Ever since the 1970s and 1980s, the status of horror films has undergone a sharp decline, thanks to the onslaught of gory slashers and their legions of sequels and remakes. As a result, people consider this film genre to be no longer worthy of respect, much less a second glance. Even with the recent occurrence of horror films from other nations, as well as some entries from our own turf, receiving strong critical attention, they are far too few in number to instigate a successful resurgence for the genre.
At this point, most people neither care about nor express interest in reviving horror films in a way that would change them for the better — all because of their tarnished reputation. To this day, the genre remains all but dead.
However, every now and then, there comes along a film that not only delves into the conventions usually found in the definition of horror, but also implements its own ingredients to create something with a distinctive resonance. In this case, it appears that the film in question is “The Cabin in the Woods,” written and produced by cult icon Joss Whedon.
The story follows five college students driving up to the eponymous locale of the same name for a vacation before having to resume their studies. Each one represents an archetype we usually encounter in a horror film: the girl next door, the jock, the party girl, the smart guy and the drug addict. At the same time, a group of scientists is conducting a secret project in a facility that just so happens to be situated in the same area. Plus, they are keeping tabs on the adolescents for purposes related to the project at hand. When the two storylines cross paths, the horrifying truth surrounding the cabin where the quintet is staying emerges, and the ensuing consequences wreak havoc.
What starts off as a run-of-the-mill scary flick about a group of teenagers that will receive harsh punishment from a psychotic murderer for indulging in questionable activities soon shifts gears and becomes a puzzling mystery for the characters — and by extension, the audience — to solve. Why the teens are being killed off and how the scientists are involved in their predicament is carefully handled so that each revelation radiates authentic shock and revulsion. Once the climax takes hold, the answers to all the questions raised within the narrative are disclosed, and the resolution leaves its mark with a well-placed outbreak of fury.
Under normal circumstances, the audience is more interested in how creative the kills are going to be for the victims. But “The Cabin in the Woods” proves to be an exception to the rule: each adolescent is meant to be rooted for and, in more ways than one, contradicts the typical expectations of his/her character type.
Kristen Connolly’s girl next door has an insightful disposition yet is sexy in her own right. Chris Hemsworth’s jock is a true buddy who is there for his friends when they need him most. Anna Hutchison’s party girl likes having fun but has no malicious intentions toward anyone whatsoever. Jesse Williams’ smart guy is on par with the jock’s physique and on good terms with everybody. Fran Kranz’s drug addict may be high, but there is more personality to him than just a craving for illegal substances.
For the scientists, if there were no Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, then this film would not have become what it is now. The camaraderie between the two of them is priceless; there are times when they seem more like a veteran comedy duo rather than a pair of mad scientists. Surprisingly, this particular take on character interaction is appropriate for the project they are carrying out. Amy Acker is their dutiful colleague, who is just as much involved in this scheme as them.
Although the horror genre will most likely not rise above its damaged status anytime soon, it does not mean there are no titles possessing the capability of becoming something much more than just a scary flick. Anyone looking for a well-constructed scare-fest with a multitude of intriguing twists should definitely check out “The Cabin in the Woods.”
Rating: 4 out of 5