This month, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon's damn near flawless horror flick The Cabin in the Woods goes on sale, and you should buy it. Sure, if you haven't seen it you can rent it first, but then you're just going to want to buy it immediately afterwards, so why not skip the middle step and get right to the instant shelf gratification? I saw this movie three times in the theater and would have loved to see it a fourth and a fifth - it demands repeat viewings, as it's a movie that reveals something new every time you watch it.
I love horror, and I love Joss Whedon, so chances were always good that I was going to love this movie. I looked forward to it for years while it sat in the can, waiting out MGM's financial difficulties until it was finally picked up and released by Lionsgate. But here's the thing about the movie: you don't actually have to be a horrorphile to enjoy it. That's not to say it isn't scary - it certainly can be at points - but I know several people who don't generally like horror movies who loved The Cabin in the Woods.
I think it's because the film is so clever, so bright and entertaining. The screenplay is brimming with Whedonesque witticisms and knowing winks to hoary old tropes. If all you've seen are clips of movies like Halloween and Hellraiser, you'll still get it. But if you love those movies, if you are overjoyed every time you watch them, if you look forward to every new horror film with oft-dashed hopes and if you passionately appreciate the classics, then The Cabin in the Woods might just become your favorite movie.
I think Devin said it best - better than anyone who's written about the film - when he said,
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.
It's true - what I love best about The Cabin in the Woods is that it both teasingly reveals horror clichés while embracing the universe those clichés have built. And that's why it works for anyone, although horror fans will love it best. Well, that's part of the reason. The whole truth is that The Cabin in the Woods resonates with any sort of viewer because it's just an incredibly well made movie. The shots are vivid and framed in interesting ways, the pacing snaps along, the characters are likable and compelling. It's smart and funny and made by two men who love movies. The Cabin in the Woods is a joy to watch, an earnest, exuberant celebration of the craft of filmmaking that never loses sight of the fact that movies should be fun. And holy crap, is this movie fun. Cheeks-hurting, belly-laughing, talking about it for hours afterward levels of fun.
Something to note - if you haven't seen the film yet and have remained so far miraculously unspoiled, then you are a fortunate creature indeed. But if you already know the big reveal of Cabin without having seen the film, don't let that dissuade you from watching it. I'm certainly not going to spoil anyone here, but I do think The Cabin in the Woods is that rare movie that transcends spoilers and twists and reveals. Sure, it's best if you can go in knowing very little about the film, as I did, but what's behind the secret of Cabin is simply a great story well-told. And that's something that cannot be spoiled.
I rewatched The Avengers over Labor Day, and while I think that movie is terrific, of the two Joss Whedon films that were released in 2012 (and what a triumphant achievement for this guy who hasn't always had the best luck in show business), The Cabin in the Woods is the better film. I think the second half of The Avengers reaches that level of bright, sprightly, joyous filmmaking, but the first half doesn't always do it for me. Don't misunderstand me - I really like The Avengers. But that movie doesn't need any defending; it's made billions of dollars and I'm happy for it.
But superhero movies are going to keep being made no matter what. What's in danger of becoming endangered are smart, original horror films. And while Cabin did modest business at the box office, it didn't shake shit up like it deserved to do. I don't need or want a sequel to Cabin (and I think one would actually be impossible, which is kind of amazing), but I do want it to make a difference in the kind of horror films we can expect in the future.
I want to see more franchise-free, unconventional horror movies that rely on intelligent audiences and move ahead at a brisk pace, assuming we're keeping up with them. I want to see more slashers with characters that I actually don't want to be slashed, more horror movies that subvert the typical sexist dynamic of their genre. I can tell you, it's rough shit being a feminist who loves horror movies, and it would be nice if those two parts of myself weren't constantly forced to be at odds. I want to see more tight scripts, sure-handed direction and clever marketing in my horror films. Frankly, I want to see more horror movies that are just good movies, instead of being "good for a horror movie."
So that's why I want you to buy The Cabin in the Woods. We can't do anything about its box office, but strong home video sales certainly couldn't hurt. And if buying one hundred copies of Cabin on Blu-ray and passing them out to random people on the street means that I'll get to see more horror movies of its caliber, then you better believe that's what I'll do.