Film review: The Cabin in the Woods

posted at 8:01 am on April 14, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Five friends from college decide to spend a weekend by a fishing hole in the woods by a cabin just purchased by one’s cousin.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, if you think you know, you’re in for some big, nasty, and frequently funny surprises in The Cabin in the Woods, a new film co-written by Joss Whedon (Firefly, Serenity, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and the debut directorial effort for co-writer Drew Goddard.

Cabin turns more than one horror meme on its head.  In fact, it’s both derivative and inventive in almost equal measure, and the product of this blend is both familiar and fresh all at the same time. However, it will be very, very difficult to describe exactly how this is without ruining the film for viewers.  For now, let’s just say that Goddard and Whedon have a lot of fun taking common memes in horror movies, especially the teenage-slasher films of the Halloween/Scream/I Know What You Did Last Summer variety, and making them an actual, intentional part of the plot by introducing a completely new — and sometimes darkly hilarious — element.  Cabin dares to treat the audience as if it already understands the genre, and then assumes we’re ready to take it to the next level, almost literally in some senses.  In other words, it assumes that we’re intelligent, which is a rather rare feature for horror films.

That’s not to say that this isn’t a serious horror film.  It is, and it’s rated R for a reason.  It gets graphically violent, with very intense action and disturbing images and concepts, and at times the screen is drenched in blood.  There is also brief nudity, some bad language, and significant drug references (marijuana), so it’s not for children or younger teenagers at all.

The actors playing the five main characters don’t have extensive resumes, but they’re hardly novices either.  Chris Hemsworth played Thor in the film of the same name and stars as the same character in the upcoming The Avengers, and does well in this film as the athlete Curt.  Kristen Connolly makes it easy to sympathize and identify with Dana, and Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, and Fran Kranz do well in the traditional friend roles.  However, veteran character actors Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford all but steal the film and have most of the fun, and Sigourney Weaver’s cameo appearance provides a crowning climax to Cabin.

Cabin will not be for everyone.  If the components I mentioned earlier are off-putting, you’d be better off skipping this.  However, if you like the horror genre, enjoy seeing archetypes turned on their head, or just like inventive and creative story-telling leavened with genuine humor, then you could do a lot worse than stop by the The Cabin in the Woods this weekend.

Update: Focus on the Family’s Plugged In review isn’t as positive, and it has some spoilers (follow over at your own risk), but I mostly agree with its conclusion:

“You get used to it,” a colleague wearily says.

“Should you?” the new guy on the underground block returns.

If the film has a moral, this is it. Folks have become hardened to horrific violence on movie screens. But should they? Should you? Should we open ourselves up to this stuff, munching popcorn as human after human is harvested for the sake of our gluttonous entertainment appetites? Whedon and Goddard, in their own malevolent and maladroit way, say no. And we’d be well advised to listen.

Obviously, I enjoyed it more than this reviewer, but this was certainly one of themes in the film, and not a bad message, either.  In that way, it’s a bit like the internally subversive Inglorious Basterds, which I enjoyed less, but which had the same “I can’t believe you’re actually buying this over-the-top violence” subtext.

Update II: I almost forgot to mention that my friend John Hanlon has a new film-review site launched, John Hanlon Reviews.  John has a review up of Lockout, which was my second choice this weekend.  It looks like Die Hard meets Escape from New York — in space.  That turns out not to be a good thing, but not entirely bad, either.


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I think I’ll pass on this. We own a cabin in the woods on a lake in TN and I stay there a lot … alone.

