REVIEW: Cabin in the Woods
Sitting around brainstorming a movie sounds like a great way to spend a few days. According to Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, they fell into their fever-pitch pace after years rewriting episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As a result, they concocted the screenplay for Cabin in the Woods over little more than a weekend. And just the hit series turned tropes and stereotypes on its head; this fright fest also explored, celebrated and inverted the conventions of countless horror films, making for a fresh, funny, original thriller.
You have to pay attention to the film because its smart and do not be lulled by expectations, as is evident from the opening sequences as Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins appear to be going to work at some high tech underground bunker and then we swiftly cut away to your central casting collection of college kids clearly marked for gruesome deaths. As they drive away and a cameo from Nathan Fillion turns up, this is evidently a very different kind of film.
Unfortunately, after it was financed and filmed, the movie languished, a victim of the MGM bankruptcy until it was rescued by Lionsgate which finally released it this spring. Unfortunately, their marketing department didn’t adequately tell the world and most missed it. Thankfully, the home video edition is coming out this week and is well worth your time and attention.
The quintet is made up of comely Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Chris Hemsworth, and Fran Kranz. Williams was already a regular on Grey’s Anatomy, Hutchison was an Australian star, and Kranz was known for Whedon’s Dollhouse, but this was a pre-Thor Hemsworth and seeing this, it’s hard to see anything godly in his studly athlete. Yet, he impressed Whedon during filming and he recommended him to Marvel, which proved wise. Still, the five friends go to cabin for a vacation and as one would expect, horrible things happen and secrets are uncovered.
All along, they are monitored and manipulated by the guys in the underground bunker, overseen by Whedon stalwart Amy Acker. There are hints that their work ethic may smack of Office Space but their mission is a serious one and as we shift into the final act, we’re treated to an assortment of nightmares and monsters that echo every horror movie you’ve seen since birth. The CGI effects ran rampant throughout as several of the quintet defy the odds and survive. Worse, they find the bunker and go exploring to learn why they were targeted and some surprise news spells survival or global. Just when you think you know what’s happening, they cleverly toss in a twist, be it a story point, a visual, or some stunt casting to keep you alert.
It’s tremendous fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously at all, which is just fine with me. The movie looks fabulous with the screen transfer and it sounds nifty, too.
The Special Features some engaging commentary from Whedon and Goddard as we learn about the travails of shooting in Canada. They appear in awe of how game Hutchison was for her various spotlight moments and talked about everything from writing to special effects and time sitting around the sets waiting for something to happen. Whedon apparently shot second unit work which meant he did more than script and produce.
The remaining pieces on both the Blu-ray and DVD are pretty much what you have come to expect these days, including “We Are Not Who We Are: Making The Cabin in the Woods” (28:33) which covers the basic behind the scenes info; “The Secret Secret Stash” (13:07) featuring “Marty’s Stash” with Kranz talking about his stoner character, and “Hi, My name is Joss and I’ll be your guide”; the Wonder-Con Q&A with Joss and Drew (27:30), ‘nuff said; “An Army of Nightmares: Make-Up & Animatronic Effects” (12:10) is about the cool effects; “Primal Terror: Visual Effects” (12:07) focuses on the developmental aspects of the effects; “It’s Not What You Think: The Cabin in the Woods” Bonus View Mode (Blu-ray exclusive). You can also access online the “It’s Not What You Think: The Cabin in the Woods Bonus View Mode”, which is sort of interesting but offers little new.
Kudos to Lionsgate for giving this a spiffy lenticular sleeve, showing some TLC the film deserved.