The Cabin in the Woods
Don't Go in the Cellar, Just Sayin'
First off - it's just about impossible to write a full review for this film without giving away some spoilers - so, I will be as discreet as I can, but if you want your experience to be unblemished, don't feel you have to read this whole thing. Just know that I highly endorse this film - a clever mix of horror, comedy and even a bit of sci-fi - it's inventive and is probably one of my favorite horror films that has come out in the last few years.
The movie has a great time with juxtaposition - it opens with a couple office drones going about the daily grind, getting ready for something big (and, apparently, have a beef with the Japanese). Cut away, and we meet our group of fodder, I mean teens and we have the standard lineup: Jock, Stoner, Hot Blonde, Brain and Wallflower/Not-Quite-Virgin. Where is our group going? Why, a nice secluded cabin out in the middle of nowhere that a cousin just happened to recommend.
Before reaching it, they have a run-in with the creepy old man (aka The Harbinger) who, of course, warns them - a warning they promptly ignore and reach their cabin. Features of the cabin: creepy artwork, two-way mirrors, a wolf head on the wall, a freezing lake and, oh yeah, the creepy cellar filled with all manner of even creepier items. It's soon apparent that each of our teens is drawn to a particular objects: a necklace, a conch shell, a round puzzle-like object, a music box, reels of film and a diary -- and our recovering heart-broken wallflower starts reading the diary before anyone quite has a chance to use their particular object. And wouldn't you know it, by reading the mysterious Latin inscription - they awaken the Zombie Redneck Torture Family. Thus begins the fight for survival. However....
However... this is where you want to stop if you want to avoid being spoiled - just stop here. I'll give you a few breaks.
Okay - beyond our teens, there is a whole other story going on. See, our group of office drones from the beginning is actually controlling what happens - adjusting chemicals to make characters behave, well, stupidly - controlling temperature, lighting, locking doors, cutting off escape - oh, and each of those creepy objects is tied to a particular evil (I found an excellent freeze frame that listed a few: Giant Snake, Angry Molesting Tree and Deadites - a nod to Evil Dead, Witches and Sexy Witches, The Bride, Sugar Plum Fairy, Reptilius, Wendigo, Wraiths and, mostly horrifying of all Clowns). You see, the entire premise is that not only America, but Japan, Berlin, Madrid and other areas of the world actively get together groups of young people (at least five) and sacrifice them in order to appease the Old Gods. And because the Old Gods are bored with your volcanic sacrificed and ritual sacrifices, they also demand to be entertained - kind of like the audience, see?
And that's where the fun begins - a generic horror movie combined with a reality show for ancient gods who want nothing more to be appeased or, you know, wipe out mankind. Each time one of our intrepid teens finds their ultimate end, it helps to appease the real evil behind everything. We come to find out that America and Japan are the only two countries who have a chance - as every other country has failed in their current attempt. As the story goes along, Japan also fails in their attempt leaving it up to America to succeed. Let's just say, not all goes according to plan - but, then, there wouldn't be much a movie if things went according to plan.
Beyond the excellent story, the rest of the movie is quite well done. The music is suitably creepy and adds the right amount of shrieking and ambiance. The cast is also quite good - Chris Hemsworth plays the Jock - and does a find job, as does Anna Hutchison as his girlfriend - aka the slightly dumb blonde/slut, Jesse Williams plays the best friend/Smart guy while Kristen Connolly is the "Virgin" and a standout Fran Kanz is stellar as the stoner/Fool who catches on to things before anyone else (thanks to a hidden stash that leaves his mind unclouded, well, unclouded except for the huge amount of weed he smokes). You also have Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as the two main drones in charge of creating the terror for our group. Their dry humor is nice counterpoint to the Zombie Redneck Torture Family attacks.
In the end, if you're any kind of fan of horror movies, you will like this movie. There are plenty of sly references to other films (including The Evil Dead, Hellraiser and your generic vampire/werewolf/zombie films) while crafting a story that is both original and just plain fun. Watch for the excellent cameo at the end and then go back and reanalyze every other horror film you've seen based on what you learned. A movie that can turn other movies into a new experience? Now that's a real twist.