The Cabin in the Woods
Blu-ray | DVD
Directed by Drew Goddard
Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard
Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Taking a break from their college studies, a group of friends – Dana (Kristen Connolly), her friend Jules (Anna Hutchison), Jules’ jock boyfriend Curt (Chris Hemsworth), wisecracking stoner Marty (Fran Kranz), and Holden (Jesse Williams), a friend of Curt’s he trying to hook up with Dana – embark on a weekend getaway to an isolated cabin somewhere in the mountains (and some woods of course, hence the title).
Despite an uncomfortable encounter with a creepy local (Tim De Zarn), the quintet carry on with their relaxing weekend, but unbeknownst to them outside forces led by Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) are monitoring their every move and preparing to unleash a nightmarish horror upon them. As Dana and her friends battle to survive the night, they begin to realize the full scope of the evil that wishes to prey upon them, and by the end all will be revealed and it will not exactly be what you expect.
Like most of the reviews written about this movie before and after its theatrical release, I will begin my review of The Cabin in the Woods by saying that I will try to avoid spoiling the plot as best as possible. The movie’s been out since April but many people, some of whom will probably read this, still have yet to see it. Directed by Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) from a screenplay he co-wrote with current geek overlord Joss Whedon (The Avengers), The Cabin in the Woods isn’t some ordinary gimmicky flick that hinges on a derivative final act plot twist to keep audiences from slipping into a mass coma. The film is ingeniously structured and much like a Chinese box each of its strange turns of events carefully build toward the resolution of a far greater than anyone watching for the first time can anticipate. The end result is a cinematic horror extravaganza unlike any other. Practically every major fright flick promises an experience along those lines, but only Goddard and Whedon’s film is capable of delivering on its promise and then some.
Some post-modern horror movies revel in exploiting and deconstructing the genre’s well-worn bromides; The Cabin in the Woods delights in taking those tired cliches and finding fresh new ways to work them into its twisty narrative, even going so far as to redefine the standard horror film characters – the virgin, the stoner, the jock, the creepy local, and so on. In a way, it’s the ultimate horror fan film, albeit one made with a major studio budget. Although Cabin was completed back in 2009, it was shelved indefinitely due to the mounting financial difficulties of its financier, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. At first, the studio intended to have it post-converted to 3D to take advantage of the format’s exploding popularity, but those plans were scuttled and only last year was the movie finally rescued from MGM’s vaults by Lionsgate, a studio with a better track record when it comes to releasing edgy and profitable horror films. Had this movie been made by one of the majors like Warner Bros. or Paramount, it very likely would not have been afforded the same respect that Lionsgate willingly granted to The Cabin in the Woods. If you doubt me, then take a look at what happened with Michael Dougherty’s celebrated anthology film Trick r’ Treat back in 2008.
Lionsgate could easily have made Cabin a Halloween release, but decided to release it a month prior to the theatrical debut of Whedon’s biggest film ever as both a writer and director, Marvel Studios’ The Avengers. The move paid off handsomely for the studio and demonstrated that you don’t need a special occasion to enjoy a great horror film like this. True timeless horror cinema can be enjoyed any time of the year.
The cast rip into Whedon and Goddard’s witty screenplay like a savory meal and give fantastic performances all around: Kristen Connolly makes for a capable and sympathetic heroine far removed from the typical fright flick “Final Girl”; Chris Hemsworth gives his alpha male hero-type character an intelligence and strong sense of humor and continues to prove his acting chops outside of wielding Mjolnir; Anna Hutchinson is a sexy blast but gets a good opportunity to show off her goofy side in a scene where she makes out with a stuffed moose head on a dare; Jesse Williams doesn’t have much to do and yet still gets a few choice lines of dialogue; Fran Krantz, an actor I was not familiar with going into this movie (but no longer), steals his every scene as the inquisitive pothead Marty – the true hero of The Cabin in the Woods. He’s pretty much the audience identification character, craftily seeing through the machinations at work and surprising us even more than the plot while being sweet and funny as hell. Veteran character actors Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford have priceless interplay as the two corporate drones manipulating the fates of Dana and her friends. They’re the real stars of this movie and the kind of horror movie villains you never see: their actions are motivated not by insanity or revenge but by the sick and exhilarating feeling we get from watching movies like this. Plus there’s a special surprise cameo at the end that I won’t spoil for the world but needless to say it works magnificently and helps to end Cabin on the most satisfying note one can imagine.
