"The Cabin in the Woods": Horror-Comedy Mold Can't Be Broken

With horror comedy The Cabin in the Woods, writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, who also directs, have created an intricate design that makes the film nearly impossible to talk about without giving away surprises. The basic setup (the talk-about-able part and the movie ostensibly being sold to audiences) is five college kids who go up to a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend of hijinks. They are a near-perfect collection of stereotypes/archetypes of their genre — the jock, the party girl, the nice girl, the joker-stoner, and the black guy — each there to subvert and upend expectations. Amid their initial partying, they come across an assortment of creepy paraphernalia in the cellar and soon find themselves under attack. The poster for the film is a small cabin twisted into sections in the manner of a Rubik's cube, correctly implying that the story is set someplace more than just a secluded retreat, and that there are most definitely people working the gears. Whedon and Goddard attempt to honor, send up, and advance genre conventions simultaneously. Sometimes it works. But too often the film wants it both ways, trying to make the audience have a genuine reaction while at the same time never letting go of the self-conscious acknowledgement of how it is leading the audience to that response. Cabin does pull off some neat tricks of narrative realignment; other screenwriters will be impressed. But a film created for the sake of regarding its own genre smarts is a hollow vessel.

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