Yes, it’s scarey.

stenwin77 on April 14, 2012 at 8:06 AM

Watch the funny version instead, Tucker & Dave vs Evil.

lowandslow on April 14, 2012 at 8:12 AM

I understand there is a scene in which the three young men forget which film opening this weekend they’re in and start slapping each other and calling each other knuckleheads….

radjah shelduck on April 14, 2012 at 8:13 AM

From what I read in this review, Cabin ought to be X-rated (or whatever the letter is now for adults-only):

http://www.pluggedin.com/movies/intheaters/cabin-in-the-woods.aspx

It’s infuriating that millions of teens will be corrupted by this crap.

itsnotaboutme on April 14, 2012 at 8:15 AM

I understand there is a scene in which the three young men forget which film opening this weekend they’re in and start slapping each other and calling each other knuckleheads….

radjah shelduck on April 14, 2012 at 8:13 AM

Oh, a wise guy!

itsnotaboutme on April 14, 2012 at 8:17 AM

Allah, should you really mention who’s in the cameo?

Gladtobehere on April 14, 2012 at 8:17 AM

Sorry Ed, I thought you were Allah.

Gladtobehere on April 14, 2012 at 8:18 AM

No thanks.

tom daschle concerned on April 14, 2012 at 8:39 AM

Saw the trailer – it gave away the entire concept of the movie.

mudskipper on April 14, 2012 at 8:41 AM

Wait, another horror film functions by playing on the pre-existing memes and acting as though the movie-goers and the cast is already genre-savvy and aware of the “rules” inherent in a slasher-horror film?

It’s full of lamp-shading and wink-nods to the fourth wall, too, isn’t it?

I saw that movie when it was called Scream. It wasn’t very good then, either.

Sgt Steve on April 14, 2012 at 8:44 AM

However, if you like the horror genre,

I do (see The Blob)

enjoy seeing archetypes turned on their head

I do (see Scream)

or just like inventive and creative story-telling leavened with genuine humor,

I do (see Men In Black)

then you could do a lot worse than stop by the The Cabin in the Woods this weekend.

I’m sold!

:)

Ladysmith CulchaVulcha on April 14, 2012 at 8:48 AM

So basically, it’s Friday the 13th meets Saw meets Cube.

Nothing original, just an amalgamation of rip-offs.

keep the change on April 14, 2012 at 8:48 AM

Watch the funny version instead, Tucker & Dave vs Evil.

lowandslow on April 14, 2012 at 8:12 AM

That movie is unbelievably funny.

fossten on April 14, 2012 at 8:54 AM

I will watch it when it is on network TV.

Elizabetty on April 14, 2012 at 8:59 AM

Oh, a wise guy!

itsnotaboutme on April 14, 2012 at 8:17 AM

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

Odysseus on April 14, 2012 at 9:07 AM

I think I’ll pass on this. We own a cabin in the woods on a lake in TN and I stay there a lot … alone.

Yes, it’s scarey.

stenwin77 on April 14, 2012 at 8:06 AM

Relax! Algore is in California now.

TugboatPhil on April 14, 2012 at 9:12 AM

Watch the funny version instead, Tucker & Dave vs Evil.

lowandslow on April 14, 2012 at 8:12 AM

Great underrated movie, think its still on Netflix, must watch.

Alinsky on April 14, 2012 at 9:13 AM

Going to see it tomorrow. I’m sure it will be good though I think there can be a horror movie made for people over 30.

tomas on April 14, 2012 at 9:13 AM

Relax! Algore is in California now.

TugboatPhil on April 14, 2012 at 9:12 AM

Manbearpig! I’m super serial about that, too.

Ed Morrissey on April 14, 2012 at 9:17 AM

I remember vividly the one-and-only time I watched one of the “Saw” movies. It made me sick to my stomach. Not simply for the scenes of grotesqueness, but because somebody actually thinks this stuff up. That takes a seriously depraved mind, even if “it’s for entertainment”.

Frankly, I’m really surprised that Ed, who by all other evidence appears to be a man of strong faith, would lower himself to suggest “you could do a lot worse than stop by the The Cabin in the Woods this weekend.”

Philippians 4:8
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Shepherd Lover on April 14, 2012 at 9:17 AM

Think I’ll pass on this one. I’m waiting for the My Dinner With Andre’ II.

