‘Cabin in the Woods’: The Most Crowd-Pleasing Movie of All Time?

CITWTonight, the long-gesting horror creation from Buffy, Firefly and Avengers mastermind Joss Whedon and LOST, Cloverfield and Spielberg’s upcoming Robopocalypse writer Drew Goddard, The Cabin in the Woods, was unleashed into the world, premiering to the excitable, mouth-frothing crowds of South by Southwest. There’s reason why the anticipation was so high: Cabin in the Woods has been sitting on a shelf, collecting dust for a few years, after MGM went bankrupt and there wasn’t anyone to put the thing out.

Now, finally, the movie is hitting the circuit, playing at the highly-regarded film festival before making its way to theaters April 13. Was it worth the wait? Simply put: ab-so-lutely.

Cabin in the Woods has a ton of twists and turns, so being a month out, know this report is only a highlight reel—no spoilers, no details, just reactions.

The Movie Isn’t Remotely Close to a Run-of-the-Mill Slasher Movie

A few minutes after the end credits on the movie rolled out, I tweeted out my gut-reaction, to which I’ll stick by: The Cabin in the Woods is one of the most crowd-pleasing movies I’ve ever seen. This was hard for a few of my followers to digest. For the most part, the trailers for The Cabin in the Woods have painted a straight-forward picture of the film’s plot: four twenty-somethings head to the woods where they are subsequently murdered by mysterious…whatevers. Been there, done that. But what hides behind The Cabin in the Woods‘s obvious exterior can’t be sold to people. The movie, from beginning to end, is the pure definition of spoiler territory and every reveal, every genre in-joke, every escalating I-can’t-believe-this-is-actually-happening moment pays off. Big laughs, big scares and everything in-between.

If you pick apart the trailer, you start to get a sense of what the bigger picture of The Cabin in the Woods may be, but even then, you don’t actually know. The movie preys on every convention you’ve seen again and again and again in a horror movie, while still presenting four human characters you get to know and love. That’s an achievement, one that unfortunately must go unspoken in standard marketing materials.

Chris Hemsworth Proves Himself a Star

The Cabin in the Woods was shot before Hemsworth broke out in last summer’s Thor, but even in the wake of that gargantuan superhero blockbuster, I’m not sure I was sold on Hemsworth as a leading man (for anything but a bad guy-smashing God of Thunder, anyway). Surprisingly, Cabin in the Woods is the movie that shows off Hemsworth’s real range. In the movie he plays Curt, a normal chum who progressively becomes more and more like the machismo-driven frat guy we’re all used to seeing. He pulls off a difficult task—make the guy likable and real in the beginning, then spoof the heck out of him at the end. It’s oddball, for sure, but Hemsworth understands comedy. Specifically, the type on display in Cabin in the Woods.

And his lesser-known co-stars shine just as brightly. Fran Kranz, a holdover from Whedon’s Dollhouse nails the spaced out stoner nerd. Anna Hutchison and Kristen Connolly play the group’s female half, the latter making an excellent ingenue-type who gets to show her strong side when the curtain is pulled back on the movie’s real surprises. Aside from his deviations in plot, Cabin in the Woods stands out from other horror movies simply for having great performances.

CITWBradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins Get Their Due

Speaking of great performances, a brief shout-out to two actors who you barely see in the trailer. Partially because they’re not as marketable to the younger demographic, but mostly because they’re the foundation of the undercurrent that runs under Cabin in the Woods. Yes, this is a total tease, but knowing more about Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins’ specific roles lets the cat out of the bag—even though they’re our introduction to the world of Cabin in the Woods. These two funnymen (Whitford was a staple of West Wing, while Jenkins cracked me up in Step Brothers), deliver on the humanity and the laughs in this wild, weird flick, and proving no one should be underestimated based on age.

Drew Goddard, Joss Whedon Don’t Lose Their Style

The fear of a movie going away for so many years is that, what may have been a innovative, genre-mashing movie could end up a marketing nightmare, hacked to bits in its final product form. Thankfully, the two creative minds behind Cabin in the Woods appear to have had all their wishes granted. Goddard brings all the mind-bending insanity on display in LOST and Cloverfield to his passion project, while Whedon’s influences are felt in the characters dialogue and interaction. There’s a love for horror movies that runs through the veins of Cabin in the Woods, a movie that spends an equal amount of time questioning why we watch these disturbing, gory movies as it does glorifying their oddities. Goddard has called Cabin a film about escalation and that’s a perfect description. From minute one, the movie builds and builds and builds, throwing every last idea into its mixing bowl with perfect reason, all culminating in an epic crescendo. Tantilizing enough?

Cabin in the Woods is a bizarre, wild ride, but succeeds in being as insane as it aims to be by juxtaposing its crazed action with the most mundane aspects of life. Goddard and Whedon find the same comedic edge that have helped shows like The Office and Parks and Recreaction thrive, all while doing it with the horror lore they so obviously love. That combination works 99%—with all the clever hijinks, one or two contain holes in logic—but by the end, the high of excitement is so great, picking the movie apart won’t come to mind. If you’re a horror fan or someone who wouldn’t touch a horror movie with a ten-foot pole, Cabin in the Woods will still entertain, and, maybe, make you a little scared to go out in the woods alone.