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AP Photo/Lionsgate, Diyah Pera
Fran Kranz, Chris Hemsworth and Anna Hutchison are shown in a scene from “The Cabin in the Woods.”

'Cabin' offers horror and an ingenious twist

Reeling It In

Posted: April 26, 2012 - 8:58am

"The Cabin in the Woods"
AFX Studios
1 hour, 35 minutes

I have to say at the outset that you're not going to be able to really learn anything about the plot of this week's ingenious new horror film, "The Cabin in the Woods" by reading this review. If you're one of the many moviegoers out there who see that this film is playing and think, "Huh. Hadn't heard of that one. Let's just grab a copy of the paper and see what that's about," you're going to be disappointed. It's frustrating, I know, because most people will have no idea what this is, and will skip it as a result.

But, really, there's almost nothing I can say without suddenly diving into spoiler country. The best I can do is to try and give you an idea of whether this movie is for you by discussing it in a very broad, non-specific sense. Sorry. I blame writer/producer Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard for creating a movie that blew me away and then left me with no way to talk about it.   

The plot, or the tiny bit of it I can reveal, is this: five college friends head off for a weekend of fun and foolishness at a remote cabin in the woods. Bad stuff ensues. That's it. Even discussing the specific characters spoils a little of the larger plot. I'm sure I'm making more of this "spoiler" stuff than necessary, but I think part of the reason I enjoyed the movie so much is that I was taken completely by surprise.

I was a little on the fence about seeing the film, initially. I really don't like horror movies. I used to. When I was younger, I was a fan of "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Friday the 13th," but now I just can't bring myself to watch. It's not the blood, really, it's the viciousness that gets to me. And the horror movies of the 80s have nothing on the dreck that's out there today. Cruelty and sadism are the watchwords of the day. It's just too much.

However, having read snippets about this movie for the last couple of months preceding it's release, the two words I read over and over again were "genre-bending." I took that to mean that "Cabin" wasn't a horror movie in the true sense of the word. That maybe it was more like "Evil Dead 2" or "Army of Darkness." Kind of a horror-comedy; all tongue-in-cheek. Nope. This is definitely a horror movie, and a decidedly grisly one at that. Maybe not up to the level of "Hostel" or "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," but pretty rough nonetheless.

So, should you go see it? I have a good friend who likes big colorful popcorn movies. She likes twisty mysteries, and she especially likes Joss Whedon. She should not go see this movie. She will hate it.

I was, unfortunately, unable to offer this warning to my wife and another friend who went to see the movie with me. A big part of the reason I was unable to offer them a warning was that I was too busy trying to convince them to go by using words like "ingenious" and "genre-bending." They walked out about 15 minutes in.

Back to the question at hand: should you go? If you have an affinity for horror movies at all -- yes, definitely. If you're not a big fan of horror, but can stand to wade through the viscera in order to reach the payoff at the other end -- yes, go see it. Not only is the payoff big, but it's a whole mind-shift that keeps revealing itself, layer by layer over the last half of the movie, unlike a quickie  M. Night Shyamalan-style last-five-minutes-twist.

If you can't stand horror, hate blood, or are scared easily -- no, this movie is not for you.

If you are in one of the first two camps, however, there is so much to see in this movie. It's funny, scary, touching, grotesque, and, ultimately, mind-blowing. The writing is spot-on, if being slightly too cutesy in moments. It's a hard balance, when you're kind of redefining a genre. The first "Scream," which is pretty solid, runs into the same problem, but more so.

The performances in "Cabin" are great, but particularly those of veteran character actors Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, who steal the show. Chris Hemsworth, as lead cabin-goer Curt, is fine, but it's more interesting to note that when he made this film he was basically an unknown. Since this film was originally shot back in 2009 we've seen him as Captain Kirk's father and Thor, the God of Thunder. This summer he'll be an "Avenger" and the titular "Huntsman" from the new "Snow White" action film. He's a bona fide movie star now, so in some ways it's a good thing this film sat on the shelf for so long. If MGM hadn't been having bankruptcy issues, "The Cabin in the Woods" might have hit screens without a big name to draw audiences. Now it has one.

Star power or not, however, "Cabin" has something far more valuable: a good story well told. No matter what the genre, that's a rarer and rarer thing these days. Congrats to the filmmakers for that. Now, go out and see this movie so you, too, can be frustratingly vague when discussing it with your friends.
Grade: A-

"The Cabin in the Woods" is rated R for language, gruesome violence, pervasive gore, nudity, and sexuality.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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