Movie Review: Cabin in the Woods- A Truly Unconventional Horror Film That Balances Over the Top Violence, Dark Comedy, and Thought Provoking Philosophical Arguments

Unfortunately for the horror genre it has traveled down a route that is so predictable and derivative that every time a horror film is released it always seems a waste of time. Sometimes to get a genre back to some creative grounding requires an outsider’s perspective much like the terrifying 80s work of David Cronenberg such as Videodrome and The Brood or Sam Raimi’s hilariously diabolical horror films, including The Evil Dead (I and II) and Army of Darkness. And in following both of those horror masters influence we have an original and darkly humorous horror movie from veteran “Lost” writer Drew Goddard and “Firefly” creator Joss Whedon. Cabin in the Woods is not your typical horror film because it has a very tongue in cheek tone, an unconventional presentation, and an extremely over the top violent ending that will actually have you laughing more than being horrified. And even with the film being filled to the brim with black humor it has possesses an intriguing contemplative study on the ethics of swine otherwise known as utilitarianism. While Cabin in the Woods might not be on the parody level as say Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead it still has plenty of memorable comedic moments, enough bloody horror jumps for those fans, and a neat play on formulaic horror personas to make it probably one of the more original films of this year, which is not a difficult task. For those doubters expecting the expected with the horror genre they will be extremely, and pleasantly, surprised with the experience that Goddard and Whedon have assembled for them.

It’s an interesting tidbit to know that this film was shot and completed four years ago considering it has some themes very similar to this year’s leading box office success The Hunger Games. Both involve the brutal killing of innocents for mostly the sake of entertainment, but where Cabin in the Woods differs is not only in its humorous direction but also in its capacity to make its themes extremely thought provoking. Near the end of the film the characters, as well as the audience, are presented with the ethical argument at the heart of the film, which involves the good of the many outweigh the good of the few otherwise known as utilitarianism. By this time into the film you’ve seen such grotesque violence and suffering involving the lead characters that it’s difficult to process a justification of ritualistic killing so that the many may survive. It’s impossible to get too deep in analyzing the philosophy without revealing too much so what shall be said here is that the filmmakers and writers do a unique job at presenting the characters, as well as you, with a choice and the answer might surprise you. Any film that can actually place you in the situations of the characters you’ve been following is worthy of recognition because it truly gives you a thought provoking predicament. And this really wouldn’t have been possible without the foresight of the writers or the dedicated delivery of the actors in the film.

Writer Joss Whedon certainly has a fan following and they know him for being able to balance characters you feel for with humor that entertains you. That common attribute in his work persists in Cabin in the Woods where he and Drew Goddard are able to play around with horror character archetypes and putting them in audience expected situations and turning those situations on their heads. All of the characters are introduced to us in typical horror genre fashion but as they get closer to their obviously foreboding destination they begin to change from unique to stereotypical horror film archetypes, such as the comedian, the athlete, or the “whore.” This is due to the will of the puppet masters, otherwise known as the unspecified government-esque agency, who manipulate free will in their favor to make sure a ritualistic human sacrifice of these character archetypes takes place. If the details of the story are a bit confusing that’s because it’s a difficult film to describe without giving too much away so note that it’s a group of people who put the lead characters into a controlled environment so that they will be killed. And when you follow these characters, which all aren’t at all unlikeable, you definitely feel bad for them when they inevitably begin to get knocked off. Whedon and Goddard both utilize their influence for writing seemingly complex characters that all seem real rather than forcibly fake. Even the characters that are meant to be unreal, such as the great Bradley Whitford and always reliable Richard Jenkins, have an intriguing presentation to them that make them feel as though their apathetic cruelty might be existent in today’s world. The other actors are all commendable and really can be credited to the foresight and self-security of the script itself, which was written by two very good storytellers.

But not only did Goddard write the film with Joss Whedon, he also directed it. Since Cabin in the Woods is Goddard’s directorial debut it certainly shows promise for a director who understands the importance of character, the ability to incrementally reveal your mystery, and also knows how to handle the difficult balancing act between brutality and humor. He is able to give his actors the grounding and diversity they need to be understood and he also knows how to manipulate his scenes to tailor a particular mood, either with the humorous over the top chaotic violence in the end or the deeply focused and felt horrific killing of one of the lead characters. One scene that would have otherwise been a standard protagonist fighting for their life is manipulated into a hilarious scene where people are celebrating with champagne as you see her struggling for her life on television screens in the background. Goddard wasn’t familiar with horror before he helped write this particular version of the genre with Whedon and it appears his outsider look into the conventions of horror aided in his ability to throw all of those derivative and tired rules out the door. With every chosen shot, every planned scenario to the most subtle of details and every chosen comedic delivery within Cabin in the Woods shows that Drew Goddard has a true talent for storytelling and cinematic capturing making it impossible for us to expect big things from him in the future.

It was truly refreshing to witness a film that not only understood the basic conventions of the horror genre but also knew when to toss those predictable elements out the window. With the truly inventive writing from veteran “Lost” writer Drew Goddard and “Firefly” creator Joss Whedon Cabin in the Woods truly becomes an unconventional entertaining horror experience. Their writing abilities knew how to manipulate typical character archetypes as well as balance expected gruesome horror violence with a dash of dark comedy. Not since the over the top horror films from Sam Raimi has there been a film that was as funny as it is gruesome. Cabin in the Woods isn’t a pitch perfect film by any means since it has some weaknesses in some of its more conventional moments, which means it exits its parody tone on occasion. However, it is probably the most violent, funny, and entertaining experience you will experience in the theater for the near future. Be fair warned that the violence is at times grotesquely explicit and yet you won’t be able to stop from laughing most of the time you’re experiencing it. As surprising as it might be the advertising is correct when they say this is not your typical horror film, and thank God for that.

Grade: B+

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