I've said it before, I'm not really much of a horror movie fan. However I have had lots of people tell me how different and unique The Cabin in the Woods (2012) is and that I should see it. I begrudgingly saw it last weekend and I have to admit, I'm really impressed!
Five college students head off for a weekend in a secluded cabin in the woods. They are typical horror movie characters; Curt the hero (Chris Hemsworth), Dana the good girl (Kristen Connolly), Jules the bad girl (Anna Hutchison), the comic relief pothead (Fran Kranz), and Holden the mature and thoughtful kid (Jesse Williams). When the cellar door flings itself open, they of course go down to investigate. They find an odd assortment of relics and knick-knacks, but when Dana reads from a book she finds there, she awakens a family of deadly killer zombies. There's far more going on than meets the eye as the five campers are all under observation by a pair of techno geeks (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) in a secret underground laboratory. The five college kids struggle to survive while everything around them is being manipulated by the mysterious lab.
The Cabin in the Woods starts out like a whole lot of other horror movies. In fact it really looks like a run-of-the-mill slasher movie that any horror movie fan could probably recite with no difficulty. Five very predictable characters doing exactly what you would expect them to do: they go out to the middle of nowhere, awaken a monster of some kind, they start getting picked off one by one, they use lines that every character in every horror flick uses, etc. But rather than using these common elements as the main story, They are used to get us to think about horror movies. It's a meta-horror movie; I don't think that has ever been done before.
The movie gets us to think about the "rules" of a slasher movie. If something is chasing you, you should split up; if a creepy old man warns you not to go somewhere, make fun of him and go there anyway; if you hear a strange sound outside, have sex. It's basically a commentary on free will. Do horror character make the choices they so often do because of the requirements of the genre or because of their own decisions? And since they are instruments of their creator, how much free will can the filmmakers exercise? The Cabin in the Woods takes horror movies in a whole new direction while still including the elements that make horror/slasher movies so endearing to their fans. As a result, it acts as a criticism of horror movies and almost like a puzzle for horror fans to solve.
There are enough scares and gore strewn throughout the movie to appease hardcore fans of horror movies, but those really are not the point of The Cabin in the Woods. It's the creative meta-criticism of horror movies that makes the movie so unique. The traditional horror movie story is basically over by the end of the first act, then the movie shifts into something very different and bigger than the predictable horror movie.
I really appreciated the special effects. There were lots of practical effects; monster suits and make up as well as actual physical props rather than digitally rendered sets. Any time a puppet or costume could be used, it was, and CGI was resorted to only when necessary. The CGI creatures were usually well animated, and only occasionally looked like obvious digital imagery.
I wasn't all that excited to see The Cabin in the Woods, but I'm glad I did. It used clichés, writing tropes, and archetypal characters as a means of telling a very unique story that analyzes and critiques the horror genre. The end result is something that turns the genre on its head while still maintaining genre traditionalism. I don't really like horror movies that much and I thought this was a highly interesting piece of cinema. You don't have to be a veteran horror fan to appreciate this film, but you're going to love watching for references to classic horror movies and horror movie directors. It's just so fascinating to watch. That said, I think The Cabin in the Woods is worth owning because it's a "Meta-horror" movie and the only one of its kind to date.