For enjoying “The Cabin in the Woods” as much as possible, I advise you to keep yourself away from any information about it before watching it. Although one main surprise in its premise is easily guessed from the beginning, there are a lot more in this smart horror film, and its entertainment is based on how it cleverly twists the conventions and rules of horror movies with the sense of a devious fun.
But I think you have to know what kind of horror film it looks like at first, so I will tell you about how it establishes its stage at the beginning. Five college kids go to the cabin in some remote area which is recently purchased by the cousin of one of them, and there are many apparent bad signs they come across during their journey. The place is so remote that it cannot be found on GPS, and the road to the cabin has no guard rail to protect their camping car from the precipice next to it, and they also come across a gas station which looks as shabby as its unpleasant owner, who gives them a solemn warning about what will happen to them through his nonsense words.
In such a circumstance like this, you will probably have a second thought about spending night at the cabin, but these kids proceed with their weekend plan, so they finally arrive at the cabin. They look like your typical stereotype characters you can expect from horror films; Curt(Chris Hemsworth) is a popular athlete student, Jules(Anna Hutchison) is his blonde girlfriend(she has recently died her hair, by the way), Holden(Jesse Williams) is a smart kid, Dana(Kristen Connolly) is Jules’ best friend, and Marty(Franz Kranz) is a goofy guy who smokes lots of marijuana.
During the afternoon, they have a fun time in the lake near the cabin just like those dead teenager characters in Friday the 13th movies(When I watched these movies when I was young, I did not understand why some big dude wearing a hockey mask tried to kill them all when they seemed to have a good time). When the night comes, they go back to the cabin and begin their night party with beer. While watching them, we come to see that they are actually nice kinds who just want to spend a nice time together. The character like Marty can easily become a target of mean jokes because of his dopey behaviors, but they are really friends, and they keep their decency even when they play ‘truth or dare’ game.
But something terrible is bound to happen because, well, the cabin itself is drenched with malevolent atmosphere. Its interior is gloomy and ominous, and we see that there is a very disturbing picture in one of the bedroom, which hides another disturbing side of the cabin behind itself. And the cabin also has a dark basement filled with various ominous objects. If you have seen the movies like “The Evil Dead”(1981), you know it is wise not to touch anything for your survival when you walk into such a basement like this, but….
Yes, this is a typical horror movie plot we encountered countless times before, but “The Cabin in the Woods” adds one amusing idea into the story I will not describe in details. Let’s say it seems their circumstance is more insidious than they thought, and we already know that two employees in some special facility, played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, are monitoring what is happening inside and around the cabin.
Observing these two employees and others in the facility is like how the conventions of horror films are operated against characters. While watching everything thanks to their sophisticated technology, the people at the facility also can manipulate not only the environment but also the people inside their controlled area. We have seen the characters making dumb choices in horror films many times, but there is an amusing reason for that in this case.
The director/co-writer Drew Goddard and the producer/co-writer Joss Weddon must have had lots of fun while writing their story. They set the stage, and they push the characters into it, and then they see what will happen while preparing the next step of their diabolical plot with the various tools and devices at their hands. The movie starts slowly, but it has a considerable degree of creepiness to draw our attention, and then it gleefully twists its story while pushing its characters more ruthlessly into the corner.
And we come to see that the movie is essentially a joke on its genre. For some purpose revealed later in the story, the people at the facility try to have the kids in the cabin dispatched in the way we usually expect from horror films, and that makes them more or less than a screenplay writer or director who follows the rules of horror movies to force the characters to a pre-determined ending waiting for them in advance. The movie later goes further with an interesting thought on the free will of characters in fiction during its third act. Can it be said the characters in fiction have a free will even if they are already stuck in the story determined from the beginning? Can they affect their own fate? The movie pushes these questions with its uninhibited take-no-prisoner attitude, and that ultimately results in the playfully bloody climatic sequence which I can only describe as an orgy of horror films while not spoiling your entertainment.
Like Wes Craven’s “Scream”(1996), another playful deconstruction case of horror genre, “The Cabin in the Woods” is loaded with genre conventions and references, and I enjoyed appreciating some of them. The more you are familiar with the genre, the more you will be entertained by its diabolical playfulness with the genre. We can say that the movie literally assembles many used stock materials in its secret place for its convoluted story, but it is not often to come across a smart horror movie both scary and humorous.