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Movie Review: The Delirious Menace of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon's CABIN IN THE WOODS

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Regarding Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s meta-horror deconstruction Cabin in the Woods: the Internet is abuzz (or, “atwitter,” if you will) with references alluding to the film’s big “twist.”  After seeing—and loving—Cabin in the Woods for myself, I’m all for it attracting as many viewers as possible on the promise of some game-changing plot twist, even if I think the use of “twist” is grossly imprecise.

In my mind (so make of this what you will), “twist” implies some major event on which the entire film hinges; once it reveals itself, the viewer must then reconsider the events pre-twist in a different light (gee, I’m really starting to wish I knew a better synonym for “twist”).  Movies like The Sixth Sense or The Crying Game or Planet of the Apes (the original) or Fight Club or Angel Heart/Shutter Island/Oldboy (those familiar with the three will get the joke) have twists, and Cabin in the Woods just doesn’t belong among their ranks.  At no point do you realize that the hero is actually the villain/another gender/a figment of his own imagination, or that….it was Earth all along!

Goddard and Whedon are too canny for that parlor game (let’s face it: it takes a damn good plot twist to survive repeat viewings), so they do a far more interesting thing.  As written (by Whedon and Goddard) and directed (by Goddard), Cabin in the Woods is unfailingly straight-forward; characters move the plot along in (mostly) logical ways, and we—the audience—experience a minimum of wool over our eyes.

However, the movie evolves in ways we don’t necessarily expect.  That’s a key distinction.  As the protagonists (Jesse Williams, Dana Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, and a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth) learn more about their predicament, they realize not only that they are far worse off than they initially thought, but also that they aren’t even in the same predicament they thought they were in.  Again, there are no shock reveals or sudden tricks, just a gradual, deepening awareness.

And Dear Reader, I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the fun.  My advice to you is this: avoid further reviews, avoid all marketing, and avoid—for God’s sake—the two trailers that show more than they should.  Go into this one blind (although, I suppose you could check the Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes aggregate critics’ rating, if you must.  I can always begrudge those in support of film criticism).

If you must know anything, then know this: Cabin in the Woods is Evil Dead as written by Joss Whedon.  If you liked “Angel” or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “Firefly” or “Dollhouse” or Dr. Horrible, you will like this one, guaranteed; it has his trademark mixture of geek-friendly cult references, surprising social/moral subtext, and dialogue that can’t stop lobbing out screwball comedy-worthy zingers.

Maybe a few more choice (but spoiler-free!) tidbits about what makes the movie so special.  The effects (practical and digital) work, particularly in the last half hour.  That entire last half hour, where Cabin in the Woods moves from “good” to “great” on a rush of gonzo, feverishly unpredictable inspiration.  Every scene with Fran Kranz in it.  Every scene with Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, who are the last two actors you’d expect to see in a “sexy young adults get butchered in a remote cabin” thriller and who end up walking away with the whole movie (Whitford, in particular, gets a great recurring gag that pays off in one of the picture’s funniest/ickiest moments).  The last shot, where Goddard and Whedon bring Cabin in the Woods to a close in a way that would make John Carpenter proud.

And that’s that.  Let the rest unfold like life, or (better yet!) life as only a great horror can deliver, and then extinguish.  This is one of the year’s best films.