This is Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard making a horror movie. As such, you know it’s going to packed full of knowing references. You also probably know that in addition to its depth there will also be a very solid story buried within. If you have yet to see it, do your best to go in blind. If you have seen it but your friends haven’t, don’t be a dick and go spoiling it for them, but also force them to watch it as soon as possible. Hey, speaking of spoilers, we’re gonna spoil the living daylights out of this movie in our review below… just sayin’.
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Mark: The Cabin in the Woods. This is a movie about a summertime camping trip and we’re watching it while there’s snow outside. Solid effort on timing that one. This was my choice so I guess it’s my bad, but all that being said I have absolutely no regrets about this pick.
Jake: Definitely your bad. Definitely no regrets. Sounds like a lot of our experiences together. Minus the no regrets part… Anyway, this movie is basically your bar with like 100 taps of craft beer from around the globe. It knows it has something for everyone, and it flaunts it.
Mark: I remember when this movie first came out and everyone insisted that it was great, but also refused to say anything about it. That coupled with the relatively opaque marketing campaign was miraculously able to preserve the surprise for me. I mean, cards aren’t generally played that close to the vest for a standard slasher movie so you knew something was up, but there was at least still some surprise.
Jake: Yeah I don’t know how there weren’t Harry Potter-esque douchebags coming out of the woodwork just lining up to shout about the twist as people walked in to see this one, but it didn’t really happen. I guess score 1 for horror fans.
Mark: I gotta say kudos to the marketing team on this one as well. Way to not blow your load on the trailer. Take note, other trailer folk, that is exactly how every horror movie trailer should be made. Does your movie have a twist in it? You should strongly consider not showing it in the trailer that literally everyone will see beforehand.
Jake: I find that more often than not, a really good trailer is indicative (at least to some degree) of film quality. Yeah, I’ve been bitten before, but it usually works out. It’s a good barometer to use.
Mark: I mean, look, there are a lot of competent filmmakers in horror, but Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard just sort of seem to get it. You know what I mean? There have been other “meta” movies, and most of them are pretty good (Scream comes to mind, also Tucker and Dale), but this is the pinnacle. There is a prescience on their part about what people are expecting in a movie like this one that really allows their humor to work without breaking the movie’s stride.
Jake: Which is saying something considering the lengths they went to to shatter your expectations as a viewer. I mean, these dudes intentionally created a long cold open sequence of some managerial, bureaucracy guys (more on them coming up) just sort of bullshitting in a highly comedic way to make the moviegoing audience think they walked into the wrong flick. They did it just to fuck with people. That’s attention to detail.
Mark: When we first meet our cast of protagonists it becomes clear pretty quickly that they’re not the average holiday gang. I mean yeah, they’re all eye candy, but there’s also a lot of intelligence that gets thrown around. The football player is a sensitive bookish type. The “slut” is just a normal chick who dyed her hair blonde. Chris Hemsworth claims to have memorized a non-zero amount of textbooks. Find me one other movie where that happens.
Jake: It goes on and on. The prudish virgin isn't a virgin. The pothead’s is really ripped. Wait that's the twist right?
Mark: You know, it’s weird. He is super buff, and dreamy, but they went well out of their way to keep his muscles under baggy clothing for the whole movie. Seems like it would’ve been another great trope subversion, but whatever. You also get these repeated cuts back to Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford (aforementioned managerial, bureaucracy guys) looking about as unenthusiastic as possible and sitting at a sufficiently sterile control room set. It provides a great juxtaposition between a bunch of attractive 20 year olds faffing about getting murdered and pair of near retiree dudes sitting at computer screens. I think my favorite scene in the whole movie (and one of my favorite scenes in film in general) is when two of the protagonists are about to bang in a meadow and just when the top comes off you jump cut to the Jenkins and Whitford deadpanning lines staring directly into the camera.
Jake: Well, that and coordinating the office betting pool on which potential murderous blood orgy of a plotline the intrepid youths will be subjected to. So let’s take a step back, here. This movie is essentially about saving the planet from total annihilation at the hands of the old gods, which remain dormant only provided their bloodlust is quenched through horror-character-trope-adherent sacrifice every year. Jenkins and Whitford’s characters? They pull the strings for the US branch of a global (likely) outfit that sees the whole thing through from behind the scenes to ensure the safety of the human race. The way the whole thing works is that the group of kids is required to select the way in which they meet their end on their own, and the virgin must die last. The suits overseeing the whole thing can pull strings if needed to help the proceedings along. It’s a wildly novel and hilarious concept.
