SXSW 2012: 'Cabin in the Woods' is Close Enough to Perfect For Me
by Jeremy Kirk
March 10, 2012
What can you say about a film that begins by revealing its climax, one of the most fulfilling of its kind, from scene one? Little can be said about Cabin in the Woods, especially if one is so inclined to worry about things like spoilers. You shouldn't know much about this film. Know that five friends trek to an abandoned cabin for some rest and relaxation—I'm sure that's all—and things don't go as planned. Things get quite horrific, in fact, and, as with the best horror, nothing ever goes as expected. Beyond that, there are only so many ways one can say it's the most intelligent, enjoyable and satisfying horror to come along in years. Maybe ever.
Little can be said about the film without revealing too much (see Joss's statement on spoilers) or repeating the copious amounts of praise it so richly deserves. Therefore, I'm taking this opportunity to talk a little more about me than about the actual film. Have patience. I'm not that boring.
I love horror. I grew up on it. I remember the days when my childhood eyes would scan the VHS shelves at one of the three video rental places in my small Illinois hometown. There always seemed to be three in business even when one of them would close down for good. I remember the images dancing in my mind, the possibilities of what might be inside the actual cassette. Horror has shaped so much about me and about how I view film. Saying it changed my view on the world would be a little weird, so let's just pretend I didn't say that and move on. Let's get back to Cabin in the Woods, shall we?
Cabin in the Woods, co-written by Joss Whedon and directed/co-written by Drew Goddard, is the kind of horror film you would love if you love horror like I do. It's the kind of film you would love if you, like me, remember your older sister—12 years older—and her friends watching Nightmare on Elm Street in their room. You still hate the sound of scraping nails on metal. Cabin in the Woods is the kind of film you would love if you, like me, were introduced to horror by your older brother—10 years older—and a well used copy of John Carpenter's The Thing. You would love Cabin in the Woods if you, like me, cherish the Dungeons and Dragons Guide to Monsters you lifted from your brother when he moved off to college. You still don't think he knows you have it.
Cabin in the Woods is the kind of film you would love if you, like me, couldn't wait for Bram Stoker's Dracula, and on your 13th birthday, your mom surprised you with a trip to a nearby town so you could see it. You grew up in a small town of 5000 people. There was only one screen in one theater, and that was usually a month-old film. You will love Cabin the Woods if you, like me, remember your dad taking you to see Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives but only after you forced yourself through the local haunted house. You did that very thing and ran out the other end as quickly as you had entered. Cabin in the Woods is the kind of horror film you would love if you, like me, remember your mom surprising you one birthday with a brand new Super NES and Child's Play 2, which had just been released on VHS, and you can't remember which one you were more excited about.
It's the kind of horror film you will love if you, like me, asked your mom to take you to see The Blob remake, because it was rated R, and you weren't old enough to attend by yourself. You could have hacked it. It's the kind of film you would love if you, like me, bought the Batman novelization in 1989, and, having seen the film two or three times, you would stay up all hours of the night reading only the parts that had the Joker in them. You were drawn to attractive monsters back then, weren't you? It's the kind of movie you would love if you, like me, grew up on Ralph Bakshi, Roland and the Dark Tower, and Mario Van Peebles dying at the end of Jaws: The Revenge. None of those go together. It's the kind of horror movie you would love if you, like me, spent the first nights in college reading Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens and Dante's Inferno. You thought you had to. You realized very quickly you wanted to.
Cabin in the Woods is the kind of film you would love if you, like me, remember somewhere around 1996 when hard rock practical turned into bubbly poppy CG, and something changed. Something pure. Something with edges that sliced you and bites that came from the darkness, and horror was something to make you feel better about being alive. Something changed. The edges were still there in graphic color, but the wit, intelligence and vibe that made you feel like you were watching something special were stifled. Suddenly your favorite monsters were being replaced by something uglier and, along with it, horror became a dulled hammer blow—not the Terence Fisher kind of Hammer, either—instead of a smooth cut to your brain. Japanese ghosts with black hair replaced machete maidens, the Fisherman from I Know What You Did Last Summer replaced Frankenstein's monster, sprinting zombies replaced Romero's skulkers, and Jamie Lee Curtis turned into Johnathon Schaech.
Some of that was cool, but it didn't feel as from the heart. Blood and sweat over an editing bay was replaced by 1s and 0s, Drew Struzan took a back seat to Photoshop, and it all suddenly felt... different. It felt cheap even when we were told it was practical. It was a computer generated anaconda wrestling with Ice Cube instead of Bela Lugosi swimming with a rubber octopus. And it didn't go away. I want to say accepted, but that's too general. Horror was ours, and it was being taken over by people who wanted the fun sapped out like a lanced tree. We wanted our fun horror back, and Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, at least, were doing something about it.
Cabin in the Woods is the kind of horror film you would love if you, like me, waited four years to see it, watched as it jumped from getting made, to coming out, to being post-converted to 3D, to NOT being post-converted to 3D—good call on that one, by the way—to finally at our doorstep. It's is the kind of horror movie you would love if you, like me have horror films on your DVD shelf that you know aren't good movies, movies like Ghosts of Mars or The Ward. God, we miss you, John. It's the kind of film you will love if you, like me, are planning a movie marathon showing all of Val Lewton's horror films from the early to mid '40s. It's the kind of film that brought you to Austin, the home of SXSW and Fantastic Fest, Tim and Karrie League, and the Alamo Drafthouse. Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday replaced Must See TV and Monday Night Raw, and you couldn't be happier.
It's the kind of film you would love if, like me, you name personal items after Cthulhu. That dog will never be the same. Cabin in the Woods is the kind of film you will love if you, like me, have posters for Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween III: Season of the Witch—5, 6 and H:20 are stacked in a corner—The Private Eyes starring Tim Conway and Don Knotts, and Ben Wheatley's Kill List hanging in your living room. That Kill List poster is the best Valentine's Day present you've ever received, by the way.
Cabin in the Woods is the kind of film that makes you want to applaud once the end credits roll instead of giving a casual and polite golf clap. Your hands will be clapping. Furiously. It's the kind of film that makes you write 1500 words on your history with horror, a pack of Camel Menthol Silvers at the ready and Nine Inch Nails blasting in your headphones. It's the kind of film for all fans of the genre and its offerings, both big and small, foreign and domestic, old and new, just so long as it captures that something from your childhood. Call it nostalgia, but it's almost something purer. It's horror fantasy by horror fans, and it's for horror fans. Most importantly, it's simply amazing.
I want to say flawless, but nothing is flawless. Great horror is close to flawless. And you could say Cabin in the Woods is close enough.