It’s hard to find a new wrinkle in the formulaic teen slasher movie genre. Even fans of the genre must be sick to death of these movies by now. Before giving up on the genre, make sure you check out this frequently amusing take: Cabin in the Woods. I can guarantee that you haven’t seen this kind of teen slasher movie before.
Co-written by Joss Whedon, the writer and director that gave us Buffy the Vampire Slayer and recent movies like The Avengers comes the sort of movie that he likes to write but curiously chose not to direct. Maybe he was too busy with other projects to direct this one in. No matter: co-writer and director Drew Goddard seems to be channeling Whedon. He delivers the sort of movie you would expect if Whedon had been directing it: quirky and fun, plus zombies, a creepy old man with an evil eye at an abandoned filling station and a stereotypical creepy cabin in the woods with an evil basement and root cellar, not to mention zombies in the family graveyard ready to come back to life when the right Latin is read aloud from a diary that is in the basement. I haven’t had so much fun with zombies since Shaun of the Dead. There is so much unnecessary blood and guts in this movie that it becomes cartoonish.
Anyhow you know the formula: a bunch of stereotypical teens go someplace impossibly remote. While exercising a little harmless teenage rebellion they find that the creepy cabin they are in is harboring a few horrors. Actually in this movie the teens have their choice of a huge variety of horrors, all on standby depending on where they inadvertently take the plot. While most teen slasher movies concentrate on a few horrors from the id, you get to peek behind the curtain in this movie. That’s right, there is a whole crew behind this cabin in the woods, in a neat off-site control room in what appears to be a modern office building. They are just a bunch of white collar technicians busy creating another sacrificial event to appease the gods, the ones that stay deep underground and haven’t been seen since ancient Greece. They only stay down in their subterranean vault if annually they get a tribute of fresh teen gore including a whore, a jock, a stoner and nice guy. The virgin is a nice extra, but is not required.
You would think it would be kind of ghoulish for these technicians to oversee such an endeavor, but they are so blasé about the whole thing. After all they have seen it many, many times before. The various departments, out of boredom, bet on which ghoulish fate the teens will inadvertently pick, and keep tabs on a big whiteboard. Among the technicians pulling off this event is Hadley (Bradley Whitford, a.k.a Josh Lymon from seven seasons of The West Wing.) Whitford doesn’t have to break a sweat acting in this movie, since he’s basically Josh in this movie, right down to the unbuttoned collared shirt. He’s put on more than a few pounds since The West Wing. He and Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) happen to be the directors of this particularly ghoulish dismemberment event, but the real director is Sigourney Weaver, who doesn’t show up until the end of this brief ninety-five minute movie. She’s a good choice because lord knows, she has run away from all sorts of creatures of the id. Hadley and Sitterson are best thought of as assistant directors, because there are staged paranormal events going on all over the planet.
So there is a lot of wry humor in this movie, which makes it perhaps one of the most enjoyable slasher movies to make it to the screen. The juxtaposition between the blasé backstage directors and the teenage debutantes and jocks that are dealing with the mayhem at their cabin in the woods makes for genuine entertainment and little in the way of what you would consider to be genuine terror. In short, if you see this movie to get scared, you probably won’t be.
If there is a problem with the movie it’s that it’s not long enough. Each of the teen characters is actually quite fun, and hardly stereotypes. You want more screen time from each before they mostly all meet their unfortunate but well planned demises. They include Jules (Anna Hutchison) the “whore” who just happens to like being sexually active, and who gets to French kiss the head of a wolf; Dana (Kristen Connolly) the virgin who appears to be a technical one only (it’s left ambiguous); Holden (Jesse Williams) who is so nice that he covers the one way mirror in his room that inadvertently lets him see more of the virgin than he ever expected; Curt (Chris Hemsworth) who has to prove his manhood in a desperate attempt to escape and Marty (Fran Kranz), the stoner, perhaps the most amusing of the bunch with all sorts of unusual observations. Curiously it is Marty that turns out to be the most grounded of the bunch and whose weed (and telescopic bong) seems to be throwing off the well-planned outcome. This is what makes this movie both particularly interesting and amusing. You won’t be too surprised by the plot twist, which involves a lot of karmic payback for the engineers behind the scenes.
It’s just that it all happens too quickly. Whedon’s touch is quite noticeable, with all sorts of quotes that stick in your brain, like Hadley’s quote: “These fucking zombies. Remember when you could just throw a girl in a volcano?” There’s a lot here, which means I’ll probably have to go watch it a few times to fully appreciate it.
While it goes too quickly, it’s a great investment of your time nonetheless. This is my idea of the perfect popcorn movie. It’s quirky, fun and quite silly gore that is over way too soon. It deserves some sequels and I’m hoping Marty and Dana (the only two to survive) return for the sequel. The others can doubtless come back as zombies too.
3.2 out of four-points.