Let be preface this by saying that this all contains spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it, I’m going to break it all down.
A movie like The Cabin in the Woods tries to do what Scream does by exposing the tropes in horror movies. It’s hard for some people who grew up with horror movies to watch newer horror movies when the same things happen over and over again.
A movie like Cabin sets up the notion that the reason these things happen is because it’s all part of a ritual to appease the ancient gods of the world. But in the modern age, it’s all handled as if it’s a well-oiled machine.
I’ve often heard people in the military say it takes much more personnel to handle one infantry service member. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford play Gary Stitterson and Steve Hadley respectively, two control technicians for what is called The Facility. They look like the average type of people one might expect to work in a control room. They wear black dress slacks with white dress shirts and plain dark ties.
There are other people who work at the Facility which is working to make sure the ritual happens without a hitch. The ritual is the sacrifice of typical archetypes you’ll notice in horror movies.
Anna Hutchison plays Jules Louden, a pre-med student. She’s “The Whore” and has a chemical in her blonde hair dye that makes her act more ditzy and slutty. Her boyfriend is Curt Vaughn (Chris Hemsworth), who is a sociology major and a football scholar on academic scholarship. He is “The Athlete.”
Their friend is a stoner named Marty Milaski (Fran Kranz) who is a stoner and is “The Fool.” They join Dana Polk (Kristen Connolly) and Holden McCrea (Jesse Williams) on a trip to a cabin that is supposedly owned by a Curt’s cousin. Dana is “The Virgin” and Holden is “The Scholar.” But it is revealed early that Dana may not be a virgin and Curt isn’t a meathead but actually a smart and considerate person.
When they go to the cabin, they stop at a rundown dilapidated gas station where the owner asks like a Harbinger of Doom who almost lets it slip what’s going on when he refers to Jules as a whore. It just so happens the cabin is actually a set-up in which all five will eventually succumb to bloody, grisly deaths.
But they must choose their killers. This is where the movie touches on other tropes as they go into a dark basement through a trap door that has been operated to open by the control room. The whole Facility staff are making bets on who or what they will choose as there’s anything from zombies to giant creatures, a werewolf, killer clowns and much more.
These types of things have happened before in movies where someone finds a diary or a book with incantations and reads them aloud. The whole hidden basement is another trope in horror movies as well as the curiosity of going down there, which Marty strongly discourages.
What’s great is that there is a huge set-up but when they do unleash the murdering zombified redneck family, the movie suddenly loses steam as we watch the people in the control room try to make sure all the killings happen accordingly. The Whore must be killed first, even though in many horror movies such as Friday the 13th and Terror Train, the Fool is the first to die.
After that, the Scholar, Fool and Athlete must die, as the Virgin is let to suffer but her death is optional. Spilling the blood of these people is the only way to appease the gods. Unfortunately, there are other rituals around the world failing. We don’t see much of them, except for a classroom in Japan where young girls are being terrorized by a female ghost that somehow they are able turn into a frog by holding hands and singing together.
Part of the problem with Cabin is it’s never clear who the main characters are. I’d argue it’s Sitterson and Hadley who seem to be doing this so long, it’s often become a second-nature. The movie opens with them after a ominous beginning of creepy ritual images before it switches to them causally talking about their private lives.
Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, who wrote this movie, said they wanted audiences who arrived just a few minutes late to feel like they were in the wrong movie for a while before seeing the title come up on the screen. Jenkins and Whitford do their roles well. Because both actors have played for creeps and villains than they have as good guys, they are perfectly cast.
The other actors playing the college students do their best but they’re not really given much. Hemsworth had already appeared in Thor and was set to appear in The Avengers when this was released in the spring of 2012. It had been on the shelf for two years because of financial difficulties between MGM and United Artists. Connolly plays the Virgin/Final Girl role well but I felt it was wrongly implied she’s the protagonist when she isn’t Hutchison and Williams do their best with what little they’re given. Sometimes giving archetypes too little hurts their performances.
Krantz as Marty is supposed to be the stoner who isn’t too bright, but is actually more quick to notice things are suspicious but deduces too early that they’re on a reality TV show even after Jules is murdered. But this is the problem with these types of movies. Characters in horror movies are usually not too bright or even likable so it’s easier to shrug off their grody killings. Having their characters work against what we expect is only a good payoff if it earns it.
We only learn about these cabin characters through what they say about each other. It seems that Hunter will be the heroic figure but he dies almost as quick as they’re finally building him. Sometimes, this works. Here it doesn’t. And what makes Hunter so good is when he notices a two-way mirror in the cabin that allows him to look into Dana’s room, he immediately tells her and they switch rooms.
At roughly an hour and a half long, this movie sets up too much but falls apart in the third act where it should have been its best. One of my friends has suggested the movie would’ve worked better as a limited series but when this was made, limited series weren’t popular.
You can listen to their YouTube breakdown here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FK3x1tbD8aE
When we are introduced to the entire collection of killers and creatures, I felt cheated as they have little screen time. This sucks because they actually look better than the zombified redneck family.
I’m not going to reveal what happens at the end but it feels like Goddard, who directed, and Whedon, who produced, were limited by funding. It reminds me of They Live, which had a great set-up but subpar third act that didn’t exactly fit.
That being said, I still recommend this movie to fans of the horror genre. Sometimes it’s more interesting to watch how the magicians perform their tricks.