Movie Review: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS Is Game-Changingly Great

Drew Goddard's directorial debut reconstructs and revives horror in a way that is fun and smart and exciting.

The Cabin in the Woods is the anti-Scream. Where Wes Craven’s seminal film dismantled the slasher genre, reveling in the deconstruction and poking fun at the tropes of horror, Drew Goddard’s directorial debut revels in the tropes. This film reconstructs horror, reminding us why we love the genre and why it’s so important to us. The Cabin in the Woods is, in many ways, the ultimate love letter to horror. While also being an absolutely terrific horror film.

I don’t want to spoil the film’s pleasures, but it’s worth noting that the movie isn’t really twist-based. The opening scene of Cabin sets up the fact that the film isn’t your average “bunch of kids go to a remote place, get slaughtered” romp. There are no further ‘twists.’ The pieces are in place from the first frame, but what happens during the course of the film is a ramping up of events, an escalation in which things become clearer - and crazier.

There’s an “Upstairs” world, where five kids are going to a cabin in the woods where they will be picked off one by one, and there’s a “Downstairs” world where Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford play technicians who control behind the scenes aspects of the slaughter. The singular brilliance of the film is that while both worlds are used to examine and comment on horror movies, both are played to the hilt, creating a situation where the meta-commentary never gets in the way of good old fashioned storytelling.

I have to admit that Downstairs is my favorite part of the film. Jenkins and Whitford are incredible, playing guys whose daily routine involves the management of unspeakable evil. These actors are up for the heightened - yet almost naturalistic - dialogue that Goddard and Joss Whedon’s script throws at them. It’s eldritch horror with middle management.

Upstairs the standard, expected beats of a slasher movie happen, but with a slight twist that makes all of the going through the motions kind of a blast. The script perfectly balances the two worlds, cutting between them at exactly the right moments to keep the equilibrium right and the feeling fresh.

What happens next is what I can’t talk about until the film comes out - but that I want to talk about so badly. The Cabin in the Woods is the ultimate ‘buzzing in the theater lobby’ movie, a film that sends you out wanting to talk all of the amazing, mind-blowing stuff you’ve seen. The escalation is extraordinary, and by the end there’s a crowd-pleasing money shot every few minutes. And these aren’t just bits designed to get reactions, they’re gloriously precise pay-offs. The structure of the movie is air-tight.

It’s rare that a film is both fun and smart. Most smart movies feel like trudges, while most fun movies leave you feeling intellectually diminished. The Cabin in the Woods is both fun and smart, and it operates on so many levels. It’s a great horror movie, it’s a great comedy, it’s a great meta film - and beyond that it’s an amazing treatise on the very nature of horror, and why we crave these scary stories. The Cabin in the Woods isn’t a reflexive cataloging of film references; in its best moments it’s a scholarly piece about the nature of storytelling and fear and the darkness inside of us that demands these things.

But just because that’s the part that spoke to me the most doesn’t mean it’s the part that will speak to you. The slasher story is incredible, and would be a great movie on its own. Those looking just for scares and gore will be beyond satisfied, while those looking for a Whedonesque bit of fun will be equally satisfied.

I loved every minute of The Cabin in the Woods. If you’re a horror fan this movie will quickly become one of your all-time favorites - the affection for the genre is palpable. But I can’t stress enough how Cabin is also just a GREAT MOVIE, a fun time at the theater filled with laughs and scares and shocks.

Now comes the wait for the film’s actual release, because I want to get into the heavy spoiler stuff so badly. There’s so much to dig into and discuss in Cabin that it feels like a movie with infinite rewatch potential (I’ve already seen it twice and am making plans for my third viewing). This isn’t just one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in years, it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in years, and it’s definitely one of the top movies of 2012. The Cabin in the Woods is simply fucking great.

To go back to Scream for one last moment: when Scream came out it felt like it was laying the final dirt on the grave of slasher films. The way that it made explicit the tropes of the genre was a killing blow. After Scream horror became self-aware in ways that weren't attractive, like an ugly person always trying to hide their worst features. The Cabin in the Woods resurrects all of these tropes - and many more - and when you walk out of the film you'll feel like horror is revitalized, like its importance is more obvious than ever. That might be Cabin's greatest achievement, reminding us why we love and need this genre.