Scripted by the creator of Buffy the vampire slayer Joss Whedon and the director of Cloverfield Drew Goddard, The cabin in the woods is a meta-horror movie which embraces every horror trope in existence, only to twist them all into new and exciting directions. It exemplifies the type of self-aware horror movies that audiences have become savvy too, but does it in such an intriguing and hilarious fashion that it’s really not comparable to any that have come before. Joss and Drew are obviously lovers of the genre, and so they pack the movie full of traditional tropes and nods to it’s various incarnations and celebrate them all. There is blood, sex, and horror in good measure, but behind it all is the unmistakable aura of fun and a sly commentary on the modern horror film and the particulars of the genre.
The setup, like most teen horror movies is age-old and universally recognized. Five friends, Curt (Chris Hemsworth in a pre-Thor role playing his broiest character yet) Jules (Anne Hutchinson, saucy and alluring, yet playful) Marty played by fan favorite Fran Kranz from Whedon’s Dollhouse, Holden (Jesse Williams, as the sensitive and scholarly best friend) and Dana (Kristen Connolly, vulnerable and cautious even though her status as a virgin is up in the air) retreat to a cabin in the woods for what they intend to be a vacation full of debauchery and carefree fun, but, as always, turns into something far more sinister, albeit this time even more so than usual. Though they each embody aspects of the classic horror caricatures, each is broader and more aware then usual, with a highlight being Marty who provides his particular brand of extrospective observations that happen to be surprisingly relevant each time. As their stay at the cabin goes on however, it becomes clear that something is affecting them and actively reducing them to cardboard cutouts of their former selves.
Without revealing too much more, a parallel narrative features what look to be a couple ordinary office workers played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford (Both in top form and a treat to watch play off each other) who are connected to the group in a manner that quickly becomes evident. This juxtaposition between these two narratives drives the plot and is also the place for some of the more meta-based commentary that aims to explore exactly why, among other things, the slut is always blond, why a group of frightened teens splits up instead of staying together, and why the virgin must always be the last one alive at the end of the night.
Scream is credited with the first instance of characters realizing the “rules” of a horror movie, often commenting on them while at the same time being bound by them. In its third act though, Cabin goes a step further and angrily crashes through the fourth wall as though to deliver a metaphorical middle finger to the oppression enforced by the modern horror formula. When the sh** really hits the fan, the resulting carnage which takes over the screen is hilariously inventive and instantly memorable, as though the spirit of horror has finally been let off it’s leash to savage the competition. It’s the sort off-the-wall scenario not seen outside of the more bizarre horror novels, and serves as an antidote for the formulaic end that modern horror movies rarely violate. Cabin loses some of its steam around the very end as the ultimate purpose behind the second narrative comes to light, but the film closes in a fashion which stays true to it’s message of rebellion and will not be soon forgotten; truly the horror movie to end ALL horror movies.