The Cabin in the Woods is presented in an MPEG-4 AVC-encoded 1080p widescreen transfer in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, slightly expanded from its theatrical widescreen aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The gorgeous nighttime cinematography by Peter Deming (Evil Dead II) and the brightly-lit interiors of Sitterson and Hadley’s domain look as rich and vibrant as they did on the big screen. English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
The stunning picture quality is backed up by a top-notch English lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. The juicy dialogue and the brooding music score by David Julyan (Memento) are both given ample room to dominate the proceedings. I wouldn’t call this track reference quality but it doesn’t need to be; when it’s called upon to deliver it does an outstanding job, especially during the wild finale.
Goddard and Whedon contribute a funny and informative audio commentary where they discuss the shoot, production difficulties, working with the cast, the complicated effects work, and their feelings regarding the finished film. They also make lots of snarky wisecracks and point out references to the movies that influenced their own. Whedon always give great commentary, even more so when he’s got a collaborator to bounce off of, and here he’s in top form with Goddard.
You can also watch the movie with a feature called “It’s Not What You Think: Bonusview Mode”, which is a fancy shmancy way of saying that while The Cabin in the Woods is playing a second screen about the size of a Saltine cracker will appear towards the bottom of the movie screen and display cast and crew interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and so forth. It’s not uncommon for Blu-rays to come with these picture-in-picture options and a lot of times they’re a handy feature to have, but the Bonusview screen is so tiny you can barely make out what’s going on in it. While the Bonusview screen is up the audio from the movie will drop out and all you can hear is what’s going on on the PIP and you’re not given the option of switching audio tracks when this feature is activated. Despite the presence of BTS material that you won’t find in any of the other bonus features the Bonusview option is mostly a waste of time.
“We Are Not Who We Are: Making The Cabin in the Woods” (28 minutes) is a nifty documentary that details the production of the film from inception to completion. Interviews with Goddard, Whedon, and members of the cast and crew are intercut with footage from the shoot.
In a sub-menu called The Secret Secret Stash are two shorter docs: “Marty’s Stash” (8 minutes) and “Hi, I’m Joss and I’ll Be Your Guide” (5 minutes). In the former actor Kranz displays the fake marijuana and bong props (I love the extending coffee cup bit) used by his character Marty in the movie, and in the latter Whedon gives us a guided tour of the interior and exterior of the cabin set.
“An Army of Nightmares: Make-Up and Animatronic Effects” (12 minutes) and “Primal Terror: Visual Effects” (12 minutes) both go into the extensive practical and digital effects created for The Cabin in the Woods. Both are highly informative but do not exactly tread lightly in spoiler territory so it would behoove first-time viewers to watch these featurettes after the movie.
“Wonder-Con Q&A” (27 minutes) finds Goddard and Whedon sitting down for a discussion of the movie following a screening sponsored by the Los Angeles Times and Hero Complex. It’s a very cordial session with some welcome good humor.
A theatrical trailer for The Cabin in the Woods, previews for The Possession, The Last Exorcism, Cabin Fever, and My Bloody Valentine 3-D, and advertisements for Epix and Fearnet TV round out the supplements selection.
Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon aren’t exactly known as horror filmmakers (although their work in television incorporates elements of classic horror cinema and literature), but as lifelong devoted fans they’ve made a movie that shames nearly every modern spookhouse show by having a brain, a knowing sense of humor, and a devious talent for keeping the audience on edge. Alfred Hitchcock had that talent, and so does Roman Polanski, Tobe Hooper, David Cronenberg, Sam Raimi, and Wes Craven. The makers of The Cabin in the Woods are in good company and they’ve certainly earned their place. This is not just the best horror film I’ll see this year, it’s also one of the best films of the year in any category and it’s been given an excellent Blu-ray with top-notch video and audio quality and a slew of fine extra features.