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Review

‘Cabin in the Woods’ disappoints as horror film

Michael Brun

April 20, 2012

Did you catch all of the inside jokes in “Shaun of the Dead?” Do you have a favorite gore makeup artist? Is there an “Evil Dead” poster in your bedroom? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then odds are you will like “The Cabin in the Woods.”

This part tribute, part lampoon of horror movies is aimed directly at hardcore fans. Its dissection of genre tropes and clichés will invoke a feeling of nostalgia and many a chuckle from horror devotees; but, if you’re looking for a genuinely scary movie, prepare for disappointment.

Cabin in the Woods movie poster
The screenplay for Cabin in the Woods is by Joss Whedon, who also wrote “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly.”

Advertisements for “The Cabin in the Woods” reveal only a small fraction of its story. The initial setup is entirely unimaginative—five teenagers take a road trip to the titular lodge for a weekend of fun and free love but, of course, something in those woods is out to kill them.

Even casual horror audiences will recognize how overused the premise is. The trick is that the movie promoted in the trailers is only half of the story. I won’t spoil the twist any more than to say that “The Cabin in the Woods” is among the most imaginative movies in years.

Imagination is certainly one of writer Joss Whedon’s most outstanding qualities. In his past work like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly,” Whedon has built a career and cult following on breathing new life into genre conventions.

“The Cabin in the Woods” is in the same vein as Whedon’s past filmography. It is dominated by quirky characters, sly comedy and devilish twists. Fans of the so-called Whedonverse will find plenty to like.

As a horror satire, “The Cabin in the Woods” treads similar ground as Wes Craven’s “Scream” and Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games.” It exists somewhere between the two—never as adoring of the genre as “Scream,” but not nearly as condemning of it as “Funny Games.”

The satire is amusing throughout, but the horror aspect is the weak link. With so much focus on poking fun at the genre, it fails to deliver anything more frightening than a few jump scares.

Overall “The Cabin the Woods” is a superficial experience. The genre commentary merely skims the surface, and the twist—which is revealed from the get-go—loses its power after the first viewing. The only takeaway discussion is trying to recall the various horror movie references you noticed.

For horror fans, “The Cabin in the Woods” is an entertaining lark that should be experienced once and probably never again. For everyone else, this unique movie is a little too strange and not nearly frightening enough for mass appeal.

Michael Brun is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.