THE CABIN IN THE WOODS – Blu-ray review

In a recent conversation with my friend about horror movies, she remarked something that made me think about the modern horror genre as a whole.  She said, “Horror movies by their nature are meant to scare you.” She further implied that the scare factor has become a cliché in the industry, a cliché that makes her not want to watch any horror movies anymore. I wholeheartedly agree with her assessment of the present state of the horror genre. It’s true that filmmakers’ propensity only to induce chills and scares by disgusting viewers has reduced the viewership of this genre to a mainstream format for a wider audience. For studios, horror movies are still a tough sell, and with a limited budget, these movies hardly have any impact at the box office, except for a few. The website Box Office Mojo, which collects box-office and other data related to movies, reports that the horror genre had only a 4.87% share at the box-office in 2012, with the adventure genre leading with a share of 30.21%. Considering this state of horror movies, there is a high probability a good horror movie will get noticed and not get lost with other offerings.

In 2012, so far, “The Cabin in the Woods” remains the best horror movie of the year, universally accepted to glowing reviews. The duo of director Drew Goddard and writer Joss Whedon wrote the screenplay for the film, and from the opening moments it is evident that the film is willing to break the predictability associated with the horror genre in recent times. The film’s setup, its set design, and the story may sound familiar, but it would be a mistake to dismiss the film as just another entry in the genre. We are introduced to five college students who decide to go to a remote cabin for a vacation. Upon reaching at the cabin, the students are slowly pulled apart by dark forces. Soon, we see the group battling daemons in their quest to stay alive. Meanwhile, we also see that a group of technicians watch the cabin and have the ability to control the local environment.

A desolate cabin, along with a group of helpless youngsters enmeshed in a wicked surrounding, reminds us of other horror movies like “The Evil Dead,” “Cabin Fever,” “High Tension,” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and many more. But all the references to the aforementioned films in “The Cabin…” are deliberate and part of a tribute by the writers to classic heyday horror movies. Even as the setup looks and sounds traditional, the writers have concocted a brilliant horror tale that on the surface extracts its power not just by scaring its viewers but by making them think how and why these students are subjected to unimaginable frights by the technicians. Several questions arise in the film’s first half, and the motives of key players are never clearly outlined in the plot. But as the film progresses, the script cleverly constructs a narrative structure that answers many questions.

As we’ve seen in countless horror flicks, an old-fashioned horror story revolves around a classic good vs. evil battle, always banking on a two-way interaction between the protagonists and antagonists. “The Cabin…” goes one step further in that it adds an extra layer of evil spirits, whose behavior is governed and controlled by a third party, operating in the “big brother” mode. The additional layer introduces unpredictability to the plot, where viewers continually think about differing scenarios as the scenes play out. Considering the technological advancements and infusion of reality TV shows in our contemporary lives, the film’s plot never sounds outlandish, and, in fact, it represents a rapid degeneration of human societies where selfish tendencies dictate survival for some. Surely, “The Hunger Games” comes to mind when we see technicians tinkering with the environment and adjusting dosages, as the film’s students struggle to stay alive, with the survival-of-the-fittest becoming an underlying theme in the film.

After watching “The Cabin in the Woods,” one gets the impression that the characters are almost secondary to the plot. We don’t feel for the characters when the movie ends, but we do remember the world the characters live in. Indeed, the fascinating manner by which the filmmakers sanctify the state of today’s world makes this film intelligent. In the end, the film is not a scare fest, but a puzzle-solving trip as it successfully blends in humorous, tongue-in-cheek moments.

“The Cabin in the Woods” arrives in a splendid-looking 1080p transfer that is encoded using an AVC format and framed in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The verdant landscape around the cabin features deep greens, and the images are lustrous and pleasing to the eye. The palette is rich with vivid colors. Likewise, the transfer boasts solid blacks with balanced contrast. The images look incredibly detailed for both close and long shots, and sharpness stays consistent throughout, although there is a haziness in some scenes, which is probably intentional. The close-ups reveal good facial details, and skin tones remain realistic and warm.

The lossless 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track captures the horror elements superbly. First, the dialogue comes out crisp and clean and audible for the film’s entire duration. The film has quiet moments, too, and the sound envelope realistically develops the spooky environment by highlighting the ambient and wildlife noises around the cabin. In the action sequences, the bass is balanced and the noises are loud and scary, further enhanced by the 7.1 surround mode.

First, “It’s Not What You Think: The Cabin in the Woods Bonus View Mode” features nice bonus material in the form of cast interviews talking about the film. Next, we get an audio commentary track with writer-director Drew Goddard and writer-producer Joss Whedon, who discuss their thoughts on the story and how they created it. They discuss several filmmaking techniques employed in the film. Up next, “We Are Not Who We Are: Making the Cabin in the Woods” shows some behind-the-scenes footage, and Whedon and Goddard discuss their writing process for the story. Following this, “The Secret Stash” includes two short features that get into production design. Next, “An Army of Nightmares: Makeup and Animatronic Effects” discusses the special effects used in the film. After that, “Primal Terror: Visual Effects” presents different CGI techniques. Then “Wonder-Con Q&A” is a session with Goddard and Whedon. Finally, there is a theatrical trailer for the movie.

Parting Thoughts:
By now, the shock tactics in horror movies are getting old, but “The Cabin in the Woods” debunks and then embraces the traditional horror filmmaking techniques, as the filmmakers see fit. The ease at which the filmmakers mix different styles–sometimes making the film look overly stylized and sometimes other making it deeply gritty–is commendable. The film is silly, spooky in parts, but mostly a fun and entertaining ride that never hesitates to take risks in pushing the envelope on how much an audience can absorb. From a writing perspective, the screenplay is brilliant, leaving no gaps in the story line. For a ninety-minute ride, the film never squanders the opportunity to become something substantial and worth remembering. This Blu-ray edition features superb audio and video qualities, along with a slew of informative extras.