Movie Review: The Cabin in the Woods
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
The following is a spoiler-free zone.
However, given that there is not much you can say about the excellent horror movie "The Cabin in the Woods" without ruining the manner in which the flick actually works, the following might also be light on actual information.
But let's start with this: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Serenity" creator Joss Whedon produced and co-wrote (with longtime Whedon collaborator Drew Goddard, who directed) this satire of/love letter to horror movies. You can feel his sharp presence in every word.
Shot in 2009 and ready to be released in 2010, "Cabin" was shelved when MGM went bankrupt in 2010.
Lionsgate acquired the film last year, setting a spring 2012 release date, which, paired with Whedon's "The Avengers" (it arrives May 4 via Marvel Studios and Disney), is giving Whedon his best year since the second season of "Buffy" established that show as one of the sharpest on television.
Per all sorts of horror movies, high schoolers head off to into the titular cabin. You know the drill: There's an athletic leader, a hot girl, a cute, nerdy girl (a type that has been Whedon's fastball since the Clinton administration), the new guy and the stoner.
The set-up is familiar — which is the point. "Cabin" deals in well-worn tropes, types and themes. It wants you to think "I have seen this all before" before it shows you why and how you haven't.
But Whedon refuses to keep the clichés entirely intact. In keeping with the overall theme, nothing is entirely what it seems, and nobody is entirely who they seem. Curt the jock (a post-Star Trek," pre-Thor" Chris Hemsworth) is smarter than he looks, the virginal nerd Dana (Kristen Connolly) might not be either, that sort of thing.
There's a breakout performance from Fran Kranz as the Shaggy-esque Marty Mikalski, who sports the single greatest bong that has ever been displayed on film. (Kranz would have been the breakout star of Whedon's problematic-yet-intriguing series "Dollhouse," but nobody ever watched it; he's hoping this movie is his moment).
Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford — the latter still sporting the most annoying walk in show business — show up as a comedy team deserving of their own movie. Look for a few of Whedon's regular cast members here and there (hello, Amy Acker!) and an in-joke cameo from a Whedon associate in one key scene that practically generated a standing ovation at South by Southwest, where the movie premiered.
The movie's pointed, long-overdue critique of torture porn (think "Saw" and "Human Centipede") just feels like icing, as "Cabin" also feels like a summing up of ideas about teamwork, feminism and the nature of storytelling about which Whedon's been producing top-flight TV and movies for years. It's also as graceful a take on the nature of being a writer you are going to see this year, and the fact that "Cabin" does all this is as good an indication as any that Whedon is back. Geeks assemble!
Contact Joe Gross at 912-5926