If you enjoy horror movies in any capacity, go see “The Cabin in the Woods” now. Right now. Watch nothing on it. Talk to no one about it. Don't read anything about it, including this review. Go in as blind as possible.
It's OK, I'll wait.
Alright, you back with me? Great.
Ladies and gentlemen, that is how you deconstruct a genre.
Wes Craven received a lot of cinematic cred for his self-aware deconstruction of the slasher film genre when he released “Scream” in 1996. It was a genre that Craven himself had helped to create and perpetuate, so it was fitting he'd be the first one to take a swing at tearing it down in a way. My problem with “Scream,” however, is that it far too often feels like it's too self-aware at its own self-awareness, practically screaming “LOOK AT HOW CLEVER THIS IS!”
But it's not just dissecting the “rules” and archetypes illuminated in “Scream,” writer Joss Whedon actually builds an original story around them, the likes of which I can more or less guarantee you have never seen before. The opening scene is proof enough of this, so much that you'll probably think you've walked into the wrong auditorium by accident.
On its most basic, surface level, the story is about five friends heading out to a remote cabin for the weekend. And like with every other slasher flick that involves teens in the woods, you have the usual assortment of characters. There's Curt (Chris Hemsworth), the arrogant jock, Jules (Anna Hutchinson), the blonde party girl, Dana (Kristen Connolly), the nebbish, innocent girl, Holden (Jesse Williams), the bookworm and Marty (Fran Kranz), the paranoid stoner. They all fit a very specific role. Or do they?
Whedon's script is always keen to let the audience know that things are never what they seem to be, even when we're treading into familiar territory. To what end are they beyond the ordinary? Well, that's better left discussed as you're walking out of the theater. Let's just say that these kids are being brought together for a very specific purpose.
But then, that's sort of the brilliance of Whedon as a writer. He takes familiar elements of things genre fans have loved for years and finds a way to spin them into something that feels immediately familiar and yet wholly fresh and invigorating. He did it with “Buffy,” he did it with “Firefly” and he does it to an astounding degree here.
Of course, his brilliant script would be nothing without the right director to bring it to life, and thankfully Whedon has found a kindred spirit in Drew Goddard. Goddard is best known as “the guy who wrote ‘Cloverfield,'” but this proves he's got much more up his sleeve than just writing a clever riff on giant monster movies. He and Whedon seem to be perfectly in tune with each other and he brings a great eye and perfect sensibility to the project, deftly balancing the rather precarious tone that Whedon strikes in his script. Play things too much one way or the other and you end up playing up the self-awareness or the humor too much and it becomes something it shouldn't be.
The best example of how well Goddard balances Whedon's work is found in the film's final 15 minutes. At this point, Whedon more or less rips the lid off of the horror movie toy box and practically cackles with glee as the contents quite literally come spilling out. What could have turned into a seemingly endless string of references and riffs becomes one of the most memorable segments of controlled chaos that I've seen in a movie.
I know I've spoken a lot in generalities here, but a part of me simply can't talk openly about this until everyone's had a chance to go see this thing. But know simply that I cannot wait to go see this again.
And again. And again. I love this movie. I love it to pieces. I loved every second of it. I usually don't make this sort of proclamation this early, but this is easily going to make it into my top 10 for the year. This is a fantastic movie, the rare film that comes along and knocks you flat by just how much fun it is while also showing you things you've never seen in a movie.
Stewart Smith is the Entertainment Editor for the Tyler Morning Telegraph. Contact him at 903-596-6301 or by e-mail at email@example.com.