Directed By: Drew Goddard
Written By: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard
The Cabin in the Woods provides the ultimate review conundrum. The less you know about this film the better the experience will be. As G.I. JOE so rightfully says, “Knowing is half the battle”, but that is not the case here. Apologies to Duke, Shipwreck, and the rest of the Joes but this proves that sometimes ignorance is bliss. On the other hand there is a lot to dive into that is worthy of discussion. In order to solve this issue I’ll make sure to stay extra spoiler sensitive. There will be plenty of warnings if I feel I’m approaching any type of spoiler territory. The basic story of film is an examination of the ideals and themes often found in horror. If you walk into this thinking you are going to see a rehashing of classic thrashers you may be disappointed. Sure horror is the running theme, but it’s not what drives the story. Damn, that statement may have given too much away already.
Interesting enough The Cabin in the Woods was actually shot back in 2009, but due to MGM’s financial issues it wasn’t released until now after it was picked up by Lionsgate. Oddly the timing could not have been better. When this was filmed leading actor Chris Hemsworth was a no named actor but now he has blossomed into a star due to Thor and The Avengers. Also Joss Whedon, who will be directing The Avengers, co-wrote the script. I guess good things do come to those who wait. Any fan of Whedon knows his name attached means this won’t be a typical horror romp. What I enjoyed most about The Cabin in the Woods is the fun I had watching it. I feel this film has been anointed by selected groups as a savior for the genre. One that will bring it to new heights and completely revolutionize the barriers that once limited the scope and story structure we ignorantly placed upon it. While it certainly brings a fresh take it never earned that revolutionist achievement it was given by some. Though I never felt it considered itself contender for that title. That’s what really drew me it. From the opening sequence I was hooked. There was this lackadaisical cleverness to it that was ever intriguing. The concept could easily be layered with conceited moments that celebrated its own creation. Instead of treating its own material with a reverence it treated it with a slight resistance as if it was forcefully going through its own motions. It may have been a false humbleness but I bought it. Maybe I’m a sucker or maybe I am just longing for a movie that simply wishes to have fun. Perhaps the best way to describe the overall sense of the film was that it came off as a piece of recycled originality. While the end product was something new it wouldn’t exist nor nearly be as effective without the previous material that made it what it was. In a way it took what was a beaten down hold house of an idea and instead of tearing it down to build something new it just flipped what was already there. The structure and foundation were solid it just added in some new plumbing. Yes I am initially being vague in order not to ruin it for those still waiting on seeing it. If you haven’t I would defiantly advise watching before reading on so you don’t ruin the experience. While there aren’t any, “He was dead the whole time!” moments, it is a concept that is best enjoyed with fresh eyes.
The Cabin in the Woods is the film that is self-aware it is being self-aware. It’s the Matrix’s Matrix, and in that Matrix it’s the impressionist that does impressions of other people’s impressions. The idea of a secret organization creating horror film like scenarios in order to keep the world from meeting its ultimate destruction from ancient giant gods may come off as a little much. Luckily it provided enough interesting and entertaining moments to sell the idea to those watching in and outside the movie. What easily sold the idea for me were the performances of Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. Being a huge fan of The West Wing I was enthused to see Whitford in this role. He has this obviously false self-bravado that makes him ultimately charming. He and Jenkins had immediate chemistry that took over the screen. Taking the stale office work environment and placing it into a life or brutal death situation provided some of the best moments of the film. It was as if the cast of Office Space was put in charge of making the movie Scream. Sure we have to figure out how we are going to brutally murder some coeds this afternoon, but not let’s make a big deal about it. Being a product of the office work environment that mindset really spoke to me. Often we think we are a reflection of our environment, but this is evoking the idea that the environment may be a reflection of us. Our apathetic attitude may even exist in a position that literally determines the fate of our entire planet. The best moments weren’t in response to the horror genre, but in response to itself. One particular moment that I ate up was the office pool on what way the protagonists will be massively killed. This tended to treat the seriousness with blasé tone, while the absolute ludicrous was given the upmost respect. There were a few expectations to this of course. When it actually became a horror movie it attempted to infuse in some real danger for the college coed characters. At first I assumed these characters may become nothing more than cannon fodder because they were purposely forced into these archetypes. When actual tension was attempted that is where this concept did become unglued. Garnering feelings or emotions towards a parody is hard to do. You are laughing at them the one minute then watching them be gruesomely dissembled the next. It was the emotional equivalent of going on a junk food binge moments before a long distance marathon. You may get through it, but you won’t feel good about yourself afterwards.
The horror movie subplot allowed us to progress through the plot, but it was clearly never the end game. There are plenty of times when it played on common tropes found in the genre, but for the most part a lot of those jokes were ones we have seen before. When it became an actual horror movie it did become stale. Sure there were a number of well-crafted scenes and decent jump moments it was just never able to create that creepy atmosphere. When it was about to establish it the film tended to sacrifice those moments for comedy. That kept the fun going but lessened the effectiveness of the overall concept. Unlike other films like The Evil Dead or Sean of the Dead this isn’t an entry into the horror genre as well as a spoof of it. Personally I didn’t have an issue with that and continuously sat back and enjoyed the ride. The main concept could have easily been replicated with any genre whether it was action, drama, or Russian slapstick torture comedy (the lightest of all the Russian comedy). It was a reaction to the rules and regulations that are placed on films. There are specific certainties we accept simply out of habit. Here we saw an examination of the why expanded out to the most extreme proportions.When things got crazy near the end I was extremely curious where the movie would actually go as it proved it did not have limits. A murderous unicorn and army of never ending monsters helped establish that. The special effects were rather lacking near the end however. I wasn’t clear if that was purposeful or simply a product of a low budget. In any event it was rather distracting. Still even with its inconsistencies I enjoyed myself immensely. It’s a movie that enjoyed being a movie. This may become the latest victim of over hype so don’t go in thinking you are about to watch a masterpiece of cinema. If anything that mindset will almost always lead to disappointment. Simply put The Cabin in the Woods is popcorn fun with a high concept style. It’s the casual Friday of smart comedy.