This is my spoiler-free review of Cabin from just a few weeks ago, where I saw it with a roaring crowd at SXSW. It’s one of your many fabulous options at the cinema this week (even with Three Stooges, we’ve got an embarrassment of riches), and is already driving discussion on the message boards. Enjoy.
Around the early 2000s, the popularity of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies along with a few other successful thrillers with “Gotcha!” endings brought the word “twist” back into the household lexicon. Whether you call it a “twist” or something else (“paradigm shift” if you’re nasty), the concept is essentially that a story is going to –somewhere in the third act usually– pull the rug out from under you and reveal a shocking truth that turns the reality of the film upside down. This of course creates the potential that a film can be ruined by revealing the twist to someone. Fortunately Cabin In The Woods is not one of those movies, and I’m confident any viewer can walk in with any amount of information about the film and enjoy the hell out of the impeccably crafted, appropriately violent, and surprisingly hilarious horror film that writer/director Drew Goddard and writer/producer Joss Whedon cooked up several years ago, and are finally being empowered to bring to audiences.
All that aside, I’m still going to keep my fucking mouth shut about most of it.
While it would be hard to ruin a film as exceptional as Cabin In The Woods, there are some really fun surprises in this film about a Scooby-Doo-like group of teenagers that trek off into the woods for a weekend in a spooky cabin. The surprises comes not as you discover they’re being watched, but as you discover why. The joy also comes not in any specific reveal, but in the gradual, perfectly-paced way in which many very small curtain are pulled back, adding to a larger, brilliant overall idea.
Again, that’s not to say The Cabin In The Woods relies on twists to work. Like the best films of the sort, The Cabin In The Woods owns its concept from frame one instead of bending over backwards to toss out red-herrings and distract you from the signs that a rug is going to be pulled out somewhere. What it does instead is peel back layers of an idea so that, while you have a pretty good hunch what’s up with this movie almost right away, you start understanding the depth of what’s going on much more gradually. To understand how much of a breath of fresh air it is to experience a story in this way, consider how many movies dodge their own twist to the very last minute and then present a breathless montage, attempting to shock you while dumping a boatload of information on you simultaneously. Now consider how much more satisfying it is to watch a film that presents a unique idea that drives the story from the start, but instead shifts from being out of focus to being sharper over the course of the story.
Not only is this an infinitely more graceful approach to storytelling, this prevents the you from spending most of the film’s run time trying to outsmart it and instead allows you to enjoy the film’s other secret weapon… a hilarious script. This movie is funny, written with the rare kind of humor that can inspire laughter to the point of tears without ever diluting the actual experience of horror and shocks of violence. There’s no one character or concept that drives the humor, instead it’s consistently fantastic writing and timing-savvy filmmaking that carries it. So while I can tell you the entire cast (including a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth) is fantastic and that Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and Fran Kranz all deliver what will likely be your favorite lines, your belly-laughs (and scares) will just as likely result from a perfect picture edit or camera reveal. The film is just that well made.
These two ideas — the humor, and the slow, deliberate development of the film’s unique concept — both succeed by virtue of a common characteristic of every part of the script: razor-sharp wit. Not a scene, character, joke, or plot development of The Cabin In The Woods fails to move things along in an exceptionally clever way, each feeling as inevitable as it does unexpected. This wit extends to the filmmakers’ understanding and exploitation of horror tools and techniques. This movie is through and through a horror film, even when it is adding additional layers on top of the horror. At the nuts and bolts level, these guys know how to capture violence effectively and give you a good jump-scare when called for. They also understand horror structure and the need for delicate escalation- nothing drives a good horror flick like momentum. Finally, they understand the history and context of horror, the paramount importance of which will become more clear to you as the story progresses.
That is perhaps the vaguest collection of accolades possible for a film that bears so much interesting discussion, but there will come a time for that once everyone has had an opportunity to see The Cabin In The Woods. Until then, just trust me that this movie is already a classic right this instant, and that any fan of horror films on any level will love it. In fact, you shouldn’t read anything more about it, including this review! So basically this boils down to…
Shut up. Tell your friends to shut up. See The Cabin In The Woods. Shut up again.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars