Like a phoenix, every few years the horror genre requires a complete strip down and reboot. The category too frequently falls prey to monotony, employing the same tropes repeatedly. Characters are stereotypes, predictable scenarios abound, and the villain is somehow near-immortal. Wes Craven spectacularly lampooned this phenomenon with his horror-comedy series “Scream.” However, as “Scream” began in the 90’s, and was followed by a string of sequels, it was bound for an update. That came in 2012 as “The Cabin in the Woods,” an enchantingly clever, self-aware comedy ripe with references to the horror genre.
“The Cabin in the Woods” opens with technicians Gary Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Steve Hadley (Bradley Whitford) in a lab, talking about a ritual. We then meet a group of college kids on their way to a vacation in a cabin, which (you guessed it) is nestled in the woods. There’s Dana Polk (Kristen Connolly), the resident good girl. Marty Mikalski (Fran Kranz) plays the obligatory stoner. Curt Vaughn (Chris Hemsworth) is the group’s resident jock. We have Holden McCrea (Jesse Williams) representing the nerds, and finally Jules Louden (Anna Hutchinson), the promiscuous one.
It’s difficult to describe the plot of “The Cabin in the Woods” without spoilers, so we’ll instead concentrate on why the film is so spectacular. Like “Scream,” it parodies the horror genre perfectly. Let’s be honest, although there are plenty of awesome horror flicks, there are at least twice as many stale imitations. “The Cabin in the Woods” acknowledges the formula, with a familiar set up. A group of college student caricatures representing different factions band together to battle a supernatural force. It’s very meta, and elicits a ton of laughs as we’re well accustomed with the set up.
However where the film really shines is in its ability to mock, while surprising and serving as a tribute. While certain aspects are definitely intended as a horror mad-libs, where we know exactly what’s about to happen, there are several unforeseen happenings, including a major plotline. Furthermore, “The Cabin in the Woods” sought not only to criticize our fascination with gore fests, but also to pay homage to classic genre flicks: there are obvious “The Evil Dead” references, as well as recognizable “Hellraiser” tidbits, a nod to “The Ring,” and even “The Shining.” Watch the movie several times and maybe you’ll pick up on half of the shoutouts. It’s this ability to simultaneously question, and celebrate, out obsession with horror flicks that establishes “The Cabin in the Woods” as an utter masterpiece and revitalization of the genre we love so dearly.