TugboatPhil on April 14, 2012 at 9:18 AM

It’s infuriating that millions of teens will be corrupted by this crap.
itsnotaboutme on April 14, 2012 at 8:15 AM

That horse left the barn a LONG time ago.

Cleombrotus on April 14, 2012 at 9:21 AM

Shepherd Lover on April 14, 2012 at 9:17 AM

Simply profound and beautiful, Shepherd.

Cleombrotus on April 14, 2012 at 9:22 AM

Think I’ll pass on this one. I’m waiting for the My Dinner With Andre’ II.

TugboatPhil on April 14, 2012 at 9:18 AM

I saw the trailer for that one the other day and was really surprised that the official title for the movie was My Dinner with Andre II — Electric Boogaloo. Talk about genre bending….

Mr. D on April 14, 2012 at 9:27 AM

It’s infuriating that millions of teens will be corrupted by this crap.

itsnotaboutme on April 14, 2012 at 8:15 AM

It’s rated R.

spinach.chin on April 14, 2012 at 9:35 AM

Watch the funny version instead, Tucker & Dave vs Evil.

lowandslow on April 14, 2012 at 8:12 AM

It’s Dale, not Dave, but yeah, funny stuff.

spinach.chin on April 14, 2012 at 9:38 AM

Think I’ll pass on this one. I’m waiting for the My Dinner With Andre’ II.

TugboatPhil on April 14, 2012 at 9:18 AM

Heh. Wallace Shawn was waaaaay better in ‘The Princess Bride’.
:)

Ladysmith CulchaVulcha on April 14, 2012 at 9:45 AM

Ed is such a wise observer and skilled writer that reading his opinions on anything he cares about is a rewarding pleasure.

But I hope HA doesn’t go too far afield with stories that don’t seem to have any particular political slant. In other words, I hope we’re not going to see posts on international beauty pageants, as has been the wont of a certain other righty blog (I find the photos of deliciously endowed Venezuelan beauties intertwined with commentary on the Alternative Minimum Tax most disconcerting.)

bobs1196 on April 14, 2012 at 10:27 AM

It’s actually a quite original movie. I enjoyed it. It’s not a super scary movie, however, it was obviously written by someone who has watched a tremendous amount of horror movies and tried and encapsulate some sort of overarching reason for all the horror.

It wasn’t like the Rob Zombie Opus, forget the name — CITW was more, uhhm, heady & campy at the same time?

preallocated on April 14, 2012 at 10:33 AM

Shepherd Lover

, as in lover of Commander Shepherd from the Mass Effect series? Or lover of sheep herders?

preallocated on April 14, 2012 at 10:34 AM

As Hot Air’s tagline is: Politics, Culture, Media, I like the sometimes-quirky admixture. Lightens the mood when folks get too growly.

p.s. Waiting for a review of the Stooges movie!

:)

Ladysmith CulchaVulcha on April 14, 2012 at 10:35 AM

Watch the funny version instead, Tucker & Dave vs Evil.

lowandslow on April 14, 2012 at 8:12 AM

+1. It was free on amazon prime video a while back.

TexasDan on April 14, 2012 at 10:46 AM

From what I read in this review, Cabin ought to be X-rated (or whatever the letter is now for adults-only):

http://www.pluggedin.com/movies/intheaters/cabin-in-the-woods.aspx

It’s infuriating that millions of teens will be corrupted by this crap.

itsnotaboutme on April 14, 2012 at 8:15 AM

It’s rated R.

spinach.chin on April 14, 2012 at 9:35 AM

Which means that kids can come in with an adult, right?
Plus the kids who will watch the DVD.

itsnotaboutme on April 14, 2012 at 10:47 AM

I read all the gory details on my favorite movie-site http://www.kidsinmind.com I too, am saddened & stunned that the human mind can think up these things, and then pen them to share with others. The film now that bothers me a LOT is Hunger Games. Again, why is ANY individual thinking up a scenario where 12 teenagers are pitted against each other until there is one alive? And this is supposed to be a teen book? Just dismayed, to say the least.

moonlighter on April 14, 2012 at 10:48 AM

I am not a fan of horror but I have kids who are, I will pass on your review.

