The Cabin in the Woods

Getting away from it all means different things to different people.  Some will trek into the deep wilderness with nothing but what they can carry in a backpack and think that’s the only way to escape.  Others will load up a camper and haul nearly everything with them, including satellite TV, to a crowded RV park and think that’s what life is all about.  Me?  I think roughing it is a hotel that doesn’t have HBO and a free continental breakfast.  To each his own.  The subjects of this week’s movie, “The Cabin in the Woods,” believe they are headed to a relaxing, fun-filled weekend of swimming, dirt biking, drinking, sex and drugs.  What happens gives a whole new meaning to “The vacation from Hell.”

Five college friends, Dana, Curt, Jules, Marty and Holden (Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz and Jesse Williams) load up in Curt’s RV and head off for a fun weekend at a cabin owned by Curt’s cousin.  Meanwhile, two technicians named Sitterson and Hadley (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) prepare for what appears to be a daily shift at their jobs in a high-tech control center.  The two technicians and the five friends are on a collision course that will mean pain, death and doom…but for whom and why?
 
I’d love to tell you more, but I don’t want to spoil the movie for you.  All the various twists and turns of the story and the mythology it is built on require your ignorance for it to work to full effect.  I will say this:  No matter what you expect, you’re probably wrong.  “The Cabin in the Woods” is a terrific re-working of the classic horror/slasher/thriller genre co-written and produced by Joss Whedon, the man behind “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly” and the director of the upcoming “Avengers.”  Whedon is well known for taking tired genres and turning them into something new and fresh.  That’s what he’s done with “The Cabin in the Woods.”  It could have been a very generic slice-and-dice-mad-killer-in-the-woods flick but, in the hands of Whedon and co-writer and director Drew Goddard it becomes something completely different, like this decade’s “Scream.”  While the movie doesn’t metaphorically wink at you as it plays with the various horror movie conventions, it does know how to manipulate those tried and true scary movie themes and stereotypes into something unique.  It’s like cutting into a chocolate cake and finding a swirl of strawberry filling running through it.
 
The other aspect of the film that makes it unusual for a thriller is the humor.  There are plenty of laughs in “The Cabin in the Woods.”  Some are mild chuckles while others are all-out guffaws.  Either way, the number of laughs in the film is far more than you might expect.  Even the most tense and frightening scenes are often broken up with humor that comes out of nowhere.
 
I didn’t find the film to be that scary but it never failed to hold my attention.  I was always curious what the next surprise might be.  And while the college characters behave the way you would expect people in horror movies to behave (i.e. making stupid decisions, taking dumb chances, investigating dark cellars) the film explains the reason for this behavior.  Instead of saying to yourself, “If that was me, I wouldn’t go in there” and be pulled out of the universe of the film, you understand why they make the choices they do.
 
“The Cabin in the Woods” is rated R for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language, drug use and some sexuality/nudity.  Body parts and blood fly around very liberally throughout the film.  One of the characters is constantly hitting a bong or smoking a joint.  There is one scene of a topless woman.  Foul language is common.
 
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have created a world that makes perfect sense despite being beyond belief.  I think if the makers of suspense films didn’t assume the audience couldn’t handle concepts and plot twists beyond the usual, they’d make better, more enjoyable and more successful movies.
 
“The Cabin in the Woods” gets an enthusiastic five guitars out of five.
 
Four new movies and Stan’s Choice are up for your consideration in this week’s movie poll.  Vote for the next movie you’d like me to see and review.
 
Chimpanzee—A new True Life Adventure introducing an adorable baby chimp named Oscar and his entertaining approach to life.
 
The Lucky One—U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault returns from his third tour of duty in Iraq, with the one thing he credits with keeping him alive - a photograph he found of a woman he doesn't even know.
 
The Raid:  Redemption—A member of a special forces team, arrives at a rundown apartment block, which is overrun with murderers and rapists, with a mission to remove its owner, a notorious drug lord.
 
Think Like a Man—Four interconnected and diverse men have their love lives shaken up after the ladies they are pursuing buy Steve Harvey's book and start taking his advice to heart.
 
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.
 
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
 
Questions and comments can be sent to stanthemovieman@att.net.  Follow Stan on Twitter for instant reviews, links to movie trailers and other goodies @moviemanstan.