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The Cabin in the Woods

Movie Information

The Story: A group of 20-somethings -- obviously under the watchful eye of a roomful of technicians -- go on one of those invariably ill-fated weekends in the woods. The Lowdown: It's reasonably entertaining and kind of clever, but The Cabin in the Woods far from the amazingly brilliant take on the horror film it's been painted as.
Score:

Genre: Post-Modern Horror Comedy
Director: Drew Goddard
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins
Rated: R

Yes, it’s clever enough in that particular Joss Whedon, smart-assed kind of way that’s reserved only for the coolest of the cool. It also keeps assuring you of this fact in a pushy fashion that’s far from appealing. It’s not bad by any means—apart from being way too pleased with itself—but it’s not the last word in horror. It hasn’t reinvented the genre. It hasn’t made all other horror movies irrelevant. It probably hasn’t even put an end to the inbred cannibal hillbilly/zombie sub-genre. I can’t suppress a certain amusement over the idea that a movie that cannibalizes every horror-picture trope ever to come down the pike is being fawned over as “original.” It’s essentially a kind of shake-n-bake affair with a sense of humor that has far too much in common with Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Was I ever scared? No, not even briefly. Even in the shock-effect realm, The Cabin in the Woods is pretty tepid. Its biggest jolt comes from the sudden giant appearance of its title with a blast of music—something we saw last year in the vastly superior Insidious. Was I constantly surprised by its much-touted twists and turns? No, and I’m pretty surprised that anyone who saw the trailer could have been. The trailer gives away the movie’s central “clever” premise. And if you haven’t figured out the supposedly big twist at the end by the time the first deliberately meat-on-the-hoof 20-something hands in her dinner pail, then you: a) haven’t been paying attention to the control room blather; and b) haven’t seen nearly as many horror pictures as you think you have. Probably the best thing in the whole movie is the idea that if you deviate from the basic requirements of the genre, there’ll be hell to pay. I’m saying no more than that about the plot’s mechanics, for the benefit of anyone wanting to approach it cold.

On the other hand, yes, I was entertained enough by watching the gears mesh and spotting the various film references (most of which are sufficiently generic that it’s hard not to find some cross-reference). I have no real qualms with most of the film’s control-room scene, and did enjoy the workers therein getting a laugh at the expense of their resident doomsayer in the woods. I have no complaints about any of the performances, though I can’t say I was bowled over by any of them. The special effects were generally between fine and adequate. The film’s big scene near the end (believe me, you’ll know it when you get there) has an amusingly gonzo quality, though I kept thinking I was watching a splattery variant on the hall of doors business in Yellow Submarine.

In the end, a lot of your enjoyment will depend on whether or not you think that Joss Whedon’s particular brand of humor is all that funny. If you’re a Whedonite, this will almost certainly appeal to you. The other significant factor is whether you’ve maxed out on post-modern snark. Really, once you subtract the whole postmodern deconstruction attitude (which is almost counterproductive in terms of subversiveness in the horror genre), this isn’t all that different from any number of horror comedies—except it’s not as good as at least half a dozen I can think of offhand. I suspect I’m just a little put off by the feeling that, unlike most movies that poke fun at the genre, I’m not convinced that The Cabin in the Woods was made either by or for people who love horror pictures. Rated R for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language, drug use and some sexuality/nudity.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

13 thoughts on “The Cabin in the Woods

  1. Xanadon't

    Really? No one has anything to say about this movie? I find that surprising.

    But of course I came by only to realize that I’ll need to go elsewhere if I want to start an argument. Your take on this one falls more or less perfectly in line with my response to the film. Maybe everyone else feels the same. Looks like you really nailed this one, Ken!

    Oh, but did I catch a nod to Argento’s Opera as one of the more subtle and specific references? Or, is that giving the film too much credit? (I guess depending on one’s regard for Argento this may not lend any credit to the film at all.)

    Anyway, can we all agree by now that a movie that stands beside itself attempting to win the sardonic approval of horror cynics will never be as fully satisfying as a plain-old effective and well-crafted horror film? You know, one that operates fully within its own identity?

    Enough with horror film as horror film criticism, please. Just give me the goods!

  2. Ken Hanke

    Really? No one has anything to say about this movie? I find that surprising.

    It surprised me too. I can’t remember the specifics, but I heard about it in No Uncertain Terms when I failed to show requisite reverence for Joss Whedon. (Mostly from people proving how audiences would flock to see Serenity because “30,000 fans” had lined up at Dragoncon to see him.) I was certain I would be on the receiving end of something similar here

    But of course I came by only to realize that I’ll need to go elsewhere if I want to start an argument. Your take on this one falls more or less perfectly in line with my response to the film. Maybe everyone else feels the same.

