Five unsuspecting college friends – Dana (Kristen Connolly), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Holden (Jesse Williams) and Marty (Fran Kranz) – head off to a ramshackle cabin in the woods for a weekend of alcohol-fuelled frolics. However, when Dana stumbles upon a cellar filled with thousand-year-old trinkets and relics, all hell breaks loose as she inadvertently seals their fate.
Both a reverential love letter to and parody of the oft-told cabin in the woods scenario, The Cabin In The Woods takes the expectations derived from an easily foreseeable setup and turns it on its head almost instantly. As soon as the well-positioned foundations have been laid out, assumptions are shredded and clichés subverted as the narrative takes on a course of its own, with two parallel plotlines administering a perfect balance of twists, turns, laughs and bloodshed until the final credits roll.
Skilfully formulated by co-writers Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon (the winning combination that spawned some of Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s most championed moments) so as to ensure the audience are constantly questioning the trajectory, what emanates is a splendidly nervy and cryptic amalgamation of horror, satire and social commentary. It’s likely to be as rewarding to die-hard genre fans as it is to audiences simply looking for something that provides an authentic spin on what we’ve shamefully allowed to become the norm.
Goddard, making his directorial debut, handles the material with care, using several neat tricks – objectifying camera angles and a tension-mounting score in particular – to ensure that both the atmosphere is well-maintained and the narrative unravels at a measured pace (the awe-inspiring finale comes at just the right time). The true ingenuity, however, lies in the piquant, shrewd dialogue that offers many memorable one-liners and a self-awareness unseen in many films of its ilk.
The same can be said for the central performances, too. Even though each of their personas may slip into conventional horror types, the fact they’re played with aplomb and bequeathed with sharp repartee ensures they become people the audience can believe in and root for. Connolly and Franz, in particular, do excellent work as Dana and Marty are forced to overcome their respective flaws in order to benefit their chances of survival. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford commandeer the cleverly interweaving parallel plot-line successfully, ensuring the social commentary themes are addressed with ample humour and satire.
The Cabin In The Woods is one of those deliriously entertaining thrill rides that comes along very rarely. Steeped in a remarkably believable world, despite the ever-amplifying mythology, Goddard and Whedon have created a film that’s likely to become a cult classic in years to come not simply because of its originality, but also due to the way it bewitches you from the offset and compensates you in droves come its heavenly conclusion.