The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker, Sigourney Weaver, Brian White, Tim De Zern, and Jodelle Ferland
Director: Drew Goddard
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars
Five college kids (Connolly, Hemsworth, Hutchison, Kranz, and Williams) head to an isolated cabin for a weekend of fun, but things don't turn out as planned... for them, or the global organization that is secretly manipulating them.
"Cabin in the Woods" was the happiest cinematic surprise I've had in quite some time. Like most movies I see, I came to it knowing very little about it. Based on what little advertising I'd seen and what little "buzz" I'd heard, I expected a straight "Evil Dead" rip-off (at worst) or "Totem" done right (at best).
It turned out the film was closer to "Totem", but yet not anything like it at all. From the very first scene--which features a pair of stereotypical office workers having a mundane conversation by the water cooler--this is a film that surprises at nearly every turn... but does so through a solid, well-paced story rather than half-assed twists and forced scared. If more scripts were written with the care exhibited here, fewer people would be declaring the horror genre dead.
Because most of the fun in watching the mystery of what is really going on in the film come together, this is a hard movie to review. I can say that it's aimed squarely at fans of B- horror and sci-fi movies and that your level of experience with low-budget cheese will be directly proportional to the level of enjoyment you'll derive from this movie. Like the "Grindhouse" flicks from a few years ago, there is nothing terribly original here, as almost everything is a homage to, or a wry commentary upon, horror and sci-fi genre conventions and movies. But this is an effort far superior to those featured in "Grindhouse" (and the spin-offs), because the parts here add up to something greater than the whole and the movies being referenced.
I've already mentioned the exceptional script at the heart of the film, but the quality of the cast is also a major part of what makes the film so enjoyable. While the young actors portraying the teenaged victims in the cabin are all fine in their various roles as slasher-movie stereotypes, the real fun for me was had watching Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, and Amy Acker as technicians working to manipulate events around the other characters. Although their characters are, more or less, the film's villains, I found myself rooting for them as the film moved into its wild climax.
It's been a while since I've had this much fun watching a movie, and I loved every minute of it. The only complaint I have revolves around a lidded coffee cup that Richard Jenkins' character Sitterson is seen fiddling with in the early scenes. That cup is later placed on a control panel full of buttons and levers, the kind of place you wouldn't want to place a coffee cup that might get knocked over and thus spill liquid on sensitive equipment. But, after this obvious set-up of disaster, the cup just vanishes from the story... and that bugs me. I'm a firm believer in the concept that if "there's a gun in the first act, it hast to be fired by the third." The lack of pay-off for the coffee cup business is the only flaw I could see in this otherwise excellent picture.