Top 10 Films of 2012: The Cabin In The Woods

Feature Sarah Dobbs 27 Dec 2012 - 13:41

Postmodern horror The Cabin In The Woods is at number five in our films of 2012 list. Here, Sarah explains why it's so unique...

We're into the top five now, as we count down our writers' favourite films of the year. In fifth place then is a film that was actually shot right back in 2009, and one we feared we'd never get to see on the big screen. We're glad we did...

5th place:

The Cabin In The Woods

It’s hard to imagine a more generic horror title than The Cabin In The Woods. And, on paper, it doesn’t sound like a very promising film either: it’s a postmodern horror movie by a first-time director, starring a bunch of vaguely familiar TV actors. But in spite of all that, The Cabin In The Woods was one of 2012’s most exhilarating movies – a true original.

Let’s get the Joss Whedon thing out of the way first. Whedon co-wrote the movie with Drew Goddard, whom he’d previously worked with on Buffy and Angel, and who also wrote the script for the found-footage monster movie Cloverfield. Whedon’s fingerprints are all over The Cabin In The Woods; you can see his influence everywhere, from the casting choices to the snappy dialogue and the genre-defying playfulness of the movie’s tone.

But it’s not entirely Whedon’s movie, not least because he didn’t direct it – and even if he had, that wouldn’t necessarily have guaranteed its success. It feels strange to look back, now, to a time before The Avengers; a time before Joss Whedon’s name meant box office gold. But prior to this summer, Whedon hadn’t really proved himself on the big screen. He’d only directed one film, and though the Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV series had been a cultural phenomenon a few years earlier, his more recent projects hadn’t set the world alight. Labelling The Cabin In The Woods a 'Joss Whedon movie' and leaving it at that, as though that explains everything about why it attracted so much critical and fan adoration, isn’t really fair or accurate. He’s part of its success, definitely, but it’s not all down to him.

For one thing, it’d probably be a lot less gory if it had been. One of the most enjoyable things about the film is the way it balances its horror and comedy, and things do eventually get very, very bloody in a way Whedon doesn’t usually seem comfortable with. Goddard, on the other hand, is clearly a horror lover, and doesn’t shy away from throwing in some nastiness (and blood) when it’s needed. Goddard also brings a clear enthusiasm and affection for horror movies to the film, too, which keeps the film from feeling too snarky.

Because while it’s perfectly enjoyable as a straightforward movie about some kids who go to a cabin in the woods and discover something horrible, it’s also a deliciously barbed deconstruction of the horror genre as a whole. It’s incredibly well observed, and horror fans will enjoy seeing so many well-established tropes being set up, but the real fun is in the way that The Cabin In The Woods takes them all apart again. It borrows liberally from other horror movies, but in a knowing way, and it has a point to make – it wants us to re-examine our relationship with the genre (though not without having fun first). It’s not joyless or academic about it; it’s just that, well, The Cabin In The Woods wonders if horror movies could be different. Better. Lovingly, it suggests that horror serves a purpose in the world, and that maybe, well, maybe horror fans deserve better.

It’s obvious that a lot of love went into the making of this movie. Enthusiasm radiates off the screen, and it’s clear that everyone’s having fun – which is for the best, considering what a hassle it must have been to get some of the scenes to work. (Without spoiling the plot too much, the special effects team probably deserve an award or ten.)

It’s quite a small movie, with an estimated production budget of about $30 million-ish, but it does a hell of a lot with it. You won’t want to blink at any point in the film, but particularly not towards the end, for fear of missing something amazing. It’s definitely a film that rewards multiple viewings – both for the sheer spectacle of it, and to appreciate just how brilliantly and concisely plotted it is.

Plus, despite everything else that’s going on in The Cabin In The Woods, it does a really good job of creating a set of characters you can’t help but care about. Making you root for its characters is one of the toughest challenges any horror movie faces, because you know most of them will die at some point, and that they’ll probably make some really bad decisions along the way, but The Cabin In The Woods makes it look easy – both through the clever writing and through the fantastic performance of, well, the entire cast. There’s not a single character who doesn’t seem to have some kind of inner life, not a single stereotype left un-fleshed out.

So, okay, it might not have made the kind of money that The Avengers did. But for a movie that almost didn’t get released at all, thanks to the collapse of MGM, it did more than did alright for itself, grossing more than $66 million worldwide and scoring a remarkable 91 per cent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (Which, considering how critically reviled most horror movies are, is one hell of an achievement.)

It’ll be interesting to see what The Cabin In The Woods’ legacy will be. Usually, when a horror movie is successful, it inspires a slew of copycats – remember when every movie wanted to be Scream, until they wanted to be The Blair Witch Project? More recently, Saw helped launch a whole BBFC-bothering wave of torture porn, before Paranormal Activity rejuvenated the found-footage conceit. But The Cabin In The Woods probably won’t be influential in the same way. It’s hard to imagine other filmmakers trying to make a straight copy of it - but hopefully they were taking notes, because The Cabin In The Woods felt like it was issuing a challenge.

Making cookie cutter movies about kids going out to the woods to get murdered just won’t be good enough anymore. The Cabin In The Woods may have been a love letter to the horror genre, but it was also a much-needed kick in the arse.

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I remember it late 2011 someone wrote an early review of Cabin with the opening line
'do not read anything about this film, don't even watch the trailer, just know its amazing' and with that, the first I seen of it was the night I sat down to watch it in the cinema and by God I was impressed.
If I had one issue tho, its that it doesn't quite stand up as well on repeat viewings.

It started off well but by the final act it just felt like a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode.

Is That a bad thing?

Excellent film. Interesting you say that Joss mightn't have been so responsible for the gore - not sure about that. The beartrap as a weapon was his idea, and after all he was the man who wrote Alien: Resurrection, which was particularly gross...

I'd like to think that horror films will learn from Cabin in the Woods, but they didn't learn anything from Scream - horror films were back to the same old, same old practically straight away.

When I saw this film for the first time I absolutely loved it. Not so much the second or third times

Felt a bit like a massive in joke to me. I wanted to love it but the dialogue completely ruined it. It was a twist from the normal american horror flick but most of those fall down because none of the characters are in the remotest bit sympathetic and this was no exception for me.

I completely agree.

I must be into double figures with how many times I have seen this already. As a horror fan, this is an absolute dream. It's Scream for the new millennium.

Cabin in the woods...

I went into the cinema pretty much blind on this film, I'd read a review with the now highly repeated "don't watch the trailer, just go etc" line

And I thought it was unbelievably fantastic!!

Quite possibly my film of the year.

Humour levels are spot on. The film isn't overly scary but I don't think that the film was trying to be.

The last act of the film was pretty mind blowing and excellently executed.

I got given the Visual companion book & novelization for Christmas. I haven't been able to put either down and would recommend both.

Inc. in the visual companion is the original screenplay. I am glad that the changes that were made in the film were made as a few of the original lines and scenes wouldn't have fitted.

I've been reading some of the comments and I feel that the few reviews that I read, were very respectful of how the plot works best when you don't know what's coming. I read two reviews and stopped reading anymore because I didn't want anything ruined.

Yes great movie and anyone who doesn't "get it" probably has an IQ south of 90.

Oh dear... it was watchable until the end when it became a joke. Best movie of 2012, I was thinking worst to be honest.

Shows how much society will praise mediocrity when the Den considers this the best movie of 2012. Dredd was better than this, And what about Prometheus? The Den have been praising that for years, even though I personally thought it was dreadful. I would have thought the Den would have put Prom far above this sub-par teen slasher flick.

It was bad. We got it, not like there was much to get. I bet you also think Steven Moffat's a genius, don't you?

In other words, you didn't like it, therefore no-one else should either? What a load of prententious b*llocks. Accept the fact that not all opinions are the same as yours.

Good grief - you really do love think very highly of yourself don't you Underdog?

Thats just it, it was a great movie, until the final 10 minutes. It seemed like they didn't know how to end it, so they did it the way they did. I would rather have had the girl actually kill the weed smoker and actually save the world, which would have been totally unexpected.

(spoiler alert) I'm sorry but how has this even got anywhere near a "top 10" list? It's a truly awful film and i really regretted spending nearly two hours of my life watching it. I got duped into watching it after all the hype it got from so called 'critics'. The whole sacrificing the teenagers for a god story line was just plain silly, really sending a ‘ Cliche’ zombie in to kill the kiddies. Please!! The concept isn't that original and it has far too many horror Clichés for my liking. Please if you have any taste in good movies avoid this one like the plague and spend 2 hours of your life doing something worthwhile.

A friend of mine disliked this film partly because he doesn't like it when films make you care for characters so much and then kill them off (I had to force him to keep watching after *SPOILER* Marty's close encounter with Judah Buckner). Demonstrates quite how well the whole thing works at poking fun at its target audience. Beyond clever. And I don't like horror at ALL.

Well there's no accounting fir BAD taste, not these days. If you are happy to consider mediocrity the best thing ever, that's your call. However I am more discerning of my entertainment, and crappy sub-par slasher flicks passing themselves off as pretentious reinventions of horror just don't do it for me.

As opposed to the people who think they are genius because they "get this" dreadful film?

Firstly, I never said it was the best thing ever. Second - it's only your opinion that's it's a mediocre film and yet you seem to think those who do like it a lot to have bad taste - if you don't like it, then don't watch it again - and by all means say why you didn't like it - but you can't pass yourself off as a better person than those who enjoy something you don't - it just doesn't wash as an argument.

Nope - just saying that you think highly of yourself. That's bad enough - I don't think I need to compare you to anything or anyone for that to be clear.

Sorry but I missed the part where you assumed I'm either A, Ridley Scott, or B, Steven Moffat:)

Which character did he care about? The Shaggy rip-off generic know it all pot-head? Or the vacuous blonde?

That will be because I didn't say that. I was talking about you and you alone, without irony or smiley faces.

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