2012 was a really weird years for movies. After a great year in 2010 where every Oscar movie ended up on my Bluray shelf, and then 2011 where we got at least two great movies a month, 2012 is really a let down. Until April the best movie I’d seen all year was 21 Jump Street. No mistake it is a really good movie, but as a film buff it feels awkward to list a Channing Tatum movie as the best of the year. Then the wonderful Cabin in The Woods came out. Even knowing to be surprised it still threw me for several loops and I was smiling the entire time. It’s almost a pastiche of other scary movies. Name your top 10 horror movies and it either references them and then upstages them and then switches to another sub-genre. But a lot of people who wanted a standard horror movie where disappointed. Here’s why they’re wrong.
1. The Characters
Cabin in The Woods is all about making a movie that pretty much goes back and makes excuses for why most horror movies suck. Usually in a horror movie the characters are cliche, annoying, or stupid doing stuff the audience wouldn’t. Here the characters are labeled as cliches , Stoner, Slut, Jock, Nerd, but they’re given so much personality they feel relatable. The more you like the characters in a horror movie the more tension the scenes bring in. The main complaint people has is the movie isn’t scary. For me it’s scary because I care about the characters and nobody feels safe.
2. The Acting
The entire cast shines here. There’s not a single lead who feels like they’re not pulling their weight. Chris Hemsworth solidifies himself as a leading man given the scenes an added sense of charisma and humanity. Richard Jenkins is hysterical and incredibly sympathetic in his role. The one who completely carries the movie is Fran Kranz as The Stoner. He’s the funniest character and he’s also the avatar for the audience. Embodying the frantic tone of the movie and actually growing as a character as the movie progresses he’s my choice for best supporting actor for this year, aside from Micheal Fassbender in Prometheus, nobody else has this much screen presence in a movie that i’ve seen for a while.
3. The Writing
The screenplay co-written by Joss Wheedon, the director/writer of the Avengers, is probably the best of the year. It works on every level, dialogue, story structure, character development, etc. They even subtly put in references to other horror movies, like Evil Dead, also one of my favorites. The script is flawless and since Joss Wheedon already got nominated for Original Screenplay for Toy Story, I’m hoping this movie also gets The Best Original Screenplay nomination. What really shines is the premise. So many movies take a great premise and then drop the ball. This takes it’s premise throws it through the fourth wall, bends it, and makes it it’s bitch, and then flips it on it’s head. In a very smart move they don’t give the cabin any exposition, but they give a lot of set up. It’s a lot like Inception, just tossing the audience into the movie without explaining anything then letting them slowly digest it. Except this movies from 2009 and is ahead of it’s time. It’s predictable, but in the best sense, letting audience figure out what’s going to happen and rewarding them for doing the work. Nothing happens in the movie that isn’t explained by an earlier scene, and figuring that connection out makes the movie that much more satisfactory. Some people have to have their hand held through the narrative, but for seasoned movie goers they’ll have a vague sense of what’s going to happen building up the anticipation. By the end of the movie you understand fully what’s going on. Just like with Avengers it feels like they just say in a room and said “What if”. Except most directors wouldn’t put those “What if”s in a movie. Not Joss Wheedon. The movie also points at other horror movies and says “here’s where y’all messed up”, explaining why characters do dome stuff in horror movies. First it works as a Cabin horror movie, then as a zombie movie, then as a survival movie, then as a psychological horror movie. It sticks to a sub genre , bodies it, and then keeps going. Also one thing I really love is the script actually makes them seem like they actually go to college instead of the audience being told “They’re from college check out the letterman”. Just a little something I liked.
4. The Monsters
The most inventive thing about this movie is it’s monsters. The main course what everybody came to see. And wow I don’t want to spoil anything, but let me say, for anybody who just wants to see deaths, these are the best. This is has the same amount of any given slasher franchise packed into one movie. It’s really smart and then in the best way it gets really dumb and just gives the audience exactly what it wants. The best part is you’re given forewarning of every creature earlier in the movie, making it more exciting. To give an example there’s a family of zombie rednecks and one of their weapons is a bear trap on a rope they use to swing at people. Every monster in the film feels like it has a backstory. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the ingenuity.
5. The Humor
Now this is where people usually disconnect from the movie. I’ve heard so many times “It’s was a comedy, not a horror movie”. Well no, not really. The comedy comes from the characters and the dialogue. And all the physical jokes are in the deaths. That’s really any horror movie though, especially 90’s horror. I haven’t seen a single horror movie that people liked that didn’t try to be funny. And the comedy makes the characters feel like real people. I don’t even like using the word “comedy” there aren’t any fart jokes or any slipping on a banana peel jokes, it’s jokes you’d make with a friend if you where clever enough. And half the time that shit that’s funny I’m not even supposed sure it was intended that way, it’s just the audience is having such a good time they find reasons to smile. And even as a comedy it’s better than most of them. A comedy essentially needs the same thing as a horror movie. Like able characters , and motivation that makes sense. In that sense it’s a great comedy and is pretty much the funniest movie i’ve seen this year. The humor also helps with the pacing, making scenes that are for narrative set up come more to live. Even compared to the best horror-comedies like Shaun of The Dead and Evil Dead 2, it’s funnier and is more ambitious, and is my favorite horror movie ever.