DVD Release Date: September 18, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: April 13, 2012
Rating: R (for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language, drug use and some sexuality/nudity)
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Horror
Run Time: 95 min.
Director: Drew Goddard
Actors: Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, Brian White, Amy Acker

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following review contains discussion of mature subject matter. Parents, please be advised.

For screenwriter Joss Whedon’s unapologetically devout fanboys and girls, a movie that includes a playful homage to his previous work in TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and Dollhouse, not to mention a slew of popular horror movies, is an exciting prospect indeed.

But on an even grander scale, those who enjoy movies with some major scares will find plenty to love about a slasher pic that like 1996’s Scream, pokes a little fun at the “rules” of the game. Adding another intriguing layer of interest is some light social commentary, namely on what it takes these days to satisfy the appetites of the genre’s increasingly bloodthirsty audience.

While it’s rare to call the ritual sacrifice of human beings “fun,” there’s also a cheeky sensibility that ultimately sets The Cabin in the Woods apart, particularly in the screenplay that was penned by Whedon along with Drew Goddard, who’s written episodes of past television series Lost and Alias, not to mention Cloverfield for the big screen.

Sure, the cast of characters (the beefcake jock, the bookworm, the dumb blonde, the virgin, the stoner) in The Cabin in the Woods may be the same, but there’s actually a shrewd method to the madness. Rather than simply trying to come up with new and nastier ways to knock off the protagonists, The Cabin in the Woods is actually a thrill-a-minute ride that takes a stab at (pardon the pun) exploring the morality behind the clichés like why the promiscuous characters are usually the first to meet their untimely demise.

Now before anyone mistakes that for an endorsement as must-see entertainment, many of the larger conversations that are happening here, particularly in the free will debate, aren’t explored with any real depth or seriousness. But there are some intriguing questions posed anyway, like why so many people revel in watching the “bad” guys and gals suffer a particularly gory end.

For those who aren’t necessarily looking for deeper meaning, just some great escapist entertainment, The Cabin in the Woods mostly delivers in that regard, too. While there are a few glaring plot holes and storylines that are resolved way, way too easily, that titular cabin sure does cause plenty of problems for a few college students hoping for a fun, laidback weekend away from it all.

Right from the start, the eerie, foreboding sense that the trip is going to be anything but fun is established with particular panache. Whether it’s the stop at a gas station where let’s just say, the customer service isn’t going to win any awards any time soon or the rather ominous basement findings like the journal of someone from one of the most murderous families in history, one almost can’t help laughing at the sheer stupidity of the characters in choosing not to leave before it’s too late—just one of the pleasures of a great scary movie.

Naturally, once Curt (Chris Hemsworth, Thor), Dana (Kristen Connolly, TV’s The Good Wife), Marty (Fran Kranz, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules), Jules (TV actress Anna Hutchison) and Holden (Jesse Williams, Grey’s Anatomy) put two and two together and things get really creepy, however, they can’t escape, no matter how hard they try.

To say much more about the plot would venture into some serious spoiler-alert territory, but horror aficionados will likely appreciate all the knowing winks and nudges to other famous flicks including Evil Dead, The Ring, Zombieland, Scooby Doo, the aforementioned Scream and even The Hunger Games. And strangely enough, while there’s nothing overly remarkable about the performances from the leads (they’re just pleasant enough to garner a little sympathy), it’s the parallel narrative involving Richard Jenkins (The Rum Diary) and Bradley Whitford (best known for his role in TV’s The West Wing) that ultimately steals the show, thanks to plenty of witty verbal exchanges.

But as thoroughly twisty and frightening as the story is, the film’s true star is really the unorthodox approach to such familiar material, something that Whedon is a master of. If anything, you wish every movie genre, from your average romantic comedy to shoot ‘em up action pic, could take a few cues from the cleverness of The Cabin in the Woods, just to liven things up a bit.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Social drinking and public drunkenness depicted. One character is quite the pot-smoker, and we see him engaging in marijuana use in several scenes. Mysterious chemicals cause several characters to behave strangely.
  • Language/Profanity: Expletives, particularly the “f” word, are used throughout, plus there are a few instances where God and Jesus’s names are taken in vain or paired with da--.
  • Sex/Nudity: Like many horror movies before it, there’s a “virgin” and a “whore” in the character mix. It’s suggested that the former, Dana, isn’t quite so “pure” but close enough for storytelling purposes. Dana struts around in a skimpy pair of panties and we see her begin undressing in front of a mysterious mirror. Meanwhile, Jules gets busy with Curt in the woods. It’s implied that Curt is giving her oral sex, and just as she unbuttons her shirt (her breasts in full view), their interactions come to an abrupt (and painful) end. There are also a few jokes and double entendres of a sexual nature. One character makes out with a stuffed wolf head (don’t ask) and performs a sexy dance routine while she’s rather drunk.
  • Violence: It’s impossible to describe the violent aspects without revealing too much about the plot, but like you’d expect from the horror genre, there is lots and lots of blood and people die in truly gruesome fashion (usually by stabbing or beheading).
     

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blogFor more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.