(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Drew Goddard directs a film he wrote with Joss Whedon and takes the viewer over a lot of very strange territory even for horror films. While the film is funny and frequently at the same time scary, it also looks at what makes horror films work before it dumps the viewer on the doorstep to one of the great master horror writers (who shall remain nameless). The American horror film has been impoverished for ideas for decades now, but this is a fabulously creative horror film which takes a lot of pieces that should not fit together and forces them into a whole with a high energy plot that binds them together. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Spoiler warning: I do not think I gave away anything that should bother a viewer, but this is a film that it is best to see knowing as little as possible of what is to come.

Hiding behind a lackluster title, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is an audacious, intelligent, and gutsy horror film. It raises a whole lot of questions. If it is a standard teen horror film of five college students facing angry spirits in the woods, why are there technicians secretly tracking the proceedings? Are the returning dead of the forest real or man-made or both? Who is pulling the strings for all that is happening?

I like the kind of mystery that does not ask a question like "Who is the murderer?" but instead asks, "What the heck is going on here?" Rarely does a film that asks that question provide such a fantastic answer. We are given two plot lines that seem to have absolutely nothing to do with each other. In one plot, five college students are going for a weekend in a mysterious cabin out in the woods. They want and expect to do some serious partying. But there are strange things happening in the house. This sounds a whole lot like THE EVIL DEAD. But we keep cutting away to some sort of technical control facility that could be launching a missile, except for the fact that they seem to be looking at television displays of what is happening at the kids' party in the cabin. The cabin visit seems to be secretly controlled by a clandestine high-tech project. And that is not all. Another team in Japan seems to be following and controlling a scene that looks like it was borrowed from THE RING. Why? What are the experimenters looking for? What the heck is going on here? Why would someone want to use high-tech to put people through situations from horror films?

In the early parts of the film THE CABIN IN THE WOODS seems like a cross between THE EVIL DEAD and THE TRUMAN SHOW. When people start getting killed and the technicians at Mission Control seem to be cheering it as some sort of success, the mystery only deepens. Most of what I tell you here might be the conclusion of some horror film. That would be strange enough. In this film you know all this from the very start. The real question is what is the connection.

This is co-writer and director Drew Goddard's first attempt to direct, but he has written and was a major creative force for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "Angel", "Alias", CLOVERFIELD, and "Lost". Co-writer and producer (and second unit director) Joss Whedon is one of the most creative talents in film and television these days. This may be the most creative American horror film in decades. While telling its own horror and science fiction story, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS also looks at what makes a horror film tick and perhaps some of the mythic similarities and the basis of what scare us. It can function perfectly well at one level while examining itself and other horror stories from another level. Not just a surprise package, it is a package full of surprises. I rate THE CABIN IN THE WOODS a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper