Mosaic / Reviews / April 18, 2012

‘Cabin’ hides smart surprises

How to talk about “Cabin in the Woods” — no doubt the most important question facing film reviewers now. Just what do you say about it? How far do you go?
I don’t mean regarding its merits. That’s easy: it’s good, a satire that plays itself straight in enough doses to milk the laughs and jolts equally.
Some may balk at its mixture of Americana B-horror with soft corporate-political commentary, science fiction and Mayan mythology, and at some point, or points, in the film you will think, “This is really happening? Holy … Wow!”
But in the hands of director Drew Goddard and writer Joss Whedon, “Cabin in the Woods” proceeds coolly, lulling us into accepting its first quirky conceit … only to turn around and replace it with something more daring and insane. And because the characters buy it, because they either know the twists ahead of us or work them out alongside us, we stay on track until the bitter, uncompromising end.
In other words, go see it. Horror aficionados will be more attuned to the winks towards previous canon, and film theorists familiar with Carol J. Clover’s slasher flick essays will get a kick out of the film’s look at character archetypes, but “Cabin in the Woods” plays to a larger audience than those “in-the-know” about scary movies.
Like “Inception” transcended the heist and sci-fi genres through a psychoanalytic, character-driven lens, “Cabin in the Woods” uses horror as a trampoline to larger themes, namely the way audiences follow plot and arrange their expectations. That it’s smart, never boring and hilarious makes the package so much sweeter.
But all this time I’ve avoided the big question: what is “Cabin in the Woods” about? What’s the plot? Who are the characters? As a critic, what concrete impressions can I give you of the film before you see it?
Beyond what I’ve said … I really can’t. That’s part of the contract the film demands. As viewer you are the control group to the plot’s perpetually shifting variable. “Cabin in the Woods” must first be viewed cold to reap its full implications, and if you haven’t seen the trailers, all the better.
I’d recommend this strategy in general but it’s all the more pressing with “Cabin in the Woods.” The film’s impact requires you go through it accepting its confidentiality. You’ll be thankful for it.
I will say this much else: yes, there is a literal cabin located in the woods. If you’ve seen “The Evil Dead,” “Friday the 13th” or “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil,” you know it will house a group of unlucky college students looking for a fun, secluded time.
There’s the sleazy girl, (Anna Hutchison), the dumb jock (Chris Hemsworth), the more sensitive jock (Jesse Williams), the stoner (Fran Kranz) and the virgin (Kristen Connolly). All the stereotypes are accounted for. The subversion seems obvious.
But don’t let anyone spoil the not so obvious: the third-act twist, a startling cameo, an unexpected survival and a gutsy (literally) action climax. That’s as specific as I’ll go. The film will fill you in on the rest.

Ivan Keta
Ivan Keta is a weekly film columnist for The Knox Student. In 2013, he won first place in Critical Film Review from the Illinois College Press Association, competing in the open division against dozens of other Illinois college newspapers.

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