In his feature film directorial debut, Drew Goddard (a writer for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Lost” TV series, and the film “Cloverfield“) has taken a tired film formula — the teen slasher flick — and turned it on its head. The Cabin in the Woods is “The Truman Show” meets “Friday the 13th” meets “The Evil Dead,” with just a little “The Cell” added to the concoction.
The result is a welcome, refreshing change of pace which is at once exhilarating, frightening, thought-provoking and drop-dead hilarious. And it’s certainly a huge step up from 2007’s “Cloverfield,” which featured a lame creature, was shot in Confuse-O-Vision and was populated by pretty but incompetent actors.
Here, there are a few recognizable faces (Richard Jenkins, “Step Brothers,” “The Rum Diary” and Bradley Whitford, “Billy Madison,” and “The West Wing” TV series) among the young — and mostly unknown — thespians, which goes a long way in establishing a sense of credibility the above-mentioned film could never muster.
In The Cabin in the Woods a group of stereotypical movie youngsters are planning a trip to an isolated vacation home in the forest. The group includes the jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth, “Thor,” although this movie was made before that one), his partygirl, Jules (Anna Hutchison, “Go Girls” TV series), brainiac Holden (Jesse Williams, “Grey’s Anatomy” TV series), good girl Dana (Kristen Connolly, “The Good Wife” TV series) and the stoner fifth-wheel, Marty (Fran Kranz, “Donnie Darko,” “Training Day”).
It’s more than obvious that the couples will hook up while the philosophizing sad-sack Marty will be alone with his thoughts, but he nevertheless tags along with the gang in a huge RV, even when things begin to get decidedly creepy. (Like when, at what appears to be an abandoned gas station, a leathery attendant, Mordaci (Tim De Zarn, “Live Free or Die Hard,” “The Artist“), starts to angrily spout ominous warnings about their destination, even calling Jules a “whore”).
The kids, however, ignore the weirdo and proceed to the desolate domicile, which looks like the Munsters’ summer home on the outside, but seems to be cozy and well-kept inside. A few introductory scenes of each character, some alcohol and drug use, as well as a game of truth or dare takes place before the fun really kicks off, with terrifying creatures soon surrounding the cabin.
All the while, for some reason, the entire event is being observed by scientists, including Sitterson (Jenkins), Hadley (Whitford) and military bodyguard, Truman (Brian White, “The Game Plan,” “12 Rounds”). Is it some kind of mind or behavior control experiment? Is it an elaborate government spy operation? Is it a candid reality television show?
Of course, I will not reveal the secret, I’ll just mention that it comes out of left field and will no doubt leave many viewers shocked and pleasantly surprised at the outcome. And even though The Cabin In the Woods has been in the can for more than three years, it was a matter of getting money for distribution, NOT because it was a poison project.
The inclusion of Jenkins and Whitford, as previously mentioned, is a nice touch and their work together adds a great comedic element to the proceedings (an even more recognizable celebrity appears in a late cameo). And, the young actors, for the most part do very well, including Franz, who steals every scene he is in as the bumbling pothead who begins to suspect the worst. Even the pre-“Thor” Hemsworth and Williams, and the slutty Hutchison, do fine in what little is given them. The only negative I can write about the production is the performance of the lead actress Connelly, who, sadly, cannot convince anyone that she is in real danger or convey a sense of terror that would have certainly overcome anyone else.
That being written, though, The Cabin In the Woods is quite entertaining and with several curves before the conclusion, a great way to spend a few hours at the cinema — something you cannot say a lot about most of the movies showing these days.