From the very opening shot, we know this isn't an old school American horror movie with teens in the woods. The first characters we're introduced to are a group of technicians behind the scenes. Their dialogue lets us know what's up. These teens are to be an offering. A sacrifice. Right from the opening scene we know this is the premise. Nothing relies on twists and turns. The execution of this premise alone is what provides the pleasure.
Maybe it is a love letter to horror movies, but that doesn't do the film justice either. This was clearly made by people who have an understanding and love of horror movies, and they fill every inch of the movie with references and inside jokes. But these references and inside jokes are the setting. They're the background. The story is something else entirely.
This is a science fiction/fantasy movie about an office environment on a very stressful day. They just happen to be in the business of creating horror. If this were a haunted house, it would be The Haunted Mansion at Disney, but on a day when the ride was closed for maintenance. The wallpaper is all horror, but this is a movie about the interior decorators putting the wallpaper up. We see gruesome murders and horrific monsters, but there's no genuine scares. Because we saw the man pull the lever to open the monster's cage. We hear his muttered joke to cut the tension.
I've seen this movie twice now, and enjoyed it even more the second time. It isn't a horror movie the way the trailers implied. This isn't The Evil Dead meets the Truman Show. I guess it is more like Evil Dead 2 meets the Truman Show?
I have difficulty defining the lines of horror sometimes, especially with horror comedy. The Evil Dead is horror. No question. It is funny, sure, but often unintentionally, and it has some genuinely chilling moments. Sam Raimi was making a horror movie, with The Evil Dead. That was his intention. But was he making one with Evil Dead 2? That's a more difficult question. There are fewer genuine scares in Evil Dead 2, and I'm not sure they were going for scares. It's a comedy. A ghoulish and gore-soaked comedy, to be sure, but is that a horror movie?
At the end of the day, I have to say yes. Evil Dead 2 is a horror movie. I would never put it on any shelf except the horror shelf. How much of that is because it identifies itself that way, because it dresses itself up like a horror movie?
I said earlier that maybe The Cabin in the Woods isn't a horror movie, but I think I was wrong. It is dressed like a horror movie, and when people ask what it does for a living, it tells them, "I'm a horror movie." And I think that self-identification in these cases is probably the strongest argument. Because genres are so vague. Are they meant to describe what a movie is like? Do horror movies have scares? If that's the definition, then Cabin falls short. But so does The Devil's Backbone. So do the later instalments of the Nightmare on Elm Street films.
But if horror movies are movies that people who like horror movies will like, then Cabin in the Woods goes on the shelf right beside Evil Dead 2.