New on DVD: The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

For those of you who don’t like horror movies, who have become weary of the usual clichés, here’s some blessed relief.

It’s called The Cabin in the Woods and it is terrific.

And at this late stage it’s almost impossible to come up with an idea so new, so shocking that it grabs audiences the way The Exorcist did nearly 40 years ago. It seems like we’ve seen it all.

When we reach this stage of saturation, what’s needed is a movie that delivers the familiar in an entirely different way. Which is where Cabin in the Woods comes in.

Written by geek god Joss Whedon and his colleague Drew Goddard (a producer on TV’s Lost and Alias and a screenwriter of Cloverfield) and directed by Goddard (it’s his first feature credit in that capacity), Cabin... cleverly turns the usual horror flick cliches inside out, much in the same way that Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II did back in the day.

You’ve got a quintet of typical college students gearing up for a big weekend in the country.

The buff jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth of Thor fame) has a cousin who has recently purchased an old cabin deep in the woods. He recruits his squeeze Dana (Kristen Connolly), her virginal galpal Jules (Anna Hutchison), a hunky brain named Holden (Jesse Williams), and the wisecracking stoner Marty (a scene-stealing Fran Kranz) for two days of sylvan revels.

Their preparations and drive into the forest are observed by Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), who are installed in a high-tech control center filled with TV monitors that allow them to eavesdrop on the partiers’ every move through literally thousands of hidden cameras and microphones.

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Just what are Sitterson and Hadley up to? Our first guess is that they’re producing a reality TV show in which unsuspecting subjects are put into “horror” situations. In any case, these two button-pushers command a huge staff of helpers who bring their scenarios to life.

In this regard the film reminds of The Hunger Games and The Truman Show.

We’re further lulled into thinking that their activities are essentially harmless by the casual approach they take to the job. They make very funny observations about their horny young test subjects and run an office betting pool with a prize going to the employee who best predicts how Curt & Co. will react to the situations thrown at them.

But when a family of hillbilly zombies begin attacking and eviscerating the college kids, it quickly becomes obvious that this is no ordinary reality TV show. In fact, Sitterson and Hadley’s work has roots in ancient superstition, in notions of human sacrifice and ... well, let’s just say that before Cabin in the Woods is over our most fundamental notions of who we are and how the world works have been thrown into question.

And at the same time it dishes great fun through the way it plays with the usual horror clichés.

For a first-time director, Goddard does a solid job — although the screenplay is so clever, amusing, and finally mind-boggling that you’d be hard pressed not to make a decent film out of it.

About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.

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