“The Cabin in the Woods” – Review by Daniel Rester

The Cabin in the Woods Review

By Daniel Rester

The Cabin in the Woods is one of the better horror films to come along in a while. Brimming with familiar material in its beginning and middle, one may think he or she knows where the movie is going to go next, but they don’t. The latter half of the film is so wild and unexpected that it gives the movie a huge boost (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it).

Woods begins by showing two scientists – played hilariously and skillfully by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford – working on an “experiment.” The film then cuts to five college students who are about to travel up to a mountain forest to stay at one of the student’s cousin’s cabin for a few days. The group consists of stock character types – jock, virgin, stoner, brains, and floozy (almost “Scooby-Doo”-ish) – who expectedly think that nothing will go wrong. But things do, and fast. …And to give away more than that would make me feel bad.

Writer Joss Whedon and co-writer/director Drew Goddard have fashioned a horror movie that manages to wallow in clichés while simultaneously being fresh and inventive. In its ways, the film feels like an homage and a critique to the horror genre at the same time – but balances the line perfectly. Horror fans will be delighted in pointing out all of the film references Whedon and Goddard have included, while also being stunned at the level of creativity the two have thrown in themselves. While the two creators don’t pull a lot of scary “jump!” moments (at least for me, jumps are hard to get), and the gore piles up towards the end, the movie still manages to inject some creepiness into its formula. However, this formula mostly consists of a self-aware and tongue-in-cheek attitude, making for clever and funny horror entertainment. I could slightly relate its results to that of Scream in this way, but Woods is far more over-the-top than that film.

Though the characters are conventional on the surface, Whedon and Goddard’s writing, along with the actors’ abilities, manage to transcend the normal attributes of the character types. This is not always the case, but it does apply to many of the characterizations. The two actors that stood out the most for me were Kristen Connolly and Fran Kranz, who play Dana (virgin) and Marty (stoner), respectively. Connolly makes for a heroine you want to root for, while Kranz provides some terrific comic relief and almost steals the show. Chris Hemsworth plays Curt, the jock character, in a pre-Thor part that shows some of the actor’s earlier talent, as well (the film was shelved for a few years due to issues with production companies). In the end, it’s Whedon and Goddard’s show, though, surpassing the regular characters and story with their adept filmmaking abilities.

Woods does have a few problems in my mind, however, despite the praise I’ve given it thus far. For one — as mentioned above — it isn’t particularly frightening. I realize that big scares were probably not Goddard’s or Whedon’s intentions in the slightest, but it would have been nice to see a few more jump-worthy moments. A bigger thing that slightly irked me is that the film is so ambitious that it forgets to tie up a lot of loose ends, leaving a lot of questioning from a viewer standpoint. And, finally, I found that the film lost some steam here and there in the first half – but, thankfully, it managed to gain huge momentum towards the end.

I’m not going to sit here and nitpick the film despite these things, though. I still pretty much loved the movie (In fact, I was initially going to give it a lower score, but the more I thought about it, the more I admired it). Yes, it may have its “flaws,” but Woods is still one of the more creative, refreshing, surprising, and fun horror films I’ve seen in the past few years. Is it “the last great horror film,” as many early fans are calling it? I’m not sure about that, but I can easily say it is a must-see for fans of the horror genre. And I can also say (for what it is) Woods is one of the best films of 2012 so far.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars.

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