Horror-comedy Cabin in the Woods is not your typical gorefest
ity the poor person who walks into Cabin in the Woods believing that they are getting a straight horror film. The film, directed by Drew Goddard and co-written by fan favourite Joss Whedon, is so much more than that. It occupies that space between comedy and horror that is so difficult to straddle.
It’s hard to say too much about the plot of Cabin in the Woods without giving away some of the best moments of the film. But right from the first beat it becomes clear that this is not a typical slasher film.
Below the cabin, a group of scientists and government bureaucrats are deeply concerned with the fates of the group in the woods. It’s from here that most of the comedic moments are generated— the two bureaucrats, played by character actor stalwarts Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford— do their best to off the characters upstairs in creative ways while acting very much like a horror movie audience.
Horror-comedy is a tricky thing to pull off. Go too far overboard into camp and you end up with schlocky messes that don’t work as a horror film or a comedy. But if a filmmaker goes too far into horror, the comedic moments don’t work either. Horror is after all horrifying for a reason; we’re dealing with human suffering. Comedy at the wrong moments just serves to make light of the pain on screen.
Cabin in the Woods works because in truth it is a careful deconstruction of the horror genre. It takes all the familiar stereotypes— the ditzy blonde, the stoner, the virginal last girl— and twists them so that we can see how prevalent they are in the genre.
Many of the best horror–comedies do exactly the same; Evil Dead II, directed by Sam Raimi, is probably the best known. While not a deconstruction, it is certainly an homage to some of the best thrills that we can get in horror, while at the same time being so startlingly original that it in many ways set the standard for films that followed (Cabin in the Woods setting is definitely owed to the Evil Dead series).
Shaun of the Dead, however, is the closest contemporary partner to Cabin in the Woods. What both films do successfully is take what we most love about horror films— zombies in the former, horror in the latter— and puts a satirical spin on it while at the same time never loosing respect for the original source material. It’s a tough trick to pull off, but Cabin in the Woods neatly pulls it off.