You might think, if you’ve seen the trailers for The Cabin in the Woods, that you know the plot already. But what the trailers show is only the beginning. Drew Goddard’s film, co-written with Joss Whedon, is a masterful, messed up puzzle of a horror film with twists and turns that no-one will see coming.
The story seems at first like a fairly bog-standard affair: five students spend a weekend at a cabin in the arse end of nowhere, and it isn’t long before the proverbial starts to hit the fan and they’re all fighting for their lives. But there are layers upon layers of plot here, woven around each other in ways that become increasingly clever as the story moves forward.
It won’t spoil anything to say that, in a kind of creepy homage to The Truman Show, strings are being pulled in the background by two paunchy, middle-aged technicians (brilliantly played by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins). But the revelation of why this is happening is even more incredible to watch, and the final minutes include a plot twist that’s up there with the reveal of Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects.
Joss Whedon described this film as a “loving hate letter” to modern horror movies, and it both copies and mocks them in equal measure. The plot is both serious and self-deprecating at the same time. It’s very funny and, as you’d expect from a script penned by Whedon, dripping with irony in places. Every stereotype of the horror genre can be found here, from the creepy redneck who runs the abandoned gas station to the inevitable decision that the kids should split up to cover more ground, and every one of them has the piss taken out of it at some point.
The five protagonists are characters lifted from pretty much every horror movie ever written: there’s Jules the slut (Anna Hutchison), Curt the jock (Chris Hemsworth), Marty the stoner (Fran Kranz), the sensitive Holden (Jesse Williams) and Dana the, ahem, virgin (Kristen Connolly). But unlike most films, these aren’t one-note characters who you hope will end up dead sooner rather than later – they’re likeable, they’re three-dimensional, and you’ll actually find yourself rooting for them as they try to stay alive.
It’s also genuinely scary; rather than opting for the kind of unsubtle torture porn of Hostel or the Saw series, Whedon and Goddard have made a truly frightening movie. It’s full of pregnant pauses and things that will make you jump both when you expect to and when you don’t, and the tension is kept consistently high right up to the end.
Funnier than Scary Movie, smarter than Scream and pant-soilingly terrifying to boot, The Cabin in the Woods is the kind of horror film that will be talked about for years to come. It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s unlike anything else out there, and for that reason alone it should definitely not be missed.