Movie Review: “Cabin in the Woods”

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Here’s the most pleasant cinematic surprise of the new year, a supremely creative and original horror/comedy that goes in some genuinely shocking directions. I would recommend knowing as little as possible about the plot before going to see it.

Produced by Joss Whedon, directed by longtime Whedon cohort Drew Goddard and cowritten by the two of them, “The Cabin in the Woods” sat on the shelf for a couple of years as a side-effect of the MGM bankruptcy. But now it’s here, and while it may sound from its title and plot like a totally conventional horror film, it eventually morphs anything but. Not to give anything away, but to say that the story goes in some surprising directions would be the understatement of the year.

The setup should be pretty familiar to horror fans: Five college students- a jock, his trampish girlfriend, her virginal friend, a stoner/nerd and a mysterious fifth guy- go on a weekend trip together to the titular cabin, before running into some form of supernatural trouble. Meanwhile, a group of scientist/office drones (led by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins), are keeping an eye on the situation, and I will say no more about that.

The script is a wonder of storytelling economy, as it parcels out information slowly and deliberately, and leaves “what’s really going on” up for grabs until very late in the film. Sure, the film is meta-horror, but not in the jokey, aren’t-we-clever way that “Scream” was. And chances are it won’t have nearly as many sequels.

The cast is strong across the board, although the standout is Fran Kranz as the stoner, bringing some creativity and humor to what’s usually a stock, thankful part. Chris Hemsworth, who played Thor last year, also has a lot of fun in the jock part; the movie was filmed years before “Thor” was. As for the other “side” of the film, this is the most impressive Whitford has been in anything since “The West Wing” went off the air.

I’m not really a Joss Whedon guy. I never got much into “Buffy” or “Angel,” and my attempt to watch “Firefly”‘s single season lasted about an episode and a half. I did enjoy “Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog,” however, and “”The Cabin in the Woods” is by far my favorite project with which he’s been involved.

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