The Cabin in the Woods Review (2012)

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

The Cabin in the Woods Review (2012)

Horrorific content by penguin_pete on July 09th, 2018 | Movie Review | Road Trip, Supernatural, Mind Bender, Teen, Meta

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It’s about five teens going to a cabin in the woods which is actually a ritual death trap.

The Cabin in the Woods was directed by Drew Goddard  and stars Kristen Connolly (from The Bay), Chris Hemsworth  and Anna Hutchison  (from Wrecker).

You think you know the story.

The Cabin in the Woods Review


This movie is im-poss-ible to discuss at any length without utterly spoiling it. That’s just the nature of what it is. If you haven’t seen it and you want the full impact, it is well worth seeking out now before reading anything about it. Relax, if you’re any kind of horror fan, this movie is a big sloppy wet valentine smackeroo just for you, and is guaranteed to tickle your fancy, charm your socks off, and tuck you into bed with milk and cookies. This review is off-limits to everyone who hasn’t seen it. Don’t cheat; the Langoliers are watching you!

Now on with the review...

The Cabin in the Woods is about five friends who get together for a relaxing vacation in, naturally, the title location. On their way there we get introduced to them in little character sketches almost like they were set up to be the stereotypical balance of horror movie ensembles hey wait a minute I said no cheating! There’s somebody reading this who hasn’t watched the movie! Now you’ve done it! Sic ‘em boys!

Right: There’s Dana (the virgin), Holden (the nerd), Marty (the stoner), Jules (the not-virgin), and Curt (the jock). This balance is actually significant, getting explained in detail later on. What starts out as a set-up to be a vanilla horror cliche turns into a vast meta-deconstruction of the horror genre itself. It’s not at all a parody either, though it is funny. It’s more like applying Gary Larson logic (The Far Side comic strip) to the cliches of the horror genre, with the bottom line that this is all a ritual which we humans (or at least the Men in Black type organization that's running this) have to engineer once in a while to appease the Lovecraftian ancient gods of the universe so they don’t come and gobble us up.

From the start, the movie reveals to us a vast underground mission control, where a bunch of technicians are engineering some kind of event vaguely hinted at, one which involves redundant centers all over the world pulling off the same operation to make sure that even if some fail, at least one will succeed. So really the basic premise spoils itself, but the devil is literally in the details... as is the werewolf, and the swamp thing, and the ghost, and the zombie redneck torture family...

Over the course of the movie, we see the kids get led through their environment, manipulated at every turn to fulfill the ritual, while underground, the technicians pull the levers and work the traps to ensure that these five teens will have their blood spilled in the correct order according to their formula. The only leeway is that they don’t care which monster gets them, so long as one of them does. But even if you can figure out this much, the plot takes you on a wild ride through this universe, exploring every nugget of its concept. It’s practically a scholar’s education in the horror genre all by itself.

As many references as we can track:

You know what the first full reference is? The “I learned it from watching you!” exchange in the girls’ apartment, which comes from a 1980s drug PSA commercial. You have no idea how much Generation X had to suffer through these things. We couldn’t spank it to magazine porn without having to look at “Winners Don’t Do Drugs” D.A.R.E. ad first.

Oh, you want HORROR MOVIE references?

Evil Dead, Alien, The Hills Have Eyes, 13 Ghosts, Night of the Living Dead, Reptilicus, IT, Night of the Demons, Hellraiser, The Blood-Spattered Bride, Dark Knight of the Scarecrow, Jack Frost, Nosferatu, Ghoulies, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Re-Animator, The Strangers, House on Haunted Hill, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Shining, which, come to that, is just another “cabin in the woods” horror movie with a bigger cabin. And all THAT’S just from the “betting board” the technicians have set up for a side game. Pretty much every creepy-crawly that ever creeped is in this movie at some point or another. At the time this was made, 2012, they did a pretty fair job of summing up references to every horror monster who’s had more than two sequels in cinematic history up to that point.

In terms of pure movie, this is a masterpiece par excellence, possibly the wittiest deconstruction work of post-modern meta-fiction ever made. As a horror movie, it’s not exactly scary as much as it’s the professor of your horror film studies course dryly delivering the final lecture before exam week. It even counts more as sci-fi than horror. Honestly, it’s so witty and clever that it turns out too smart for its own good. There’s dozens of little riffs and remixes of concepts in a delicate pastiche onscreen at once, like a Jacques Tati movie, except in the dark. You’d have to freeze the frame to study every artifact in that basement, trying to figure out which gadget summons which monster, and then some are obviously red herrings put there to mess with you. You get one for free here: The pile of rocks summons the Blair Witch.

Joss Whedon, revered in horror culture for giving the world Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has pretty much made the most Joss-Whedon-like movie he could here. Remember, his stated intention was to show us where horror fiction is in a rut so deep that we could barely conceive of a different way to do it anymore. Like Funny Games, it’s here to rub your nose in what a deviant you are for liking this smut. But you have to admit, somebody had to make this movie. He’s not wrong. Neither is Walter in The Big Lebowski, but that doesn’t make him a hoot at parties.

Just feel sorry for the poor bastards who have to clean up that facility every year...

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