    I doubt it. This thing has a 91 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a lot of it just gushes. That said, I find an inherent problem with horror film criticism. I am disinclined to trust that which comes from horrorcentric sources as too ready to cut slack. (There’s another reason, but I’d prefer to steer clear of getting into it.) I am even more disinclined to think much of mainstream criticism, because it is frequently too ill-informed and can easily be convinced of freshness that just ain’t there.

    Oh, but did I catch a nod to Argento’s Opera as one of the more subtle and specific references? Or, is that giving the film too much credit? (I guess depending on one’s regard for Argento this may not lend any credit to the film at all.)

    I find Argento amusing, but I doubt if there’s a film of his I’ve seen more than three times, and Opera I saw once long ago. I doubt I’d catch a reference to it at this distance. I remember something about ravens, an uncomfortable business with a woman’s eyes, and in references to Phenomena.

    Anyway, can we all agree by now that a movie that stands beside itself attempting to win the sardonic approval of horror cynics will never be as fully satisfying as a plain-old effective and well-crafted horror film? You know, one that operates fully within its own identity?

    I think it is possible to do both — or something like it. This isn’t it. I sense no love for the genre and certainly no identity of its own.

    Let me ask you this — did any plot twist actually take you by surprise?

  3. Xanadon't

    That said, I find an inherent problem with horror film criticism. I am disinclined to trust that which comes from horrorcentric sources as too ready to cut slack. (There’s another reason, but I’d prefer to steer clear of getting into it.) I am even more disinclined to think much of mainstream criticism, because it is frequently too ill-informed and can easily be convinced of freshness that just ain’t there.

    Huh, well put. I’d never quite pieced it together that way, but I’m inclined to say you’re absolutely right in most cases. That “other reason” has me intrigued but I suppose I can let it drop.

    As for your question, nope, can’t say any plot twists truly surprised me. The opening credit sequence tips off where this is all going. And once you marry that with some of the control room banter, as you mentioned, it takes pretty solid shape. The bong-hitting philosopher not being dead certainly didn’t shock me, and I’d already had an inkling that the “virgin” would be asked to do him in herself by the time that business came around.

    What did surprise me, however- and since you haven’t revealed it anywhere yet I’m reluctant to do so- consider this a *spoiler alert*- is, let’s just say a certain crew member of the Nostromo showing up. I thought I recognized the voice, but was skeptical. And then, sure enough.

  4. Ken Hanke

    That “other reason” has me intrigued but I suppose I can let it drop.

    Ask me sometime or e-mail me.

  5. Edwin Arnaudin

    There’s commentary that the Japanese, Swedes, etc. can’t do horror as well as the U.S., but the film could stand to have more of a foreign feel. There’s effective ambiguity for most of the film (the whole “upstairs/downstairs” premise offers multiple interpretations), but then the teens get wise and Dana Barrett shows up and explains everything. Cut out the unnecessary exposition, leave a little bit of unsolved mystery, and it’s a much better film.

    Was I ever scared? No, not even briefly

    Ditto. If a film has *jumps*, they need to be effective (as, you noted, they were in INSIDIOUS). A few old fashioned scares would have greatly benefited CABIN IN THE WOODS.

    The film’s big scene near the end (believe me, you’ll know it when you get there) has an amusingly gonzo quality

    It was the high point for me. Out of control and fun. Might be my favorite scene of the year so far in terms of pure entertainment.

  6. Ken Hanke

    There’s commentary that the Japanese, Swedes, etc. can’t do horror as well as the U.S.

    Well, the Swedes made Let the Right One In and that was light years ahead of this. And while I’ve never seen a Japanese horror picture I was wild about, Midnight Meat Train was made by a Japanese filmmaker — and I liked it better than this. This really strikes me more as a horror sitcom than anything else.

  7. Edwin Arnaudin

    I didn’t say I agree with the control room commentary. I’m saying it lacks the restraint of its foreign competitors.

    I’ve heard from several people that it’s “not a horror film.” Well, no, because it’s not scary. What’s odd is that regardless of the filmmakers’ overall intentions, it still tries to spook you a few times with the classic jumps, but never seems invested in really shaking anyone. Ratchet up that element and not only is it horror film commentary, but an effective horror film itself. Seems like a missed opportunity.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I didn’t say I agree with the control room commentary.

    I didn’t say you did.

    Ratchet up that element and not only is it horror film commentary, but an effective horror film itself.

    Thing is…is it really much more of a horror film commentary than Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI?

  9. Edwin Arnaudin

    Thing is…is it really much more of a horror film commentary than Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI?

    Haven’t seen it. Does it have a control room?

  10. Ken Hanke

    No. Is a control room necessary? Isn’t that rather like having to listen to the audio commentary track on a DVD to “get it?”

  11. Xanadon't

    Is a control room necessary?

    Nope, and in fact last year gave us Tucker and Dale vs. Evil which achieved almost exactly the same thing without it.

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