This super-secret brainchild of screenwriters Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon came shrouded as carefully as Super 8, surrounded by many a dark rumor but giving maddeningly little away. Goddard and Whedon began laying it out during their time working on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. Then, in a blaze of energy, they cobbled the labyrinthine script together in a three-day writing session. After a close call with the bankruptcy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (their original studio), the project nearly became a lost legend. However, Lionsgate swept it up and by all accounts urged the writers to make the film exactly as they wished. Lionsgate has done a lot of good by giving such films a fighting chance, and even when they’ve turned out the odd dog, it seems that Lionsheart has been in the right place. All this took three years, and by the time the movie surfaced, some of the people involved were a lot more famous than they were while shooting this film. Chris Hemworth in particular had been picked up by Marvel for Thor, and was months away from his next Whedon-penned release, The Avengers. Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins, a very big part of this movie’s soul, had bolstered his popularity with strong supporting turns in Burn After Reading and Let Me In (still the best film of 2010, no matter what history says).
The Cabin In The Woods opened to great fanfare and a very polarized reaction. Masquerading as a standard-issue slasher (as the title suggests), it soon goes off the rails into a payoff the audience would never even think of expecting. It pays tribute to the legacy of films like Hellraiser, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween and countless others, mainly by turning the horror genre on its grisly head. This pissed a lot of people off, and to them I can only offer my condolences. For those of us who love the movie (full disclosure), we love it down to its black beating heart. Hopefully our multiple trips to the theater made up for those who warned their friends off the experience. Those sad, sad souls…
Enough. The point is that Goddard and Whedon seem to have a sense of this film’s Blu-Ray target market. This is most evident in the shocking decision to package the disc with a gigantic plot spoiler on the front (NOT pictured above). The lenticular printing on the Blu-Ray sleeve juxtaposes the well-known “cabin as puzzle box” used on the film’s promotional poster with some imagery that newcomers to the movie are not going to want to see beforehand. As appealing a collectible as it seems, this presentational choice practically assumes that everyone in the world has either seen the film by now or has no interest in seeing it. Maybe that really is how the filmmakers and distributors feel about it, but that seems like bad marketing, and is arguably a betrayal of the movie’s spirit.
For those already in the fold, as it were, the acquisition of this disc is an assured and mandatory course of action. The Cabin In The Woods boasts bold colors, minute detail, and rich sound design. The more immersive the viewing experience, the better, which is where Blu-Ray presentation comes in. This is a key factor separating this movie from the slasher classics to which it pays tribute. Many of those films play just as well or better on scratchy VHS tapes or drive-in screens, but despite its murky roots Cabin is very much about being sharp and vivid.
In addition, the special features are substantial without undue overkill. The feature commentary track lays out the history and details of the production. Goddard and Whedon are hot stuff right now, and they clearly know it, but they also periodically catch themselves and apologize for going on about how cool they think their movie is. To be fair, the movie is that cool, and ultimately it is their passion for the film, and not any kind of unmerited self-congratulation, that comes across.
The exuberant spirit of director Goddard and producer Whedon was infectious, it seems, as several short featurettes on the film’s makeup and visual effects demonstrate. On location in the deceptively snowy woods of British Columbia, the crew and cast of Cabin appear to have worked extremely hard but had an unbelievable amount of fun. The most likely effect of this material is that anyone watching it will probably want to go out and make a movie of their own.
The only slight misfire on this disc is a “BonusView” feature in which the movie plays normally, with a miniscule pop-up screen interrupting occasionally to offer insights by the cast and crew about how the movie got made. The information is interesting, but the execution is not so great. The sub-picture is too small, and appears at odd intervals. It would have been better simply to make one more featurette focused on the cast and characters, to supplement all the neato technical profiles. Given the thorough nature of the audio commentary, this gimmick feature seems redundant and underplanned.
All in all, this is a nearly perfect little package for Cabin fans wanting to know every last little bit about how the film came to be. Now they can watch it over and over in unsurpassed quality and at any hour they choose.
For those still on the fence about The Cabin In The Woods, however, this is not the most inviting of video releases. Even after all this time, they don’t print DVDs of Citizen Kane with a burning sled on the cover, or The Usual Suspects with a big arrow pointing to… well, you either know or you don’t. That’s the point, right?
In addition, while Goddard and Whedon’s confidence in how great the film is plays just fine to those already convinced, it will probably sound pompously self-assured to anyone less than enchanted with the movie. On the other hand, it would be nice if more filmmakers were so exuberant and personally invested in their work for its own sake.