So there’s this Cabin in the middle of the woods, but don’t stop me if you think you’ve heard this one because you definitely haven’t. The latest collaboration between supergeek writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (who makes his directorial debut here) proves almost impossible to talk about without spoiling any of the film for audience who have been chomping at the bit for the film’s release over the past two years. There’s more than enough to praise about this witty horror comedy, but also some things to criticize as the film can’t sustain a consistent tone down the stretch. It doesn’t quite end up being the game changing genre film many Whedon fans hope it will be, but that doesn’t take away from a lot of the fun.
The basic set-up comes after an opening sequence with the delightfully cantankerous pairing of veteran actors Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, but since talking about their roles in the film at all would add spoiler warnings galore, I’m left to talk about a group of five college students all out for a weekend retreat to a ratty old cottage at the end of Tillerman Road. There’s the goody-two-shoes (Kristen Connolly), the sexy best friend (Anna Hutchinson), the strapping young jock (Thor’s Chris Hemsworth), the smart guy (Jesse Williams), and the hapless stoner (Fran Kranz). They’re cryptically warned about the property by a creepy old guy along the way. Things start getting ominous. Things start to get out of hand and nothing about the cabin is what it seems.
If it sounds corny, that’s because Whedon and Goddard are trying quite hard to do for supernatural horror what the Scream films did for slasher horror. Every point in the film that seems like a cliché is magnified as huge as possible for potential punchline set-ups. For horror buffs the gags involving the cabin’s inhabitants might seem a bit old hat. In typical Whedon fashion the dialog snaps and the verbal sparring ups the material, while Goddard shows a real knack for pacing even if the film seems almost purposefully dull to look at. It’s a film that’s designed as a writer’s showcase rather instead of trying to be a good looking film, but when the writers are Whedon and Goddard, there’s not too much wrong wit h it.
Cabin in the Woods constantly walks the fine line between loving homage and outright satire quite deftly for most of its running time, but towards the end there comes a point where the entire film goes off the rails because it simply gets too ridiculous. Again, it’s impossible to explain why without incurring the wrath of thousands of Whedonites who would probably prefer I kept the secrets of the cabin hidden. For what it’s worth, the final sequence of the film (featuring a pretty big cameo that’s remained largely secret) saves the whole endeavour from being almost too jokey for its own good. At least the faults that I can’t talk about don’t detract from the fun with Whitford and Jenkins that I can’t talk about.