The Cabin in the Woods

Honestly, I had absolutely no expectations going into this, except for the good reviews coming out about it and because it was a Joss Whedon project. Fran Kranz (formerly of Dollhouse and one of the leads) is quoted as saying that when he read the script, he smiled for days afterwards. Of course I'm paraphrasing, but I had sort of the same reaction, I was smiling the entire way home after watching it. In short I was completely blown away by this movie.

I haven't said this before, but I'm a horror movie buff. I've seen good horror movies, I've seen bad ones, I've seen horrible ones, I've even seen a couple four star ones. I've also seen some horror spoofs that were all over the map in quality. This movie was a spoof, a slasher film, a mind twister, a supernatural spook fest, a zombie film, but first and foremost it was an absolutely great film. I just wish it was a little easier to review.

Don't get me wrong, I have a ton of stuff I want to talk about. It's just that I can't tell you anything without spoiling the fun. Anyone who knows Joss Whedon (who wrote this movie) knows he likes to deconstruct genres, combine them, and then turn them on their ear. He is a master of blending drama, comedy, and suspense into new and wonderful creations. This time he has created a world that is not only unique, but almost creates a new genre. I'm pretty sure we're going to see rip-offs of this movie for a decade to come.

Okay, let's break down the elements I can talk about.

The leads were all wonderful. They brought subtlety and range to what are normally one-dimensional characters. Of course, that's a conceit of the plot, but I won't go into that. The effects were really effective, even though they were occasionally cheesy. The humor was great and played with the tension of scenes instead of undercutting that tension. The final act was simply amazing, and there were no less than five moments that had me literally on the edge of my seat practically cheering. There were things in this movie I've never seen before, and will hopefully never see again.

I spent a day trying to think of any negatives, and I can only come up with two. The first is that this has a really bendy narrative that is very meta, which ties into a bunch of self-referential humor about the plot and the horror genre in general. Also, if you don't like bloody gruesome horror, then you might have trouble with the content. This is a gorefest to be sure, even though it isn't exactly scary. I felt the right amount of pathos for the characters and what they were going through, the monsters were creepy and effective (but this wasn't really about the monsters), and I genuinely jumped out of my seat twice. But the horror aspect of this isn't what makes this movie great. In fact it's kind of irrelevant.

So if you can handle the grue, I strongly recommend this movie. I know I've kinda gushed a little, and this might not be a critical critique. But this movie is already one of my favorite horror movies of all time, and might even make my list of favorite movies of all time.

4 out of 4 Hillbilly zombies stalking us with rusty implements of destruction.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

25 comments:

Josie Kafka said...

What a great review, JD! I'm really excited to see this now. (I'd been worried that it would be underwhelming, which would have been so disappointing.)

Panda said...

I've been avoiding seeing a lot of this at work (I work part time at our local cinema), and gorey horror isn't my thing, but I'm dying to see this, and your review only made me want to see it more.

Anonymous said...

I saw this on Friday and I agree totally with everything you've said, J.D. I loved it. Especially Marty/Topher :)
I didn't think the gore was that bad though - from what I'd heard, I was expecting it to be a lot worse! I think I was more creeped out by the bit with the stuffed wolf - you know the bit I mean. Euchh.
It made me jump a few times. The first was when the title card appeared. Maybe I was a bit tense.
Anyway...great film, very Whedon-esque. You won't be disappointed. :D

Mario said...

You had me at Joss Whedon.

Stephen said...

This really was a great movie, completely justified gushing! I can't believe this film had so many delays coming out when it really is such a great film!

I feel the special effects could have been better, I don't need amazing CGI to like a film, but the effect that they were trying to have towards the end of the film would have worked a lot better with better CGI.

I found it a bit odd that the facility (were they ever given a name?) was introduced so early in the film, but found that it worked, and the characters in that part of the story were so 3 dimensional, and weren't just clinical people sitting behind a desk as they would be in most films. Plus: Amy Acker :)
I really got an Initiative vibe, especially with all the cells, and the Old Ones really made me think of the Senior Partners!

I really do recommend this film to everyone, especially the Joss Whedon fans among you.

******SPOILER****** I didn't like the hand at the end of the movie, I think they should have left it to the audience's imagination what the Ancient Gods were and what they would do *********

Mark said...

I've got two spoiler-free comments.

- I'm starting to think that this movie is kind of like "Aliens" was to "Alien", compared to a traditional horror film. It is not a scary movie, so to speak, but it has scares, and it multiplies the threat to make for a very intense movie.

- This is not a twist movie. Everything that happens is foreshadowed, at some point. The fun is being surprised about the when and how the pay off explodes in your face. There were a few points where I thought the movie makers were going crazy, and then found out that was just the warm-up.

Billie Doux said...

I really hate horror movies, but I might just have to see this one. At home, of course, during the daytime. Great review, J.D.

OHara said...

This movie sounds great (and hello, Joss Whedon), but I'm with Billie: horror and gross-out is not my thing. Maybe I'll see it on DVD.

Mark said...

I'd wait for other comments to see if they agree with me or not, but I wouldn't let the "horror" scare you away. The few scenes that would have been tough to take are cut short (no pun intended). Some of the negative reviews are probably due to the tension being undermined by humor or by the fast story transitions.

