Much like the film itself, I feel like this review should exist on two levels. If you’re someone who doesn’t keep up with the critical zeitgeist, who doesn’t obsessively check out Rotten Tomatoes or follow, say, @Scott_Tobias on Twitter, I need to make this perfectly clear: The Cabin in the Woods—co-written by Joss Whedon and directed by his longtime collaborator Drew Goddard—is not your run of the mill slasher film. It is exceedingly clever, witty, and self-assured, and I recommend it quite highly.
On the other hand, if you’re a movie geek like me, you’ve probably been reading all the hype about how The Cabin in the Woods is a game-changer, a deconstructionist masterpiece of the highest order, a film that renders all other horror films obsolete. To that I say, check yourself before you wreck yourself.
I should probably make a confession here: I am a serious Joss Whedon fangirl. For those who don’t know, he’s the genius behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and the upcoming The Avengers. And when I say fangirl, I’m not exaggerating. My Buffy DVDs are worn out from overuse and I often quote the joke: "Angel was like methadone for the Buffy addict." (Not totally sure who came up with that line, but I think it was my pal Hannah Erickson.)
That may be part of my problem with the film. Anyone who is intimately familiar with Whedon’s work already knows all of its touchstones: Winking pop culture references, sharp-witted dialogue, uncanny juxtapositions of the mundane and the supernatural, a tendency to take familiar tropes and turn them inside out.
All these touchstones exist in The Cabin in the Woods, which tells two overlapping stories. There’s the traditional horror film side—a bunch of comely co-eds (each embodying one horror film archetype: the stoner, the jock, the virgin, etc.) head out for a weekend in that titular cabin. And then there’s the strange Orwellian part of the film, where a couple of cheerful middle management types (hilarious Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins) seem to somehow be orchestrating the events in the woods from an underground computer station.
What is the connection between these two stories? Well, I’ve already said too much. Suffice it to say, something very meta is going on here. Which also could be said about just about every thing Whedon has done.
And that’s my final quibble with The Cabin in the Woods: I’m thrilled that those who aren’t familiar with Whedon are going to finally get to see his particular brand of genre-mashing genius up close. But for someone like me, The Cabin in the Woods simply played like a particularly good episode of Buffy, just with different comely leads. (Speaking of which, the Buffy episode “Hush” is actually scarier, in a get under your skin kind of way, than this gory R-rated film.) I guess I wish Whedon and co. had stretched themselves a bit more.
Still, seriously, go see it. Because it’s good. (Okay, I’ll shut up now.)