Mark: And pull strings they do. We’re informed that they’ve been subtly influencing everyone’s behavior for the past week or so: replacing weed stashes with “special strains,” adding chemicals to the one chick’s blonde hair dye to endumben her, and even catapulting open the door to the prop addled basement. A basement can be addled, right? We rejoin the gang as they’re rummaging around said basement playing with a bunch props that you’ve seen before in other horror movies. There’s a cenobite-ish puzzle box, dead girls journal complete with latin phrases, a creepy necklace, and of course a magic conch shell.
Jake: They have a seemingly endless array of trinkets and contraptions to choose from down there. It’s actually worth going through and pausing just to look at the attention to detail in the background with various items that are, with the benefit of hindsight, assuredly tied to a horrifying death. And they choose to read the Latin in the journal. As we see in one of the cuts back to the bureau, this means maintenance and the intern, Ronald, took the pool. Jenkin’s character, Gary, explains to some secretary the difference between the zombie redneck torture family that was summoned vs another type of zombies (regular zombies). The comedic effect of such scenes is immense. It removes the lion’s share of the fright from the film, but that is not to its detriment. This is more about horror fan service than horror.
Mark: I think it was smart for them to go with the zombie redneck torture family. It’s a relatively bland pick in comparison to the other options we see in the background, but it makes sense from the perspective of them not really actually being the focus of the movie. They don’t steal from everything else that is happening.
Jake: It’s true. It actually creates a pretty effective carrot for the viewer. When you realize what all of the objects in the basement are and realize they picked one of the most bland options, you’re left wondering what could have been. Not to jump too far ahead, but Whedon and Goddard knew this, and had a solution.
Mark: It doesn’t take long for the gang to start getting picked off. The slut gets her head wood-sawed off. The stoner-fool gets pulled out a window. Chris “Not-Thor-Yet” Hemsworth takes a header off his motorcycle directly into an invisible laser fence and falls literally into oblivion. The sensitive football player gets stabbed through the back of the neck with a pair of garden shears. Yada yada yada. Standard stuff.
Jake: Well yes, assuming the force field the bureau had placed around the area and all the rigging they had built to ensure things went according to plan can be considered “standard”. But to your point, the way in which the group gets picked off is very classic slasher stuff. It all fits. They even try to get away at one point but are forced to turn back when the boys at the bureau trigger a cave collapse, blockading the road out and forcing Hemsworth to try his Knievel maneuver.
Still Jake: ...But I have one question about that sequence in particular. What happened to cause that sequence of events? There is vague, tangential explanation of it but for a movie that takes such great care in its attention to detail, the reason for this sequence kind of sticks out as amiss.
Mark: This is top of my list of flaws with this movie. I feel like they deleted a scene or something that was meant to explain what happened. They have all these lines and stuff that hint at something larger, a zoom-in shot on a rotary phone, some real conspiracy theory level story construction. There’s just not enough signal that cuts through the noise of the now partying office staff.
Jake: Meh, we take what we can get. Let’s jump to my favorite scene of the movie. RE-fuckin’-O Speedwagon blaring over a shit-kicker bureau tequila binge of a celebration, all while final-girl-not-really-a-virgin-but-they-used-her-like-one Dana is just getting the ever-living shit beaten out of her by one of the zombies. It is pure film genius.
Mark: And then Marty the stoner-fool reappears! Remember when I said he died a paragraph ago? Well I actually didn’t. Psyche. Go back, read it again. Got you, punk. You just got punk’d. I Kutchered you good. Freakin’ punk kids.
Jake: Jesus, what?
Mark: It turns out that stoner-fool-ripped-like-Jesus-who-I-totally-punk’d-you-about-earlier Marty found an elevator down into the seedy underbelly of the giant corporate laboratory that these monsters were hatched from. Our two heroes take this Charlie and the Great Glass elevator ride through a pile of horror references as the main chick FINALLY gets what’s going on. She goes full Heston.
Jake: She flat loses it. She tries to fight Pinhead’s cousin, Sawskull. His name is actually Lloyd. Look it up… Got you again! Idiot. Luckily for her, she realizes they are right next to one of those gigantic red “Don’t Push This” buttons. So she pushes it and my god. Remember the carrot I mentioned earlier? I’m not fucking with you, I really did mention it. Yeah, this is the payoff scene. The money shot.
