"Subversive" is a great thing to be, especially if you make movies. Smart, subversive filmmakers can take something beloved yet painfully familiar, examine it from all possible sides, and then construct something that pays homage and pokes fun at the same time. Airplane! subverted disaster movies; Hot Fuzz did it for buddy cop movies; and now, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon have delivered a brilliant subversion of horror cliches, stereotypes, and conventions. The title is The Cabin in the Woods, it's a metric ton of fun, and get this: it's just clever enough to make you reconsider how you look at horror flicks.
Note: this particular movie has lots of surprises to offer. Some very big, many that are so quick you might miss them. This review will spoil none of those.
I assume you're all familiar with the old "five college-age idiots head out to an isolated cabin and come across something evil" concept by now. You certainly should be. If you're not, I highly recommend you grab a few Friday the 13th sequels and pay attention to the painfully simplistic characters, situations, and concepts -- because Cabin in the Woods tweaks those tired old horror tropes for all they're worth. Our central quintet is comprised of a jock, a stoner, a brain, a hottie, and a sweetheart. Off they go to some creaky old cabin, and we all definitely know where this movie is headed…
…and then we take a detour to somewhere that has NOTHING to do with a slasher flick. It's almost as if Goddard and Whedon have flipped the channel to an offbeat TV sitcom starring Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, and Amy Acker. Wait. This makes no sense. What happened to that horror movie we were watching?!?
It all makes sense in the end, and if you're the sort of horror fan who pays close attention while watching a movie, then, fine I'll say it: The Cabin in the Woods may just become your new favorite movie. Without spoiling any of the fun, suffice to say that this flick somehow finds a way to be both a horror movie and a satire of horror movies. It nails the landing perfectly on both counts, actually. The last time a horror flick poked this much fun at horror flicks, it was called Scream. Main difference: The Cabin in the Woods is much smarter, cooler, and more entertaining than Scream.
While Kevin Williamson's Scream script was content with just being self-referential about horror movie "rules," The Cabin in the Woods actually, get this, explains why the "rules" exist in the first place. If the two-headed plot structure seems a little weird, and it is, just give Cabin an hour and all will become clear. And once you've experienced the Act III mania that, frankly, is a horror fan's dream come true, you'll sit back and think about all the clever clues that the writers peppered throughout the movie. It's not just that The Cabin in the Woods is a love letter to horror cinema; it's that The Cabin in the Woods is a love letter that says a lot more than just "horror flicks are cool." It somehow adds a fresh new layer to a genre that has no problem spinning its wheels just to grab an easy buck.
Film critic requirement stuff: the five leads are all great, particularly Chris Hemsworth and the adorable Kristin Connolly; Cabin is shot in lovely fashion, cut like a fast-paced nightmare; and the screenplay is a nifty combination of great banter and unexpectedly ingenious ideas. But the concept is the star of The Cabin in the Woods, and everyone involved -- behind the camera as well as in front -- seems really psyched to help create something that horror fans will be gushing about for years.
There's no such thing as an instant classic, but The Cabin in the Woods comes pretty damn close.