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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘The Cabin in the Woods’ delivers both terror and laughter

Published: April 20, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

Released last Friday after a three-year delay, “The Cabin in the Woods” opened to an amazingly positive response. Directed and written by Drew Goddard along with Joss Whedon, “The Cabin in the Woods” is simultaneously hilarious and horrifying. The combination of horror and comedy has been explored many a time in films such as the “Scream” franchise, but never quite as “The Cabin in the Woods” has achieved it and never to such uproarious success.

“The Cabin in the Woods” presents itself as the classic horror story, a tale of five college kids escaping for a weekend to an old cabin. It is a premise that has been done to death and would offer little to a new movie. Whedon and Goddard, however, have done something very new with it.

The scenes of the cabin, which play out mostly like a stereotypical horror movie, are interspersed with shots of a sort of corporate office, which is at first an absolutely ridiculous thing to do. We quickly learn that the Cabin, and indeed other such settings around the world, are being manipulated and controlled from this office for initially unknown purposes. The superimposition of these two drastically different settings, indeed different films entirely, makes the beginning of the film rather confusing. Yet the film manages to pan out into a series of brilliant twists, utilizing the classic tropes of horror to elicit legitimate fear in the watcher. At other times, the film is equally hilarious. The line between fear and comedy is masterfully walked. Unfortunately, talking about the best parts of this movie would spoil much of what makes it great. Suffice to say, the way this film turns horror on its head is unabashedly wonderful.

Though “The Cabin in the Woods” models itself on a twisted form of the classic horror story, often one of the hallmarks of such stories is the terrible acting. Luckily, since “The Cabin in the Woods” is not actually that movie, the acting is quite impressive. It most notably features a pre-“Thor” Chris Hemsworth, playing a character who would usually be the alpha-male jock, but is in fact a highly intelligent and devoted student. Most of the remaining cast is relatively unknown (though fans of Joss Whedon will recognize Fran Kranz and Amy Acker from the show “Dollhouse”). While there was no performance that was truly amazing, the overall standard for the movie was very good. There was also a wonderful surprise appearance at the end by a beloved and huge-name actor, but I will leave that moment for viewers to enjoy on their own.

One of the greatest things about this film is how truly imaginative it is. Tons of creatures, some obviously out of horror movies and some not so much (there is a particularly hilarious encounter with a killer unicorn) make appearances. There are obvious homages to specific horror films, including “It” and “Saw,” along with a general splash of all sorts of creatures out of myth, legend and nightmare. The CGI here is very well done, monsters blending seamlessly in with their surroundings.
Another wonderful part of the overall experience of seeing this movie is how often the audience reacts. Though reactions swing between horror-prompted fright and audible laughter, the fact that both extremes are elected by the same film, often one right after the other, reveals how successfully the movie wields both of the genres in which it can be placed. It is highly rare for the parody of a horror movie to be legitimately frightening, but “The Cabin in the Woods” certainly is.

My one critique of “The Cabin in the Woods” lies with its resolution. After an enormous amount of build up, what actually appears is less than what it could be. Furthermore, at times “The Cabin in the Woods” feels like the prequel to some other movie, perhaps the set up for a post-apocalyptic film. The end of the movie leaves the viewer desperately wanting to know what follows, as if set up for a sequel that, by the sheer nature of the movie, will almost definitely never exist. While it makes sense that the movie leaves the watcher longing for the film that could follow, the two would be ultimately only loosely connected, which is why “Cabin in the Woods” would in fact have made sense as a prequel. Unfortunately, another film would be too separate a story to be even really connected with “Cabin in the Woods.”

Overall, I adored “The Cabin in the Woods.” It is both funny and frightening, flawlessly parodying the classic mindless horror story in a way that is intelligent and entertaining. Though it has been fairly un-advertised, “The Cabin in the Woods” is a great movie for long-time fans of horror as well as newcomers.