The Cabin in the Woods is one of those films you really need to see before you find out too much about it. Ideally, you should stumble across it by mistake. You definitely shouldn’t read any reviews. Erm… So… This is awkward.
I’ll try not to give too much away. For the first half hour, you will probably wonder what all the fuss was about. It looks, on first sight, like a photo-fit teen slasher movie.
Five teenage protagonists roll straight off the horror production-line. You have the slutty blonde, the jock, the stoner, the hot geeky girl and the sensitive bloke. They go on a spurious road trip to a mysterious cabin, which, I don’t think it would be giving too much away to reveal, is located somewhere in the woods. They strip down to their smalls and swim in the lake. They get drunk and play truth or dare. For a while it’s only by virtue of knowing Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Joss Whedon is attached that you give it the benefit of the doubt. You soon realise, though, that it’s all played with a knowingly arched eyebrow: this is a horror movie about horror movies, and about the very concept of horror.
It pokes fun at familiar tropes in the way Scream did 16 years ago, with its spelling out of the rules: “never drink or do drugs”, “never have sex”, “never, ever, ever say ‘I’ll be right back’”. But where Scream was content to point out the rules, Cabin pulls back the curtain entirely, exposing the wonderfully grizzly machinery behind it.
You could play horror bingo watching this. Cellar filled with creepy dolls? Check. Hands clawing their way from graves? Check. Dismembered limbs crawling back for one last scare? House! It is crammed so full of references to classic fright movies – some subtle, some less so – that anyone even vaguely versed in the genre will lap it up.
It’s also very funny. Even the (very regular) stoner jokes bear the hallmarks of Whedon’s off-kilter dialogue. Some of the gags might be dumb but you can laugh at them without feeling guilty because, you know, it’s clever. I think.
What starts out as a tightly wound monster-in-the-window horror eventually spirals into an all-out celebration of human entrails. Whedon creates an early-era Peter Jackson gore-fest on a late-era Peter Jackson budget. Quite how he does it… Well, you’ll just have to watch it to find out.
First published in City A.M.