This review originally appeared in shorter form on KSNT-NBC, KTKA-ABC, and KTMJ-FOX, Kansas First News.
The first Scream movie in 1996 deconstructed the horror genre by having its characters talk about horror movie “rules” even as they were in one themselves. More than 15 years later, the new mind-bending horror flick The Cabin in the Woods takes horror satire to a whole new level.
The movie starts with two middle-aged men (a droll Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) in a high-security compound making idle office chatter and then abruptly shifts to something more familiar to horror audiences: a group of teenagers spending a weekend in a secluded cabin.
The teenagers fit the stereotypes of most slasher movies: The jock (Chris Hemsworth, Thor), the slut (Anna Hutchison), the brain (Jesse Williams), the stoner (Fran Kranz), and the virgin (Kristen Connolly)
The strategic unfolding of how these two stories relate to each other is what makes The Cabin in the Woods such a refreshing surprise. If you’ve ever wondered why someone walks into a pitch-black basement all alone or does other really stupid things that usually wind up getting them killed in horror movies, The Cabin in the Woods has the answer.
The entire film works as a metaphor for horror filmmakers and horror audiences. At least for commercially successful horror films, the ones that make a ton of money usually follow some pretty established templates. The Cabin in the Woods certainly sends up the slasher movie template, but it also opens up to cast a much wider net, and the story actually supports that larger exploration.
Much has been written about the “twist” or “surprise” ending. Simply put: there isn’t one. It would be a shame to spoil the bigger picture of The Cabin in the Woods before seeing it, but what’s really happening is a slow trickling out of information that will gradually alter the perspective of what you’re seeing.
All the meticulous buildup leads to a hugely satisfying payoff; the kind that doesn’t really exist in mainstream modern horror anymore. And—despite all its ironic detachment—The Cabin in the Woods has tons of laughs, some truly jaw-dropping moments and a couple scenes of unexpected poignancy that make it more than a parody movie.
Whether you like horror movies or not, you owe it to yourself to see The Cabin in the Woods.