Writer / director Drew Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon play with the conventions of the slasher film, and perhaps, those of their own previous works, in the horror-comedy Cabin in the Woods.
As I mentioned in my reviews of the Scream films, the danger in making a movie which seeks to expose the cliches of its genre, is that the result will be, by design, cliche-ridden.
Goddard and Whedon largely avoid this pitfall by way of a framing device which forces the viewers to look at the cliches from a different angle. While early trailers for the film focused entirely on the events in the cabin; when you actually watch the movie (it’s not a spoiler to say), the story of the kids is secondary to that of those orchestrating the action.
The Cabin in the Woods is meta-fiction; it’s not about the horrific events happening to a group of teenagers, it’s about the people that write, direct, and produce it. There’s an art to what they do, but ultimately, its tempered by the desires of their audience who wants to see a variation of the same thing over and over again; the pseudo-ritual of a horror movie, which which in this film becomes a literal one.
In this way, we are once-removed from the cliches. They aren’t simply pointed out and then used, as they were in Scream. Instead, they are quantified and exploited as the ‘writers’ cynically give their viewers what they want, their artificiality exemplified to create a parody for us, the real audience.
The set up of this film feels very much like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in the way in which it integrates horror tropes into the real world, ancient evils, and government conspiracies. Goddard and Whedon, of course, worked together on Buffy and its spin-off Angel. Some of the plot in Cabin, especially the climax, are so reminiscent of their early work that you can’t help but wonder if the two writers are playing with their own cliches a little.
The ‘film within the film’ (which seems to draw most of its inspiration from The Evil Dead) taking place in the cabin is a refined and satisfying (if, obviously, unoriginal) slasher short film. The larger story of the puppet-masters adds considerably to the plot, but not much in terms of character. We only see the writers and directors at work, and they are entirely focused on their job. The only real character comes from the kids; but how much of that is real? The irony is that the ‘actors’ in the play are the only ones that actually seem human.
The Cabin in the Woods works very well as a horror film. It mocks the cliches, but not the genre itself. It’s not an incitement of horror films, its an encouragement to try something new.
The Blu Ray looks and sounds great. There are a lot of extras, including a commentary with Goddard and Whedon, and a number of behind the scenes features.