It's been a banner year for Joss Whedon to say the least. With The Avengers doing outstandingly well, both critically and financially, he's likely to get a big push in the mainstream appreciation department. A lot of people love him, but a lot of people also like to be contrarian dicks and tear him down. I say "fuck 'em". Most of what this guy touches is gold. I thought The Avengers was pretty darn good and I have a lot to say about his obvious influence on making it that way. However, as much as I enjoyed that film, it still doesn't out-do my favorite film of 2012 so far (one that Whedon co-wrote), The Cabin in the Woods.
It's been a few weeks since I saw Cabin, so I may have forgotten some of my thoughts on the film, but I think I've retained much of my post-screening gushing. A week or so prior to seeing it, I rented Scream 4, and I think many of things I hated about it are things I loved about Cabin. Craven just seems lazy these days. The series is known for being self-reflexive, but here it's just so ham-handed. The opening scenes really pissed me off. Yeah! I get it! Move the fuck on.
Cabin is about horror films without really bringing them up - and their rules - in every scene. This film attempts to give rhyme and reason to our oft-repeated criticisms of the genre while having a lot of fun. "Why the hell did the protagonists split up? Or play with the demonic Rubik's Cube? Or just act so damn stupid?" Cabin's answer (and the only truly logical one) SPOILERS: Because the powers-that-be, in service of malevolent elder gods, have drugged and manipulated them, and have also fixed the situation to make their desired outcome more likely.
Those powers-that-be are represented in the film by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. The duo is easily my favorite part of the movie. They sit in their control room, clad in suit and tie, overseeing the ill-fated cabin-retreat of the college-aged guinea pigs. This sterile image quickly melts away as the two's behavior begins to resemble ritualistic, blood sacrifice.
You see, they (in service of some global, shadow-organization), set the players up to choose their destruction. We see that there are many options - werewolves, zombies, bat-creatures, faceless-ballerinas and even mermen (Whitford's character so badly wants someone to choose merman!). They each have their own triggering mechanism; the quasi-Pinhead requires the above-mentioned demonic puzzle-cube and the merman a conch (naturally). In this instance, the protagonists end up reading a key-phrase from the diary of a pain-worshipping hillbilly and her family subsequently rises to terrorize them.
If you think their chosen oppressor is a little disappointing and bland (as I did), then the final act of the film will more than make up for it with a veritable, creative explosion. Following a brief celebration over the fruition of their plans, set to REO Speedwagon's "Roll With the Changes" (optimal lyrics: "if you're tired of the same old story..."), things really go to shit for Whitford, Jenkins and Co.. Due to the meddling of the immune-to-manipulation stoner, a majority of the nightmares from the horror pantheon show up in some shape or form to reap havoc on the suits.
Ultimately, Sigourney Weaver's character, known only as The Director, shows up to explain to her unruly pawns why they must accept the ridiculous fate laid out for them - essentially, there are world-ending implications. The final, resulting, conclusion is one I found immensely satisfying and is just another feather in the film's well-adorned cap.
There's some blood and gore and minor scares, but more-often there are big laughs - I daresay some of the biggest laughs I've had in a theatre, or anywhere else, in quite some time. The film's lack of real horror has been a sore-point for some critics, but I don't think they get that Cabin isn't really supposed to be scary. It doesn't "re-define" horror, with the potential of churning out more and more decrepit sequels; It's a humorous hypothetical in answer to some of the genre's most glaring flaws.