A film that begins with Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford bantering about the mundane in a government environment, only to have the picture’s title stamped across the frame in big, bold red font à la Funny Games certainly inspires curiosity. This opening sequence serves to astutely underscore The Cabin in the Woods’ ironic sensibility, wherein subversions are the norm. The Cabin in the Woods satiates a specific thirst for those in the know; horror fans who long for a horror comedy in the vein of Drag Me to Hell, Scream, and The Evil Dead. With Joss Weadon serving as both producer and co-writer, his sensibilities are clearly on display through the film’s structuring. Unfortunately, the picture’s concept has an air of cynicism that registers as particularly disingenuous, wherein it never quite evolves beyond being an interesting idea.
Director and co-writer Drew Goddard essentially takes two narrative threads, one involving the aforementioned government environment and a second involving a group of coeds who depart on a retreat to, well, a cabin in the woods. Both narrative conceits embrace the conventions one would expect from each scenario, wherein Jenkins and Whitford operate as tired pencil pushers, operating under the mandate of a larger authority. And with the central narrative involving doomed coeds, each character embraces a typecast found in virtually any slasher film. The two narrative threads are obviously interrelated whereupon our understanding of free will is given some tweaking.
The Cabin in the Woods functions as a rather grating observation on the simplicity of contemporary horror films. Wes Craven made these sorts of statements in the Scream franchise, though with The Cabin in the Woods, the spiritual and existential stakes are far higher. But as the pieces of the narrative unite, there’s an overwhelming sense of redundancy to what we’re experiencing. While the picture’s opening half is an admirable piece of work that benefits from the novelty of not knowing how the two cliché-ridden narratives coalesce, the picture descends down a fairly cynical and absurdist route. And with a conclusion involving a merman and rampant unicorn, the film devolves into little more than a good idea with nowhere else to go.
There’s plenty to enjoy about The Cabin in the Woods, as it certainly rewards those with a more extensive grasp of contemporary horror films. And for a good portion of the film’s runtime, there’s an enduring balance of comedy and horror that is handled effectively. But so much of the picture depends on conveying the confining nature of American horror films that it simply becomes redundant and silly. It eventually becomes so wrapped up in its cynicism and never really rebounds from it.