Cindy Munford on April 14, 2012 at 10:48 AM

Heh. Wallace Shawn was waaaaay better in ‘The Princess Bride’.
:)

Ladysmith CulchaVulcha on April 14, 2012 at 9:45 AM

You’ve heard of Lawrence Olivier, Richard Burton, James Cagney? Morons.

:P

itsnotaboutme on April 14, 2012 at 10:50 AM

as in lover of Commander Shepherd from the Mass Effect series? Or lover of sheep herders?

preallocated on April 14, 2012 at 10:34 AM

As in: Lover of GSD’s, but more importantly, lover of the Shepherd who gave his life for his flock.

Shepherd Lover on April 14, 2012 at 10:58 AM

Just from looking at the still on the front page, the movie bores me already. Young actors these days look so generic, from their faces to their clothing to their posture, I find it hard to distinguish one from another.

Sharke on April 14, 2012 at 10:58 AM

It’s rated R.
spinach.chin on April 14, 2012 at 9:35 AM

That’s simply become free advertisement these days.

Cleombrotus on April 14, 2012 at 11:08 AM

I think you are pretty lame to watch a movie like this. Have some standards.

Rusty Allen on April 14, 2012 at 11:12 AM

You’ve heard of Lawrence Olivier, Richard Burton, James Cagney? Morons.

:P

itsnotaboutme on April 14, 2012 at 10:50 AM

Of course. Who hasn’t heard of Alcoholics Anonymous?

:P

Ladysmith CulchaVulcha on April 14, 2012 at 11:17 AM

I’d heard that this was a comedy…….guess not.

Tim_CA on April 14, 2012 at 11:19 AM

Relax! Algore is in California now.

TugboatPhil on April 14, 2012 at 9:12 AM

Yeah, but I hear the “Man-bear-pig” has been spotted in TN!!

Liberty or Death on April 14, 2012 at 11:22 AM

Manbearpig! I’m super serial about that, too.

Ed Morrissey on April 14, 2012 at 9:17 AM

Dang it Ed, you beat me to it!

Liberty or Death on April 14, 2012 at 11:23 AM

I didn’t realize that Whedon co-wrote this, I may have to go see it now.

MFn G I M P on April 14, 2012 at 11:29 AM

itsnotaboutme on April 14, 2012 at 8:15 AM
It’s equally infuriating that older people like Ed watch filth like this because they think it makes them hip. No thanks, my family will stick with “we bought a zoo” and “Hugo”.

Rusty Allen on April 14, 2012 at 11:34 AM

I read a review that said much of what Ed said, it didn’t want to give too much away (just saying that gives something away!)…then it mentioned The Hunger Games, and I knew what Cabin was going for…apparently, from several reivews, the gore is extremely over the top, which means I will most certainly skip this. To compare it to HG is wrong though IMO, because HG does not glorify the violence…it barely shows the violence…the point is the death, not the gore-p*rn used to achieve it. Anyway, unless word really gets out that there is something different about this movie, it’s probably not going to do well…the trailer certainly doesn’t give any hint that it’s anything other than another same-old horror film.

ellifint on April 14, 2012 at 11:34 AM

Anyway, unless word really gets out that there is something different about this movie, it’s probably not going to do well…the trailer certainly doesn’t give any hint that it’s anything other than another same-old horror film.

ellifint on April 14, 2012 at 11:34 AM

With Whedon co-writing it, the word is already out. He doesn’t do anything “same-old.”

fadetogray on April 14, 2012 at 11:54 AM

Just from looking at the still on the front page, the movie bores me already. Young actors these days look so generic, from their faces to their clothing to their posture, I find it hard to distinguish one from another.

Sharke on April 14, 2012 at 10:58 AM

Without giving away too much, that’s part of the point.

