Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford did not receive Oscar nominations for portraying Gary Sitterson and Steve Hadley respectively in The Cabin in the Woods.
The title suggests a standard trope in a horror film as a group of stereotyped teenagers or young adults go into a spooky cabin in the woods for the weekend. That set up though is pre-subverted from just about the outset as the dark credits fitting for a horror film are stopped in favor of two white collar workers at seemingly a government facility talking about their domestic problems. The workers being Sitterson and Hadley played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford who perhaps seem a bit out of place to open a slasher film or to even be in one. Richard Jenkins being the always reliable character actor often cast as some sort of official, and Bradley Whitford being perhaps the replacement for William Atherton as often the guy for obnoxious entitlement. The two represent the alternative factor that purposefully sets the film apart as the two men are there to essentially construct the typical horror movie unbeknownst to the five setting off towards the cabin. They are not there merely to set up the story though as the film focuses on their operation of the cabin horrors as much as it does on the denizens of the cabin.
Whitford and Jenkins don't reinvent themselves here the fun actually is in the fact that they play their parts that would be typical to a film that just takes place in some random office building. Both meet their roles so well with Jenkins being sort of the slightly more exasperated sort emphasizing just sort of getting the job done though still with the precision of a consummate professional. Jenkins though is good in just playing it as though setting up the murders is just more or less an average day for Sitterson. Whitford nicely does not duplicate Jenkins though they both very much are the office workers, but Whitford goes for a slightly different angle. In the back and forth with Jenkins particularly early on when they are not even talking about the mission they are nicely on the same wave length of two long time workers who are just shooting the breeze offering equal parts ridicule and support to one another. Their work history is a known factor in this. Now Whitford's performance though differs from Jenkins in that in the work Whitford portrays a more overt investment for Hadley towards the the mission not terms of it being a success, but rather in terms of the fun that can be had from it.
Now the humor of the satire most often comes from these two playing their parts in this way with Jenkins's reaction of often complete disinterest at the various events, while Whitford is often very funny his rather skewed interests particularly in his sorrowful face at seeing once again that the cabin will not be attacked by mermen. Of course even that Whitford does not portray as a major heartbreak just sort of the disappointment like if his boss had cancelled free pretzel day. The only time they break this darkly humorous state of pseudo-contentment is when something goes wrong that requires an immediate fix such as when they have to prevent the survivors from escaping through tunnel. Jenkins is particularly effective in these moments though as he portrays Sitterson wake up and get into gear as the absolute best professional he can be if the situation calls for it. Whitford though is equally good though showing the general, less helpful, frustrations of guy whose jobs has become a lot harder. The two of them consistently enliven the film with their presence of offering such a different type of performer in the slasher film, that I found to be easily the most enjoyable part of the film. Any moment they try not to waste. The highlight for me is probably in Whitford's performance late in the film, as all hell is breaking through almost literally, when finally a merman appears though not quite at the right time for Hadley. Whitford's reaction though is perfection as he captures awe at perhaps the fortune of finally seeing it then the sheer disbelief of having the misfortune of being in its line of sight. The two of them terrific as the "villains" because they don't play them as villains, even with their blase attitude towards death. They're just guys doing a job, in fact Hadley briefly shows just a bit of sympathy though Whitford plays this as a very distant sort of admiration rather than true sympathy. That lack of exact villainy is partially because they are enjoyable to watch but they also find the right tone. That tone which not only makes their characters work but is also pivotal in creating the right type of satirical bent for the film.