For the scenes that aren't cut short, just think if some of the scarier "Buffy" or "Angel" episodes had been made for cable instead of basic TV. The violence is similar to "Evil Dead 2", rather then "Saw" or "Hostel".

CrazyCris said...

I'm really torn on this one... on the one hand JOSS WHEDON!!! Finally! And it sounds really interesting and fabulous and... but on the other hand I have an intense dislike of anything gory... so dunno! In any case, I have no idea how long I'll have to wait before it hits screens in Spain so... in the meantime I'll have to get my Whedon dose from the Avengers in 2 weeks. :p

J.D. Balthazar said...

Thank you all for your comments!

The grue is definitely at the slasher movie level. But I've also definitely seen worse since it is more on the level of Evil Dead or the Walking Dead, rather than something bloody for the sake of being bloody like the Hellraiser movies or Hostel.

Mark I sort of disagree with you about the tension. For me it wasn't undercut per-say, instead it was diverted into something different. Usually changing our perceptions along the way. Honestly I was tense because I wasn't sure what to root for.

Mark said...

JDB - You are right. I wasn't clear about that point. I was commenting on what I've been reading, about some audience members (who were expecting "Friday the 13th"?) reacting that it wasn't scary enough. Drew *could* have gone that direction easily, building up the fear of pain and dying. Maybe it is him and Joss reacting to "torture porn" movies, but they chose something different, like you said. A dread of indifference and inhumanity, of the unknown and otherworldly. (Which still didn't stop Drew from using knives and axes and buckets of movie blood.)

Iago said...

Billie I'm not good with horror or gore either and, although this has them both in spades, it's absolutely worth it just for the Joss-ness of it all. Loved seeing how many Buffy/Angel/Firefly alums worked on it - I even gave a little cheer when I saw Shawna Trpcic's name pop up in the credits (yes, I am that much of a nerd).

Very jealous of Bradley Whitford, getting to work with Joss and Aaron Sorkin, the two undisputed kings of dialogue and the dialogue in this sparkles. Amy Acker has a beautiful little speech at one point that had me on the edge of tears.

The visuals are also wonderful: very reminiscent of Guillermo del Toro's work on Pan's Labyrinth/Hellboy 2 and for me there is no higher praise than that

Mark Greig said...

Saw it earlier today. Brilliant. One of the best (and funniest) horror movies I have seen in ages.

Greg Quinnell said...

Just got back from seeing it a second time, since I loved it so much the first time, and I gotta ask....

SPOILERS!!! SPOILERS!!!

























Did anyone else think that the Merman kinda had Joss Whedon hair? Would be funny if it was actually Joss who played him. He DOES like having cameos in his shows, after all...

J.D. Balthazar said...

Honestly Greg, I didn't really pay attention at that moment. But having watched a bunch of Joss stuff I can safely say that I wouldn't be surprised if you were right.

Greg Quinnell said...

Just checked IMDB and, sadly, no.... it wasn't him. Was another actor named Richard Cetrone, who also played the Werewolf. Bah. The Merman still had Joss hair, damn it!

migmit said...

Well, I think after a week I'm finally calm enough to talk about this movie.

First of all — I'm not a horror movies fan. Some of them make me puke, others are just boring. Now THAT is really my kind of horror movies — a kind I never knew existed.

There are no scenes where some maniac cuts open a living person and starts to pull out intestines — nothing like that. Deaths mostly happen off-screen, although we're presented with very certain proofs, like, for example, blood spraying over the window or something. And monsters — hell, Gentlemen from "Hush" were more scary. It's not the monsters who are scary — it's people (yes, it's very Joss).

But what's even more interesting here is that near the middle of the movie these scary people become almost sympathetic. You start wondering — wouldn't it be better if they succeed, and all the protagonists get killed? That is simply wonderful.

All in all, I'm very glad I've seen this movie. It's... kinda perfect, yeah.

Emily said...

Yay! Finally saw this at the NZ premiere just now! Anna Hutchinson did a Q and A afterwards and was a real sweetie. Agree with all the above comments - the only thing that could have been better were the CGI which were still ok and it has so many great ideas and "What Ifs" I was thinking about all the way home. Fantastic characters!!

Josie Kafka said...

I loved it! Just enough gore that I felt cool for watching a horror movie, but not too much anxiety-inducing heart-pounding terror, which I've never enjoyed. I loved the end, too.

I hope it's not a spoiler to ask: did anyone else think "mummy hand" at any point? Anyone?

J.D. Balthazar said...

Now that you mention it, yes!

I'm glad you loved it, I'm seriously looking forward to the DVD.

sunbunny said...

I finally saw this! Joss Whedon is literally the only man in the world I would watch a horror movie for. The redneck zombies scared the crap out of me but I'm such a wimp when it comes to stuff like that. I loved the meta storyline. Joss is a genius, obviously.

Billie Doux said...

I finally got around to seeing this and it really is excellent. I'm a total wimp when it comes to horror, but this movie didn't scare me -- it was clever and fascinating, and difficult to describe to anyone. I would have found it very difficult to review, so terrific review, J.D.

Billie Doux said...

Quick addition to my comment -- my favorite bit was the zombie hand. LOL.

sunbunny said...

You're much braver than me, Billie. I literally slept with a light on two nights in a row after I saw this. Yes, I am that much of a wuss. :)