tagline reads, “you think you know the story”.

We first meet the men in charge of doing the torturing. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are perfectly cast as  Hadley and Sitterson, two midlle-aged (perhaps) government employees who go about performing their mundane task of torturing people to death and provide most of the comedy relief in the film. We know these guys are funny, but we’ve seen them go off their rocker before (think Jenkins in Let Me In or Whitford in Billy Madison) and so the film constantly asks us to question whether they are the bad guys or the good guys, whether we feel comfortable with them or not. But ultimately they leave questioning why the government would care so much about the weekend plans of five college students.

And then of course, we meet the ill-fated five, those destined to die in a gruesome, but thoroughly enjoyable way. There’s the dumb blonde, Jules; the macho jock, Curt; the sweet-and-smart-but-also-macho guy, Holden; the stoner, Marty; and, of course, the virginal prude, Dana. Those are the ingredients for a delicious horror movie salad.

But what makes this film great is not its adherence to the traditional horror movie genre, it’s partially its awareness of it. Marty and the people in charge remind us that this is not the usual demeanour of these characters. Curt is not the alpha male, he studies sociology for crying out loud! And Jules is only the dumb blonde because the hair dye is actually making her more stupid. So why are they adhering to these rules?

Well, that my friends is brilliantly answered in the film’s third act. Now, this is a doozy. Here be spoilers galore. Let’s just say the film takes self-reflectivity to a whole other level and gives horror fans a run for their money. Yes, I know. It’s not the first film to know it’s a horror movie. Yes, I know. Genre purists love Scream so much they can barely look past it. But unlike Scream, this film is not trying to appease the genre purists. Far from it. It acknowledges its similarities and then takes horror into a completely new direction. All I’ll say is: go big or go home. I would suggest you go to the movies.

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