Thursday, April 19, 2012

Culture Shock 04.20.12: It is a cabin, and it's in the woods

When it comes to "The Cabin in the Woods," there are two kinds of reviewers. There are reviewers who give away the entire plot, and there are reviewers so afraid of ruining the experience they say almost nothing about it.

I will say this about "The Cabin in the Woods." It involves a cabin that happens to be in the woods.

I'll also say this: Even before the movie's title flashes on-screen, it's clear "The Cabin in the Woods" is not your typical horror movie.

It gives off a certain vibe. It's a little different.

The result is the most entertaining horror movie since San Raimi's "Drag Me to Hell," which in tone and pacing, "The Cabin in the Woods" resembles, if you also crossed it with the first "Scream."

Without spoiling the plot, I can say "Cabin" is a fast-paced, funny, quirky horror movie that knowingly plays with the genre's well-worn conventions. If you at all like horror movies, you should see it. If you live and breathe horror movies, this one was made for you.

And if you don't like horror movies, you should reevaluate your life choices. Then you should see it.

But, fair warning, unless you've seen a couple of "Friday the 13th" or "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies, you'll probably leave the theater wondering what on Earth you just experienced.

That is a risk you should take.

Now that I've heaped as much advertising-friendly praise on "Cabin" as I can spare, I can't promise I won't mention the plot.

The men responsible for "Cabin" are producer/co-writer Joss Whedon ("Firefly") and director/co-writer Drew Goddard ("Lost"), who bring to the proceedings the same genre-subverting approach they honed on Whedon's TV shows "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel."

Take our cast of characters, for instance. We have the obligatory "good girl" (Kristen Connolly), a jock ("Thor" star Chris Hemsworth), his girlfriend (Anna Hutchison), a brainy guy (Jesse Williams) and a stoner (Fran Kranz). So far, so good. These are the same college-age stereotypes who have run screaming from machete-wielding maniacs since 1978.

But the good girl isn't all good, the jock is a bit of a brain, the brain is a jock, the girlfriend isn't a total tramp and the stoner is a bit too wise to play the fool. Why, they're almost like real people.

Not to worry. These are minor details, easily corrected so as not to interfere with your viewing enjoyment. By the time our potential corpses meet the creepy old man at the gas station, all is going according to plan.

Or is it?

As I said, it's not your typical horror movie. I mean, I can't even really tell you about the two best characters, Sitterson and Hadley, played by Richard Jenkins ("Six Feet Under") and Bradley Whitford ("The West Wing"). To do so would mean giving away more than I, in good conscience, feel comfortable giving away.

I will say Sitterson and Hadley get all the best lines, and apart from plot twists that seem to come from out of nowhere, the one thing you should expect from a Joss Whedon production is stiff competition for "best lines."

If there is a potential for a weak link here, it's first-time director Goddard, but he maneuvers through the twists and turns like an old hand. And maybe that's because, in a sense, "The Cabin in the Woods" is a movie horror fans have all seen before.

Except that it isn't.

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