If you’re trying to avoid spoilers, look elsewhere. Talking about this film is very difficult without giving away some key points. So, consider yourself warned.
A good rule of thumb for low-budget filmmaking is to be wary of any film that announces itself as a cult classic before it even hits the theaters. Remember Grindhouse?
A true cult classic has something sublime that happens despite the intentions of the filmmakers. Evil Dead wasn’t intended to be a cult film; neither was Night of the Living Dead or Braindead (aka Dead Alive). The directors of those films all made a sincere effort to make a movie they thought was fun and honest to fans of the genre, without an overtly self-conscious camp style. Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever teeters on the edge of ridiculousness, but doesn't quite fall to its doom. So, a film like The Cabin in the Woods should cause some anxiety in the learned horror fan.
Producer/writer Joss Whedon and director/writer Drew Goddard wanted to make a horror film they would enjoy, setting out to break away from the trend set in motion by Saw and Hostel. A noble cause for sure, but Joss Whedon is not known for making serious horror films and Drew Goddard wrote Cloverfield. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly are fun, fan favorites, but they mostly flirt with the shadows that scary movies have to embrace. The Cabin in the Woods could very well have been a horror movie for the Twilight crowd. Happily, it is nothing like that.
Much has been made about keeping aspects of the film under wraps, no doubt to generate hype that harkens back to the B-movie glory of William Castle's films. This is a bit of a trick, as there isn’t much in the film that wouldn’t occur to a student of the genre or a smart viewer.
Whedon and Goddard reveal what would’ve been the twist ending in the first moments of the film. The audience knows from the start that out hapless band of college kids are being swept into an arena of some sort, for some dark purpose. Not far into the film, we learn that it might be in everyone’s best interest if all of them are killed in fine horror film fashion. Knowing this, the audience is torn whether to root for the kids or the creatures, and the suspense is enhanced by a special kind of anxiety. This keeps things entertaining and makes the laughs an opportune escape. As much as this film is homage to horror films, it’s not aiming for scares but locked straight on to chuckles.