Syfy Insider Exclusive

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive videos, sweepstakes, and more!

Sign Up For Free to View

The Cabin in the Woods Is Still One of the Best Movie Blends of Comedy and Horror

Chris Hemsworth leads a cast of college co-eds toward their (totally inevitable!) doom.

By Benjamin Bullard
Curt Vaughan (Chris Hemsworth) appears bloodied in Cabin in the Woods (2012).

Blithe college kids pile into a vehicle and head into the wild for a little unsupervised (and debauched) R&R — is there anything in horror more trope-y than that? The Cabin in the Woods (streaming here on Peacock) doesn’t think so, throwing every type of terror-movie cliché into a blood-soaked grab bag of high-concept silliness for a genre sendup that remains, more than a decade on from its theatrical release, more entertainingly funny than scary.

Directed by Daredevil TV creator (and veteran Buffy the Vampire Slayer writer) Drew Goddard and written by Goddard (and also Buffy TV creator) Joss Whedon, The Cabin in the Woods owes a small debt to previous “cabin”-based stranded-teen horror movies, perhaps most notably Eli Roth’s 2001 quiet horror-comedy classic Cabin Fever. But tropes that pepper the entire horror universe all are fair game in this movie’s absurdist premise: These kids have to die, because the gods of horror (and of the whole of reality) simply demand that kind of silly sacrifice.

For More Horror:
What Happens if You Call the Number from the Chucky Season 3 Finale?
How The Cabin in the Woods Was Inspired By the Manhattan Project
The 13 Best Horror Movies on Peacock for May 2024

The Hunger Games of horror? How The Cabin in the Woods plays with fate

The Cabin in the Woods wasn’t meant to be just any horror movie, a fact that’s easily ratified by a single glance at its casting sheet. Even in 2011, leading lad Chris Hemsworth (upbeat college kid Curt) was already an A-list name, thanks to his concurrent 2011 entry into the MCU as the the first Thor movie’s titular Asgardian hero. Riding shotgun was Curt’s happily ditzy girlfriend Jules (future Anger Management star Anna Hutchinson), with Grey’s Anatomy alum Jesse Williams playing sensitive hunk-scholar Holden — a classy guy who respectfully rebuffs his buddies’ libidinous efforts to hook him up with group good-girl Dana (House of Cards’ Kristen Connolly).

Right down to Dana’s presumptive status as the group’s resident virgin, that quartet makes for a conventional enough assembly for a teen slasher flick. But The Cabin in the Woods’ real casting fun happens at the edges. Fran Kranz (who starred in Whedon’s sci-fi series Dollhouse) almost steals the whole show as viewers’ intuitive cipher for all that’s wrong with Cabin’s sinister behind-scenes setup, playing a sort of lovable fifth wheel (and total savant stoner) who goads the rest of the gang into avoiding all the predictable horror pitfalls (like “we should split up!”) that mar the fates of so many other scary-movie victims.

Jules Louden (Anna Hutchinson) kisses a taxidermy wolf in Cabin in the Woods (2012).

Alongside Kranz, Cabin’s other two big casting scores give the movie tons of its clever comedic energy, while also giving viewers the real lowdown about about makes this particular horror flick so different from all the rest. Bunkered deep beneath the Earth in a secret sci-fi facility that voyeuristically choreographs the kids’ every nightmare like a pair of Hunger Games (or maybe The Truman Show) string-pullers, do-everything actors Bradley Whitford (The West Wing, Get Out) and Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under, The Shape of Water) are there not just to be funny, but to show viewers what Goddard and Whedon are really up to with this weird sendup of terror tropes.

What is that, you ask? Why, it’s nothing less than staging the gruesome deaths of these five teenaged idiots as a sort of Eldritch ritual sacrifice, a ceremonial propitiation of the hidden old horror gods who demand their annual ounce of blood in exchange for not unleashing every horror-movie stereotype fright onto the wider world. Whitford and Jenkins are great as a pair of tech-y lab operators who cajole their white-coated underground staff into scripting the kids’ terror experience toward its optimal finale (which naturally involves killing off Dana’s final-girl virgin character last of all).

A monster chases someone on a dock in Cabin in the Woods (2012).

Alternating between hilarious outbursts of glibness about their uniquely evil jobs (they’re placing bets on whether the mer-man will be this year’s murderer!) and genuine urgency about the seriousness of their role in saving the world for another cycle, Whitford and Jenkins serve up most of the movie’s funniest moments — especially when things eventually do go sour and the lab’s menagerie of monsters starts rampaging through their workplace. Aside from the duo’s instinctively funny chemistry, a big part of what makes their dynamic work is the movie’s insistence on making their lab mission so critical. Sacrifice rituals like theirs are held all around the world as a sort of built-in redundancy to ensure that at least one of these killing sprees appeases the angry gods by actually succeeding, and similar rituals in Japan and Sweden already have gone horribly wrong (aka their intended victims managed to survive).

That means the stakes couldn’t be higher for Hemsworth and the rest of Cabin’s clueless college crew to stumble straight toward their scripted deaths — and for the most part, that’s what they do. But Goddard and Whedon can’t make a movie like this without throwing in a big twist to upend audiences’ well-honed horror expectations, and when it finally comes (no spoilers!), it touches off a chain of chaos that suggests too much predictability in horror films might just bring about the actual end of the world.

Like the original Scream, The Cabin in the Woods operates on a meta-level of awareness about how smart audiences can be about the scary-movie genre they love. But unlike Scream, it seems less optimistic about viewers’ ability to invest in these characters making the right choices. In a movie like this, the “right” choice is probably going to lead to the worst outcome for everyone anyway… and that’s just what its seasoned sci-fi and horror creators were aiming for.

Stream The Cabin in the Woods on Peacock here.

Read more about: