Dear The Cabin in the Woods,
It’s a rare film that manages to successfully interweave two contradictory genres in a way that compromises neither. Often times, aspects of one genre will cause the contrary aspects of the other genre to blunt, making one side of the equation the obvious dominant party. While this in no way makes a movie bad, it does keep it from reaching the rarified heights of perfectly balanced perfection that makes someone want to run out and tell everyone to see it.
Considering how, in the less-than-24-hours since I saw you, I have told everyone I’ve met that they have to see you, it should be fairly obvious that you do not suffer from this minor hobbling condition. Rather, you perfectly modulate the seemingly disparate elements of your story – two dovetailing plots that coexist in perfect animosity – so that each narrative edge hones the other, until both are razor-sharp and equally as compelling.
What else to say about you? Or – more aptly – what else can I say about you? There’s a certain level of mystery to your tale, and even if this enigma is discovered beforehand, the broad outline can hardly prepare a viewer for the twists and turns within. This makes it difficult to really explain the finer elements of what makes you so undeniably charming and compulsively watchable; I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the fun.
It’s not just a matter of plot, either. The very genres you so skillfully stitch and weld and otherwise Frankenstein together both depend fairly intrinsically on the element of surprise. Sure, once you’ve seen it and know what is coming there is a certain kind of joy in appreciating the nuance of the build-up and execution. That is tied in with reliving the moment, though, and the moment you want to be remembering is the time you were shocked, caught off-guard beyond all ability to fathom it.
Still, the setup won’t spoil too much, and it allows for an insight into what makes your story work so well. We meet a pair of common-place office folk (the stellar duo of Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) who kill time discussing their home lives and petty office politics. They are jovial and cocky; certain that they can meet the production deadlines their other offices cannot.
Meanwhile, a group of friends prepare for a weekend trip to a lakeside cabin in the mountains. They are archetypical and yet original all at the same time. There are the vague brush strokes of your average slasher victims to these characters, and yet they are nuanced and shaded by real emotions and idiosyncratic touches that flesh them out and surprise you. Chris Hemsworth plays the jock with a friendly, accepting demeanor and a nose for books. Kristen Connolly is sweet and vulnerable, but far from the dowdy innocent one would expect. The best, though, is Fran Kranz, who plays the prototypical stoner with a kind of wit and charm and surprising energy that carries him far beyond the inherent, cliche limitations of the role. He is perceptive, smart, caring, and above all he is funny in a way that moves beyond broad slapstick and into deeper, more personal territory.
Unsurprisingly, I’d have to say that he is the character that most embodies everything that makes you a stellar, joyful piece of cinematic entertainment. He (and you) are self aware but not removed. You never leave the rails and wink at the camera. You know the secrets, but play them better because of that knowledge rather than trying to be more clever than them. The stakes are real, the investments are real, and that makes every moment true and viscerally wonderful to behold.
Going into you I had a vague idea of what I was in for. Your creators, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, have proven their love and intimate understanding of all of the tropes that thrill audiences. They have also proven their ability to capture that narrative DNA and mutate it into something brave and new but elementally faithful. Yet nothing could have prepared me for the seamless melding of their storytelling and these actors’ commitment and skill.
My expectations for you were high. They were bolstered by my knowledge of your pedigree and the advanced word-of-mouth coming from your early screenings. Yet somehow you managed to, within your first few minutes, elevate my expectations even further and then exceed them all the same. You are an intelligent, heartfelt, stirring film, and the fact that you were held from release for years makes me somewhat frustrated and angry. Do we really live in a world where a film like you is looked at with anything other than absolute certainty of its worth?
I hope not, because if that is the truth, then our reality is much more strange and frightening than anything you put forward, which is really is a scary idea.
With barely-restrained enthusiasm,
Brian J. Roan