‘They’re like something from a nightmare…’
After watching a number of ’90s and early ’00s teen slashers in recent weeks, it made sense to finish with The Cabin in the Woods, a movie that subverts horror tropes more than any horror film since Scream. It’s been ten years since I last saw it, and while allegations against writer Joss Whedon have cast a pall over many of his projects, this one was co-written and directed by Drew Goddard and as a result, has actually aged pretty well…
We have two plots here. A group of teenagers featuring Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchison and Kristen Connolly go to stay at a cabin in the woods where all the usual horror stuff happens. They meet a creepy gas station attendant. They find a strange book in the cellar. They drink and smoke and have sex. And then they start to die. So far, so normal. The twist comes in the form of the other movie that is playing out at the same time. That movie sees Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford lead a group of scientists who have something invested in whether the obnoxious teenagers live or die. As the film goes on, we begin to realise exactly what is at stake.
A genuinely unique and ingenious premise then and one that allows Goddard and Whedon to have their cake and eat it. They are making a point about gratuitous nudity and ultra-violence whilst still utilising both of these things at every opportunity. When the camera slowly pans up to Hutchison’s hot pants we know that Goddard is mocking horror tropes about the male gaze whilst still indulging in them. It’s a neat trick. The performances are great across the board with the young cast having to essentially play their characters as deliberate cliches, whilst Jenkins and Whitford provide the laughs. For horror geeks, there are references to The Evil Dead, The Ring, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hellraiser and many, many more, and these easter eggs ensure that The Cabin in the Woods retains its rewatchability even when you know the twist.
More important than the satirical elements, however, is the fact that this movie is just a hell of a lot of fun, and at just over 90 minutes the pacing is perfect. The various homages clearly come from a place of love, and it is this that ensures that the whole thing never becomes too smug or meta.
The Cabin in the Woods was hugely acclaimed on release, and as I sit here writing this ten years later, it is clear that age has been kind to this minor classic of the genre. An iconic horror masterpiece.