Whedon & Goddard flip the horror genre on its ear.
Hollywood horror conventions are as American as apple pie. The backwoods hillbillies, the creaky gas station with questionable employees and the naïve college students getting away for the weekend are so familiar most of us could write the script ourselves. It’s apparent from the outset of The Cabin in the Woods that co-writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have equal parts admiration and disdain for said conventions. It’s also what makes their new project the most fun, exciting and hysterical movie so far this year.
The story is simple horror 101. An attractive group of 5 college stereotypes are gearing up for a trip to a cabin…in the woods.
The jock (Chris Hemsworth), nerd (Jessie Williams), hot chick (Anna Hutchinson), virgin (Kristin Connolly) and stoner (Fran Kanz) are all accounted for and ready to be murdered. And because of our consumption of Friday the 13th knockoffs we know what happens when the group gets to the cabin.
A parallel storyline follows two non-descript engineers (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) in some sort of research facility. Why has Whedon and Goddard even introduced these two? Do they have some connection to the kids in the cabin?
You would rightfully bludgeon me if I told you or described the plot any further. Trust me, the fewer spoilers (AVOID ALL TRAILERS, EVEN THE ONE ABOVE) you encounter the more fun you will have. The film has many strengths and one is the increasingly outrageous reveals. Whedon and Goddard know their audience have certain expectations for a horror film and clearly take pleasure in destroying them.
This accomplished writing duo have a reputation for their wry sense of humor (See: Buffy, Angel, Firefly) and it’s on full display in Cabin. The kids banter at the lake is hysterical and as things unravel into madness they know precisely when to stop and smell the irony. The film is so self-aware at times I expected the characters to wink at me.
It would have been easy to make these characters dull archetypes and still attempt to create a genre-bender. So it’s refreshing to find that nearly all of them are interesting and well drawn. The cast delivers in the films quieter moments and has no problem selling the bombastic ones.
The Cabin in the Woods at its core is pure genre. Whedon and Goddard clearly love 70’s horror and have a hatred of Hollywood’s exploitation of it. What they’ve created won’t change the direction of the genre but I hope it will inform future directors that original ideas can spawn from the familiar. It’s hard to imagine having more bloody fun in a theater this year.