OK, before you read any further, let me say that if you’re a horror movie fan, a lover of dark comedy, or just someone who worships at the altar of Joss Whedon (hallow be thy name), and haven’t already seen this movie then just take my word for it and pick up this new Blu-ray. I mean it, STOP RIGHT NOW, do not read this review, or any other reviews of this movie if you haven’t already, and do not see any trailers if you can help it. See this movie as blank a slate as possible and you will get the most out of it. Cabin has such an effective payoff (you notice I did not say ‘twist’ as that term has almost become a pejorative in the wake of M. Night Shyamalan) that like a bottom in a S&M club, the harder it can hit you, the more you’ll like it. And believe me when I say that chances are very good that you’ll love this little gem of a movie.
Still here? OK, then I’ll assume that you have either already seen this movie, or your one of those weird people that likes to ruin all your surprises. Let me guess, you also searched through your parents’ bedroom before Christmas, looking for presents before they could wrap them? Yeah, I thought so. Well go on, keep reading, I won’t try to stop you.
What Cabin In The Woods does so very right is to take the familiar, comfortable, perhaps downright clichéd tropes of horror movies and then spin them in not only new directions, but also to explain why such elements are so damn familiar to begin with. Relax, here’s the SPOLIER FREE setup to the movie.
So a group of five college students go off for a weekend of fun, booze, drugs, and sex in an isolated cabin in the woods. Along the way they meet a creepy old guy who basically tells them that they’re doomed if they continue to the cabin. He doesn’t go all Crazy Ralph on them and says that the place has got a death curse on it (and if you don’t get that reference, you need to watch more classic slasher movies) but he all but does that. Still, the dopy kids don’t listen to him and continue on their way.
The college students make it to an incredibly isolated and eerie looking cabin. When I say it’s isolated, I’m not joking. Not only is there no cellphone service in the area, but the only way to reach it is through a tunnel through a freaking mountain. And by eerie, I mean it looks like an exact replica of the cabin out of Evil Dead. Hell, it even comes complete with a trap door in the floor that not only leads to a creepy basement, but has a penchant for popping open all by its self whenever it wants to. Hey Scooby Gang, does a house literally have to yell at you to “get out!” before you guys get a hint?
So as you can guess, because you’ve seen it happen in a bunch of other horror movies, the group goes down stairs, finds a root cellar full of creepy items, and…
Ok, last chance to get out of here with all the neat surprises intact. From this point on consider this a BIG FAT SPOILER ZONE.
…picks up an old diary. With that they learn what happened to the family of sickos who owned the cabin some hundred years ago. Not stopping there, the stupid kids then read out loud a phrase in Latin and really, when is doing that ever a good thing? Anyway, next thing you know the “redneck torture zombies,” as the movie actually calls them, come back from the grave and start looking for some new meat puppets to play with.
So how can all this be happening? Because it was rigged and carefully planned to happen from the start by a mysterious shadowy government organization. This is the first part of this movie’s greatness. You see, there are places like this cabin all over the world, where people are lured to and then ritually sacrificed. It’s the ritual that is all important here, and the secret organization goes to great pains to enforce and correctly follow it. For example, the five college students actually start off as pretty well rounded and fleshed out characters. Well, except for the dope smoking stoner, who’s pretty much just pothead comic relief from the get go. But the others are carefully molded into the stereotypes that populate every horror movie ever and they are needed to play the roles that make the ritual complete. The big dumb jock is actually an honor student, the slutty blonde is in reality a brunet who just got a dye job, the virgin good girl is a regular young woman with a pretty normal sex life, and so on. It’s the government, through the careful use of chemicals and pheromones, that gets the kids to act like the archetypes they want them to be. Case in point, the new blonde’s dye job was done by the secret watchers and included not only drugs to increase her libido, but some to dull her cognitive abilities. That’s right; they made her into the dumb, blonde slut you’ve seen in every horror movie since Halloween.
The plot goes even further than that. The Crazy Ralph stand-in is in on the plan and he serves as a last warning to the sacrifices. By ignoring him they doom themselves. As for the basement full of creepy items, each one is linked to a different supernatural monster and threat. Some are obvious to horror fans, like as soon as I saw a brass and wood puzzle ball (as opposed to a puzzle box) I knew what the filmmakers were hinting at. Others are more subtle, like an antique broach or a creepy doll. When the kids in this movie picked up the old journal and read from it first, they chose the form of their own destruction. Again, this is the film playing with the idea of free will, but it’s carefully controlled and monitored free will. Like a street magician forcing someone to pick the right card from his ‘magic’ deck in order to pull off the tick.
These scenes of the college students dealing with the horror unfolding around them is beautifully juxtaposed by scenes of the cold, callous, and downright hilarious government manipulators watching their every move and making sure they do exactly what they’re supposed to do. These guys pull all the strings, rig all the decks, but try to enjoy their dark work as best they can, such as taking bets on which horror the kids will unwittingly release on themselves when down in the basement. I guess when it’s your job to slaughter innocent people, you’ve got to get your kicks when and how you can. Also, these guys and gals are the real reason why people do such stupid things in horror movies. You know, like go out by themselves into the dark woods to check on a mysterious noise. Or how about when someone will drop the weapon they just used to supposedly beat back a killer instead of taking it with them in case they may need it later? Little things like that put a smile on this old horrorhead’s face.
END OF SPOILER ZONE
The new Blu-ray from Lionsgate not only looks amazing in HD, as you would expect, but it comes loaded with extras and goodies. First of all it has one of those neat pop-up video commentaries that runs concurrently with the movie. It also has an audio commentary track with writer/director Drew Goddard and writer/producer Joss Whedon. There’s an almost 30 minute behind the scenes and making of featurette called “We Are Not Who We Are.” There’s a twelve minute featurette on the makeup and physical effects called “An Army of Nightmares.” There’s another one on the visual effects called “Primal Terror” that also runs twelve minutes. There’s an almost 30 minute Q&A from the screening of the movie at Wondercon with Drew and Joss. There are also two very short video diaries shot during the filming and on location. A trailer brings the impressive lists of extras to a close.
The Cabin In The Woods is one of the best new horror movies made in sadly far too long. It’s creepy, it’s silly, and it’s smart. It is made by fans of the genre for fans of the genre. There are lots of winks and nods that horrorheads are sure to get, but it never condescends to the audience like so many other fright flicks do. And the fact that the vast majority of the monster and gore effects are practical (read as: not CGI) is just icing on the cake for me. Oh and it’s not a damn remake. That alone gives it a few points in my book. Is this movie perfect? Heck no, but so very few films are. But this movie is a whole lot of fun, something that has been gone from most new horror flicks, so consider it to be a must have Blu-ray for any lover of spooky cinema.