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I had absolutely zero hope going in that Cabin in the Woods would turn out to be a good movie. It had so many things going against it, including a massive three-year gap between filming and eventual release. There were plans for a post-conversion to 3D and MGM, the film studio behind the production, even made plans to shelve the project indefinitely in summer 2010. Most movies wouldn’t survive the bad luck put upon Cabin in the Woods, but this meta-horror flick from director Drew Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon has ended up being the biggest surprise film of 2012.
Cabin in the Woods, much like the Scream series of films, is a horror film that is also a comment on the horror genre at large. Five college students (anchored by a fun performance from Fran Kranz, who should really get more work) leave for an impromptu camping trip. Unbeknownst to our group, two white-collared G-men (the great Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) and a team of technicians and specialists are going to make the getaway very difficult to survive for our heroes. To say much more than this would be getting into massive spoiler territory, and since Cabin in the Woods didn’t exactly light up the box office, I’m not inclined to spoil the movie for newcomers.
What I like about this movie is that there is simultaneously a great tension building up paired with a wicked sense of humor. Meta-humor is one of the most difficult things to get right, but Cabin in the Woods just works in this respect. Characters comment on their situation (primarily Kranz, who plays the stock stoner character Marty) but not obnoxiously so. For example, the eternally high Marty, wonders aloud why Curt (Chris Hemsworth, in one of his earliest American roles) has suddenly turned into an alpha-male jag, noting that Curt is an honors student on full academic scholarship as well as a Sociology major. Other characters find themselves in stock roles as well, including Kristin Connolly as Dana, the “virgin” of the group, Jesse Williams as Holden, the “brains” of the group, and Anna Hutchison as Jules, the “whore” of the group.
While the performances in the group range from pretty good (Kranz, Connolly) to decent (Hemsworth) to just ok (Williams, Hutchison), the real stand-outs are Whitford and Jenkins as specialists Hadley and Sitterson. The chemistry between the two is fantastic, and their dark senses of humor and long-term relationship really shine through in the script and the acting. The two have long worked in this unique setting – one where they get to terrorize teens and college students – and have thus adapted to and developed unique senses of humor about their macabre employment. I love how they continuously unintentionally offend their coworkers, including Amy Acker as Wendy Lin and Brian J. White as new employee and security officer Daniel Truman, who takes no pleasure in the sick acts he witnesses.
I was totally entertained by Cabin in the Woods, which took me by compete surprised. The last quarter or so of the movie came as a real surprise to me as well (once again I will not spoil things). I think the only way to describe the on-screen mayhem are the words “fucking awesome.” I’m not usually as positive about the kinds of things that happen in movies like this, but I couldn’t help but be absolutely charmed and taken in by this film; I’m not even a big fan of Joss Whedon or his stable of devoutly-worshipped cancelled television shows either. When this movie came out in theaters last spring, I took a pass and waited for it to appear in the Red Box. Even though I paid only about a buck to see it, I kind of wish I did go to the theaters to support Cabin in the Woods. It has ended up being the biggest surprise of 2012 for me and like the many cool parts of the movie, I never saw it coming.