Ed Morrissey on April 14, 2012 at 11:56 AM

Which means that kids can come in with an adult, right?
Plus the kids who will watch the DVD.

itsnotaboutme on April 14, 2012 at 10:47 AM

That’s on the parents, not the makers of the movie.

I understand your point, teens are going to see this regardless, but that’s more a testament to crappy parenting than anything else.

spinach.chin on April 14, 2012 at 11:58 AM

FWIW, Joss Whedon is an extremely talented and creative writer. Watch the Firefly series (or its corresponding movie adaptation, Serenity) for probably the funniest, most moving sci-fi you’ll ever set eyes upon.

For that reason alone, I wouldn’t simply write this off as just-another-slasher-flick.

spinach.chin on April 14, 2012 at 12:02 PM

32 best quotes from Joss Whedon’s Firefly

spinach.chin on April 14, 2012 at 12:12 PM

I’m offended that Ed promotes a movie such as this that doesn’t feature zombies.
What is this world coming to?

justltl on April 14, 2012 at 12:25 PM

Should we open ourselves up to this stuff, munching popcorn as human after human is harvested for the sake of our gluttonous entertainment appetites?

I see worse on the news every day, and that is real.

Moesart on April 14, 2012 at 1:03 PM

FWIW, Joss Whedon is an extremely talented and creative writer. Watch the Firefly series (or its corresponding movie adaptation, Serenity) for probably the funniest, most moving sci-fi you’ll ever set eyes upon.

For that reason alone, I wouldn’t simply write this off as just-another-slasher-flick.

spinach.chin on April 14, 2012 at 12:02 PM

Can you be serious about that? I love good sci-fi. IMO,neither of these come close to being worthy.

fullogas on April 14, 2012 at 1:05 PM

As for “Cabin” I will pass, as I don’t enjoy movies like Saw, Scream, etc.

fullogas on April 14, 2012 at 1:07 PM

I saw it yesterday and thought it was very good. I am a long-time Whedon fan though.

My wife and kids liked it too.

PS Tucker and Dale vs Evil might have been the funniest thing I’ve seen this year. I highly recommend it. It has a Whedon tie-in too as one of the main characters was in Firefly/Serenity.

Texastoast on April 14, 2012 at 1:13 PM

I love horror films, and Chris Hemsworth is just plain yummy (damn shame he cut his hair for this flick). Plus, I’ve not seen too much put out by Joss Whedon that I didn’t like.

Win-win-win!

sage0925 on April 14, 2012 at 2:33 PM

Heh. Wallace Shawn was waaaaay better in ‘The Princess Bride’.
:)

Ladysmith CulchaVulcha on April 14, 2012 at 9:45 AM

You’ve heard of Lawrence Olivier, Richard Burton, James Cagney? Morons.

:P

itsnotaboutme on April 14, 2012 at 10:50 AM

Of course. Who hasn’t heard of Alcoholics Anonymous?

:P

Ladysmith CulchaVulcha on April 14, 2012 at 11:17 AM

No, I don’t think those guys were morons. It’s a reference to a line in The Princess Bride.

itsnotaboutme on April 14, 2012 at 2:53 PM

Decent movie, though I hated the ending.

You’re thinking its a movie about five teenagers going into the woods and traditional horror stuff happens – and you’d be right.

And wrong.

catmman on April 14, 2012 at 3:14 PM

In other movie news, saw ‘The Avengers’ today at a special screening.

One of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.

When its released, go see it.

catmman on April 14, 2012 at 3:16 PM

WHY is Ed doing “Movie Reviews”? Shouldn’t he be able to actually understand what’s happening on a movie screen to be qualified for this?

Here’s a guy – blogging on a SUPPOSEDLY CONSERVATIVE site – who went to see and review “The Hunger Games” – and COMPLETELY MISSED the fact that it is The MOST Anti-Obama Ideological Film to come out of Liberal Hollywook EVER – and NOW we’re supposed to buy his insight as a Movie Reviewer?

Don’t think so.

