Coming five months after its theatrical release date, I'd typically pull out the stops and give you a huge spoiler-filled review describing what makes 'The Cabin in the Woods' the best horror movie in over a decade – but I'm not going to do that. This is one of those films that you'll wish you could watch for the first time again, so who am I to spoil this little slice of genius?
Keeping it spoiler-free makes 'The Cabin in the Woods' the hardest movie to review. It's impossible to talk plot without ruining something that is wildly fun to learn in the meticulously thought-out manner in which it's revealed in the film by its geek writers – Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard of 'Buffy' fame. Because of that, I'm going to emphasize how much you should just take the leap of faith and see it, all while glazing over the central storyline in a general manner.
If you've seen the trailer for 'Cabin in the Woods,' you've seen too much. It's fine that you know about the group of college-age kids headed to an 'Evil Dead'-ish cabin in the woods for the weekend. It's fine that you know that something in the woods is trying to kill them. What should not have been shown is everything else. If you haven't seen the trailer, then these next three lines might need a SPOILER ALERT. The strange and unexplained science fictiony images that are shown – elevators, SWAT-esque teams, video monitors, invisible grids – should have been saved for the first-time viewing experience. The way that it's shown in the trailer, this aspect of the film appears to be something that's revealed in the final chapter of the film, but it's actually woven throughout the film in a slow-rolling manner. In fact, the opening sequence of the movie leaves you wondering if you're watching the right movie.END SPOILER.
What 'The Cabin in the Woods' pulls off will forever change the way you look at horror movies – not only those to come, but those that you already know. It sets up a mold that you can apply to 90 percent of the horror movies out there, one that explains exactly why everything stupid happens - why the virgin is the central character, why the group always splits up, why people always trip while being chased, why there's so much nudity in them, and so on. It takes the genre, playfully flips it on its head, and shows you horror like you've never seen it before.
The trailers didn't hint to it at all, but 'The Cabin in the Woods' is hilarious, definitely falling into the horror comedy sub-genre. I laughed more during 'The Cabin in the Woods' than I did collectively through Adam Sandler's last ten movies. But don't mistake this as pure comedy, because it's also full of terror and gore. It's surprising to see what Whedon and Goddard were able to get away with – not as in R-rated content, but in story content. Just when it feels like the movie is coming to an end, a wild and unrestrained final act begins that is completely out of control. I don't know which studio exec thought, 'Hey, this might be a good idea,' and gave the film a green light, but I'm sure glad they had the courage to try something this amazing!
Made on an estimated budget of $30 million, the worldwide $65.9 million box office draw of 'The Cabin in the Woods' wasn't too great - but that doesn't matter. For those who love horror, it's an instant cult classic. And for those who don't much care for the genre, it's a very pleasant surprise. I brought a plus-one to the press screening back in April who despises all horror movies – and he loved 'The Cabin in the Woods.' In fact, he found it so intelligent and entertaining that he rounded up a group of friends and took them to a showing on opening weekend. Don't believe in general audience opinion? Then look at the critics. With 197 reviews, 'The Cabin in the Woods' is currently sitting pretty at 90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Those who heed the acclaim of general audiences or critics will be very, very glad they did.
Being a fan of the film, the packaging of 'The Cabin in the Woods' is absolutely brilliant, but it might not seem so cool if you haven't yet seen the film. The slipcase features a lenticular cover that shows the standard poster artwork of the "Rubik's Cabin" at one angle and a spoilery image at another angle. Click here at your own risk to see the spoilery artwork.
The Region A-locked BD-50 comes in a single-disc Elite blue keepcase. Included is a code that unlocks either a Digital Copy or an Ultraviolet copy. My PS3's software was up-to-date when I popped in the disc, but it recommended that I install an update from the disc. It took less than 20 seconds to complete, after which the slew of skippable videos played – a Lionsgate vanity reel; a commentary disclaimer; trailers for 'The Possession,' 'The Last Exorcism,' 'Cabin Fever' and 'My Bloody Valentine 3D;' and commercials for EPIX and Fear Net TV.
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode of 'The Cabin in the Woods' is presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ration.
When 'The Cabin in the Woods' begins, the lighting design is mostly bright. We get daytime shots that reveal a high amount of detail. Our fivesome stops at a run-down gas station to top off their camper's gas tank just before arriving at the cabin. In typical horror fashion, a creepy hillbilly tenant comes out of nowhere to freak out the kids. Every single detail of his stubbly weathered face is completely visible. The color during these scenes is brilliant. Primaries are bold, vibrant and vivid – but then the darkness sets in.
As the film progresses, it gets darker in both tone and design. In the process, the high concentration of detailed shots decreases. They don't disappear entirely, but the overall image becomes noticeably softer. It's in this darkening design that the compression problems arise.
During the opening credits sequence, one of the reflective bloody artwork pools features minor bands. Considering the strong bright video that followed the opening sequence, I believed that one opening instance was just a fluke, but as the darkness rolled in, so did the frequency of various compression flaws. We get a few instances of aliasing, some noisy shots in the artifact-filled room in the basement (but luckily it's not the sort of digital noise that flashes in dark areas of the screen, but in the small dimly visible portions of the screen), black crushing, bands and halos. These flaws aren't abundant, but they're eye-catching whenever they do appear.
When a smaller studio like Lionsgate gives a little film like 'The Cabin in the Woods' a hearty 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, it makes me wonder why 7.1 isn't a Blu-ray standard.
From the opening Lionsgate vanity reel, this huge mix shows its true colors. As we see the red-hued Lionsgate gears, we are submersed in that world through fantastic mixing. Gears clink all around and seamless imaging is shown off as we pass backward through the keyhole. This engaging style is present throughout the majority of the film.
When we meet our college-age fivesome, the soundtrack reflects that of any other horror movie, with obligatory generic pop rock. Like the vanity reel, the music is dynamically mixed throughout the channels. Bass is also well-applied. When they begin their road trip, rumbling bassy tones from the campers engine can be heard. Each channel carries it's own unique sound, causing the track to come to life. SPOILER ALERT! One scene features a 'Matrix'-esque lobby shoot-out. As the bullets fly, you'll hear exactly where every one of them comes from and where it lands.END SPOLER.
My only complaint with the mix is that it isn't as active as it could be; it plays out passively. What you hear is very well mixed and completely clear, but there could definitely be more sound applied. Some scenes are rich and deep in effects, while some tend to feature the bare minimum, only warranting sounds in accord with what we see on screen – not what's going on in this environment.
Fan of the horror genre or not, 'The Cabin in the Woods' should be on your Must-See list. Not only is it a brilliant horror flick, but it's a brilliant film in general. Think of how audiences walked out of 'Inception' saying, "I've never seen anything like that before," and that's what you're going to experience after seeing 'The Cabin in the Woods.' Moviegoers who didn't like the science fiction or action genres refreshingly walked away from 'Inception' with their minds blown. 'The Cabin in the Woods' does the same. The Blu-ray is very good, but it could be better. Nobody wanted to see this disc feature perfect video quality more than me, so imagine my disappointment to see it contain nearly every variation of compression flaw. They randomly pop up here and there through the second and third acts. Had it not been for them, the video would be damn near demo-worthy like the 7.1 lossless audio mix. All of the special features from the DVD version and more fill this disc to the brim. And the cherry on top is a magnificent lenticular glued to the cardboard slipcase – a brilliant package for a brilliant film. Now that it's readily available for home viewing, take the leap of faith and give it a chance. What do you have to lose? Nitpicks or not, this Blu-ray is highly recommended.