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SXSW 2012 Review: ‘Cabin In the Woods’ Finds the Sweet Spot of Horror, Comedy, and Originality

By  · Published on March 11th, 2012

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Five young, attractive friends take a weekend trip to a remote cabin deep in the woods, but after a night of partying and a dark discovery in the basement they soon find themselves in a fight for their lives against a nightmarish enemy.

As well as you think you know this story, you are wrong.

Drew Goddard’s The Cabin In the Woods (co-written by Joss Whedon) takes a stereotypical horror film set-up and does extraordinary things with it. It features more than a few jump scares and creepy scenes, a hefty amount of laughs, and a near-brilliant take on a deceptively common storyline. It’s that last part that serves as the core of the film’s greatness, and instead of being just a simple twist or revelation it opens up a whole new way of seeing the genre.

Please note, I’ve avoided true spoilers in the review below. That said, there are some elements that may seem spoilery but actually aren’t. If you’ve seen even a single trailer this is a safe read.

Dana (Kristen Connolly) and Jules (Anna Hitchison) await the arrival of the latter girl’s boyfriend, Curt (Chris Hemsworth) and his friend Holden (Jesse Williams). They’ve planned a getaway along with fifth-wheel Marty (Fran Kanz) to a relative’s cabin far outside of town. The five vary slightly in wits, but they’re all fun, charismatic and likeable people. (Well, Holden’s fairly generic, but Williams’ pretty eyes make up for the blandness.)

Running simultaneous to the quintet’s adventure are a second group of characters brought to glorious, pitch-perfect life by Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Amy Acker, and more. They have almost as much screen time as the leads, and they have some very important office jobs.

And that’s all you really need to know about them.

The five friends appear to fit certain stereotypes on the outside, but just like the film itself, those appearances can be deceiving. When they stop for gas on the way to the cabin they receive a menacing warning from a creepy attendant, and it also seems to fit a commonly accepted and expected mold…before shattering that intentional perception with a collision of ideas both new and old.

Comparisons to the original Scream are both accurate and completely off base. Both movies are incredibly smart and aware of the genre they’re running through, but where Wes Craven’s and Kevin Williamson’s film brought the meta elements to the forefront with their characters’ words Goddard and Whedon are more trusting of the audience’s collective genre knowledge.

The film looks and sounds fantastic, but there are a surprising handful of scenes featuring weak-looking CGI effects. I say surprising because this movie has been sitting on a shelf for two years so it’s not as if they didn’t have the time to touch it up a bit.

Questionable effects aside, you’d be hard pressed to find another recent movie that gets just about everything perfect. The script never wastes a single syllable, and the actors deliver it all with enthusiastic conviction. Jenkins and Whitford in particular are comedically mesmerizing. The duo deserve their own workplace-centric sitcom.

Cabin In the Woods is sheer entertainment on all fronts. Horror fans will love the bloodletting, themes and callbacks to genre favorites. Comedy fans will laugh loudly at Whedon’s brand of wit and snark. And film fans will love seeing such an audaciously original idea brought to glorious life before their eyes. See this movie. Reward it with your time and dollars, and it will pay you back with bloody, smile-inducing brilliance.

The Upside: Very funny, occasionally creepy, smarter than even the above average horror film, filled with cheer-worthy moments and original as hell.

The Downside: Some inexcusably dodgy CGI.

On the Side: This movie’s release was delayed multiple times for reasons ranging from bankruptcy to MGM’s desire to convert it to 3-D. Thankfully, they ran out of money when they did.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.