In many ways, writer Joss Whedon’s first act pulls viewers from the crux of the story through confusion. The opening shot features two office workers, played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, casually discussing their daily lives. The intersection comes from a group of five teenagers who run through the motions of a slasher flick.
The teen story is generic. Sex and drugs reign as they travel into the woods for a weekend outing at the lake. It’s their cabin that holds the secret, and the creepified wooded surroundings are prime for murder. Until you know what Cabin in the Woods is doing, it’s a stream of worn cliches. Then it hits you over the head, pieces come together, and Cabin in the Woods executes a glorious finale that is as ingenious as the set up.
Whedon’s script is genuinely dark and morbid
Whedon’s script is genuinely dark and morbid
The stretches of dialogue are unwinnable for a horror audience, and actors play to type. The kicker is they have to, and on a second watch, the material clicks. That’s a warning not to take Cabin at face value. It merely sticks with the status quo – again, on purpose – to land an epic ending. Whedon’s script is divergent, not as snappy in the cabin, but genuinely dark and morbid. This is a blend of everything the horror genre is built for, from every departure of the core teen slasher concept to the foreign style of massacre. They all exist in some capacity within Cabin’s core idea, even if it’s only in glances.
You can take the material a few different ways, maybe as a straight up, standalone story, or possibly a homage of film’s past. Arguably the best way to digest Cabin in the Woods is to consider this an explanation. With Cabin’s concept in mind, viewing iconic genre films takes on new meaning. Jason Vorhees slashes campers with renewed purpose, and Freddy torments not only to kill, but act a depraved savior. Deeper still, Cabin in the Woods spins a yarn of religious pacification, where fear in the afterlife leads to an unlikely sociological ritual, based in man made horrors of the ’80s. A generation’s nostalgia, retrofitted, and now for keeps.
Surely, the proposal made by Cabin in the Woods has an alternate solution, and one that would cost less, but in the end be a lot less fun. The film leaves the audience with questions, yet the right ones. The crux of the concept is spilled out over 90-minutes with minimal misdirection, and scores on repeat viewings.
Video (4K UHD)
By its nature as a spin-off of the dark, brooding ’80s horror cycle, Cabin in the Woods restricts the available range. Black levels earn their keep here, along with shadow detail. Dolby Vision supports keeps the intensely restricted lighting appearing natural. By its nature, Cabin in the Woods lacks knockout power, although the few highlights do express some richness.
Dimmer color maintains a cooler palette with pleasing flesh tones. Even in those darker tunnels, some saturation remains. Deep bloody reds fill the third act. Those look great.
Lionsgate’s encode handles hearty grain. Banding on the Blu-ray is a memory, as is the over processed appearance. Cabin in the Woods transfers from film and a 2K master with apparent ease. Behind the grain is precise, pleasing detail. Close-ups produce pure, well rendered definition, even in the low light Cabin in the Woods prefers.
Cabin in the Woods does not offer a positive opening impression. As Jenkins and Whitford stand around the cooler, halos are immediately evident. Thick grain feels elevated due to the “help” provided by the appearance of light sharpening. Lionsgate’s encode, speaking generally, keeps the feel of a film stock aside from some banding in the third act.
Maybe the sharpening, however minimal it is, exists because the photography is so jumpy. Focus is in constant flux, and low light interiors struggle to produce noticeable resolution. Imaging is flat, both in terms of texture and mediocre black levels that will equally run the gamut. If Cabin was looking for murky imagery, we have a winner on all counts.
When under light, either in the subterranean area or on the day of travel, Cabin carries a chill in its palette with dense primaries. Flesh tones play to the modern era of film with a blazing orange tones that no human in reality could have, while having little offending effect on the scenery. For the limited time the forest is in play during the day, greens are rich.
Cabin’s overall visual attribute is that it exists. Rarely will it produce anything striking, but it remains clean. Scattered effects and green screens fail to induce bouts of noise, and close-ups – when performing on the high end – do maintain some integrity. Consistency matters, and it’s almost alarming how little this source material offers.
This is a destroyer disc, and by that, it means the LFE can and will eat your home whole given the chance. At nine minutes, a full computer system is turned on and the hum of electricity is simply awesome. It’s tight, grinding, and room shaking. Yet, it’s not even the peak.
Bass will explode in the closing moments at the core of the film’s narrative, a throbbing, blistering production of low-end intensity that can shake anything. It continues during a facility collapse, all aided by a generous helping of surround activity. When among action, this Dolby Atmos (DTS-HD on the Blu-ray) mix will prove divine, with superb tracking that utilize the additional speakers of a 7.1 set up.
Cabin’s mixing enjoys the minor moments too, from an echo as characters yell over a canyon, a trickling of water in a basement, or someone pounding on the door. A score will rise up to fill dead zones as need be, making this a complete package, even if the bass is the overwhelming element to succeed.
It’s Not What You Think opens the door to bonus features, a pop-up mode with plentiful information from the Whedon camp on how the film came together. Is that not enough? How about a commentary with director Drew Goddard and Whedon?
From there begin featurettes, well produced and edited beginning with We Are Not Who We Are, a half-hour making of taking the charge on a variety of topics. The Secret, Secret Stash has two parts (13:07 total), one being a set tour, the other on rolling joints. It’s technical.
An Army of Nightmares is focused on physical make-up and animatronic designs, plus the insistence on using them whenever possible. Primal Terror is concerned with everything else that wasn’t done on set. A half hour Q&A from Wonder Con has Whedon and Goddard chatting with fans. Lionsgate stuffs a few trailers onto the disc before calling it quits.