Jeez – he never even MENTIONED the Anti-Obama Themes in “The Humger Games”! NEVER EVEN MENTIONED THEM!!
Google “Hunger Games, President Snow “Hope” Speech” if you don’t believe me!

williamg on April 14, 2012 at 3:48 PM

Will hold out for ‘Hunger Stooges.’ Coming Summer 2013.

BHO Jonestown on April 14, 2012 at 4:22 PM

Can you be serious about that? I love good sci-fi. IMO,neither of these come close to being worthy.

fullogas on April 14, 2012 at 1:05 PM

I haven’t seen Cabin In The Woods yet, but as I’m both a horror and Joss Whedon fan, I’m definitely interested.

As for Firefly/Serenity… I don’t know what to tell you. It’s brilliant writing, and most who’ve seen them would agree emphatically.

spinach.chin on April 14, 2012 at 4:33 PM

williamg on April 14, 2012 at 3:48 PM

Not everything has to be about politics. Sometimes you just want to be entertained, without worrying about the deeper message the film might have.

spinach.chin on April 14, 2012 at 4:37 PM

From the trailer, it looks like the cabin is some kind of elaborate trap set up to terrify visitors. So the first thing I ask is: Who would spend that kind of money, time, and effort for such a trivial pursuit?

I don’t go to horror movies because they’re hokey, based on ridiculous premises (if any at all), and way too violent. So even if the nasty spooks aren’t really spooks, what’s different?

We’ve pretty much given up on R-rated movies, too. As as result we’ve doubtless missed some very good films. But if it was possible to make great movies thirty or forty years ago without constant swearing and sadistic violence, why should it not be possible now?

MrLynn on April 14, 2012 at 5:00 PM

Watch the funny version instead, Tucker & Dave vs Evil.

lowandslow on April 14, 2012 at 8:12 AM

Tucker & Dale vs Evil is hilarious. Just watched it for the 1st time, thanks to you… hadn’t heard of before!

Ugly on April 14, 2012 at 5:15 PM

From the trailer, it looks like the cabin is some kind of elaborate trap set up to terrify visitors. So the first thing I ask is: Who would spend that kind of money, time, and effort for such a trivial pursuit?

Good question. If it is a good movie, it should probably answer the question, but the answer would probably be a spoiler if it was put in a review.

fadetogray on April 14, 2012 at 6:06 PM

I’m offended that Ed promotes a movie such as this that doesn’t feature zombies.
What is this world coming to?

justltl on April 14, 2012 at 12:25 PM

~~~~~~

Uhmm, I think there are zombies in this film! Fadetogray, I’m not saying that the movie is same old…I’m just saying that based on the preview, it doesn’t look much different from all the other slasher/horror movies that have been released through the years…I’m sure Whedon’s fans will flock to it, but I’m wondering if the larger audience will get that it’s more than what it appears.

ellifint on April 14, 2012 at 6:33 PM

Which means that kids can come in with an adult, right?
Plus the kids who will watch the DVD.

itsnotaboutme on April 14, 2012 at 10:47 AM

That’s on the parents, not the makers of the movie.

I understand your point, teens are going to see this regardless, but that’s more a testament to crappy parenting than anything else.

spinach.chin on April 14, 2012 at 11:58 AM

Just saw it & liked it. Lots of over the top bloddy gore & bad language. My kind of movie, but, I was struck how many parents were there with their small children. This is NOT a movie for kids.

stvdog on April 14, 2012 at 6:40 PM

Saw it today. It’s written by Joss Whedon. It’s gory, profane, over the top and has a lot of very dark, dark humor. If you’re a Whedon fan, you’ll love it.

Xyz22 on April 14, 2012 at 9:13 PM

MrLynn on April 14, 2012 at 5:00 PM

So you go to a horror film to enjoy the originality and intellectual stimulation?

*facepalm*

catmman on April 15, 2012 at 12:13 AM

I really do want to see this… It is nice to see your review confirm what I have been thinking about it.

jeffn21 on April 16, 2012 at 9:38 AM