Mark: And I mean yeah, at that point all hell breaks loose, quite literally. Every possible monster you can think of (or an approximation thereof) spews forth from the elevators into the base: hell bats, serial killers, a molesting tree, ghosts, a clown, zombies, something tentacle-y… you name it, they reference it.
Jake: And the monsters pretty much just plow the road for Dana and Marty to continue on through the base, looking for a way out. Literally everyone else is killed in various grisly ways. It’s rad.
Mark: Totally bitchin, man. Dana and Marty stumble their way out onto what can only be described as a Mortal Kombat stage set above a pit of the great old ones. They then encounter a great old one in the form of Sigourney Weaver. Hiyoooo. Sorry, that joke was too obvious. In any case she expositions the hell out of the end of story and tries to convince Dana to kill Marty. Dana doesn’t, and then gets attacked by a werewolf. I promise I’m really not breezing by much.
Jake: Well Mark, you did make it more confusing. Weaver is basically the director of the whole program overseeing the ritual is accomplished each year and the world remains free of gigantic old gods obliterating humanity. She swiftly gets an axe to the head, and Marty and Dana selfishly don’t off themselves so the world literally does come to an end. Thanks, fuckers. Millennials are so selfish, right Mark?
Mark: My cat is fucking around in my Christmas tree. Can we get out of here and go to ratings so that I can attend to this situation?
Jake: Again with the selfishness. And fuck cats. And you’re writing this. That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.
Mark: Fuck it. Ratings.
For 1, think of how Christian Bale would rate how much he wants you on set:
For 10, think of how Bill Nye would rate science as a field of study:
Mark: 10 - Perfect story with one exception, which I am lumping more into immersion than into story. Why? Because I’m a free-wheeling rebel without a cause and I wanted to give this movie the credit it deserved.
Jake: 9 - Because I don’t lump plot holes into a different category just so I can give a perfect score like Mark. Great story with tons of depth, intelligence, and winking.
WORLD BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Mark: 8 - So yeah, there are a few issues, the tunnel collapse plot-hole chief among them. I should also say I am very disappointed in the very last scene in the movie being a giant titan arm punching through the Earth. For a movie that was otherwise highly creative that just seemed ultra phoned in. Those are the only two nits that I can conceivably pick.
Jake: 9 - So as you can see, we really gave it the same score, as he needlessly applied the plot hole to this. Aside from that, I agree. This is an extraordinarily immersive film that always holds my complete attention. I don’t like the end either, but ripping me out in the last 10 seconds isn’t too detrimental to the overall score for the category in my book.
Mark: 3 - If you know someone who is lukewarm on horror, this is the movie that you should show them. It’s incredibly fun and horror-y, but the scares are few and far enough between that anyone sensitive won’t be too freaked out to enjoy the experience. There are some jump scares, and some very legit gore (see next category), but ultimately there isn’t much here that will really stick with you scare-wise after watching.
Jake: 2 - This is not designed to be a scary movie. It is designed as fan service that is loaded with genre references that horror fans will appreciate. It’s great, but really blows up this score. Spoiler alert for my overall… It doesn’t really matter.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Mark: 7 - Super duper legit gore. If you would like a good example of how to do CG properly this is a pretty good roadmap. There’s also quite a bit of sweet practical mixed in as well. Just one thing, anyone using this as an example, DO NOT replicate the lava-hand at the end. That shit was idiotic.
Jake: 7 - Agreed with Mark on all fronts but will add that the eagle they used to introduce the force field looked like some shit from a Playstation 2 game. Not good.
Mark: 9 - I gave this an 8 on the podcast, which you should be listening to if you aren’t already. The more I thought about this score the more I thought it was too low. I like watching this movie more than both Cloverfield and Friday the 13th, which are two of my all time favorites that both got either 8s or 8.5s in my ratings. This movie is fun, true to the horror form, and generally just moves the genre forward. This is damn close to a perfect movie, if only it weren’t for that damn tunnel plot hole.
Jake: 7.5 - I love watching this movie. This is a weird one that is probably a better film than a horror film, but is an extremely legit example of fan service to the genre of horror. I have a ton of fun watching this flick and would wholeheartedly recommend it both as a gateway horror drug and as something seasoned horror fans can appreciate for the myriad references packed in. Is it an all time favorite of mine? No. But it will always be one of the first ones I recommend for to its novelty and execution.