The Cabin in the Woods

OK, first off, if you haven’t already had the plot of this movie ruined for you by the deluge of press it’s been getting, consider this your SPOILER warning.  I’d recommend stopping now and just going to see the movie knowing as little as possible, I did it that way and was glad for it.  So yeah, get up off your ass and go see it.
Back now, you saw it?  Good.  We can proceed.

The Cabin in the Woods
has been sitting on the shelf for a couple years now due to financial woes at MGM, but Lionsgate picked it up and put it in to theatres, which is great because this was a pretty damn cool movie.  One thing I want to get out of the way is that even though this movie is very much a love letter to fans of the horror genre, it is in no way, shape, manner or form scary in the slightest.  So if some of the press is making you think this is going to be some spectacular fright fest, it isn't. This is firmly in the Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland and Tucker & Dale vs Evil category of comedy horror. But this is a good time at the movies. This is especially true if you’re a genre junky like me so you can pick up on all of the visual references generously peppered throughout the movie.

One thing that struck me as pretty cool was how the movie is very straight up with its premise right from the get-go instead of trying to pull some sort of “last ten minutes of the movie”, Shyamalan bullshit, you know right away that there is some kind of conspiracy going on with these 5 college kids going out to this cabin because they show you the guys behind it at the very beginning of the movie, also a force field that disintegrates an eagle. 

Basically the college kids are carefully selected and then drugged or mislead into playing into the 5 horror movie clichés: the dumb jock, the innocent virgin, the drugged out fool, the party girl slut and the sensitive brainy guy.  Then they are made to travel out to a cabin in the woods (which looks almost identical to the one in Evil Dead II, by design I’m sure) which is contained in some sort of force field and there they’re put into what is essentially a horro movie premise; kids discover ancient shit in cabin basement, play with it, unwittingly unleash unspeakable evil, are stalked and killed off one by one while mostly oblivious for the first while and engage in drinking, drugs and sex.  The twist on all of this is that the guys behind the scenes are basically programming this as kind of a movie made to appease slumbering ancient evil gods who demand entertainment and blood sacrifice. 

Of course the metaphor here is that the two guys are the filmmakers, stuck creating the same clichéd set ups that audiences demand over and over and the old gods are us, the horror movie watching audience who demand a “blood sacrifice” or clichéd characters being killed off in a clichéd set up or we become enraged and rise up and destroy the world (or bitch about the movie).  I’ve been a bit bothered how some reviewers have failed to notice this and then go on to criticize how it wouldn’t make sense for an ancient god to specifically want to see people killed in a slasher movie set up.  Of course that concept is ludicrous if you take the movie at 100% face value, but I’m pretty sure that was not the intent.

It’s pretty clever, and thankfully the writer (Joss Whedon, who geeks will know and love for his contributions to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly) and the director (Drew Goddard who apparently did some writing for Lost, Alias and the "B&A combo" mentioned above as well) don’t seem to be using this movie to condemn horror movie fans or the horror movie genre itself with their satire of the genre.  In fact it’s the self-aware stoner who ends up fucking things up and causing the world to end, so to me the movie isn't siding with the fact that all of this post-modernizing of everything since Scream came out as some kind of improvement of "low borw" straight laced horror. Instead I think they genuienly are for making horror be about atmosphere, monsters, gore and y'know, actually being scary maybe.  Instead of poking fun at clichés use them to your advantage to scare the shit out of the audience by doing the unexpected.    But the movie they made isn't in and of itself scary, so they don't quite kick a feild goal.

One criticism that I think I can agree with is that all of the characters speak a bit too much like they’re simply ciphers for Wheddon’s whit, but it certainly isn’t any worse than say, a Kevin Smith picture, and I like those too, so it wasn’t a deal breaker for me.  It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to have a writer or director’s sensibility come through in all aspects of a movie like this, and given the self aware presentation involved I’d say it kinda works to its advantage in that framework.  Now if we were trying to create some sort of straight up, historical, character piece then maybe we might have an issue here, but we are talking about a satirical movie in which people are stalked by a zombie who wields a bear trap on a chain, so I think standards may need to be adjusted accordingly.

The two guys (played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) are the best part of the movie.  They treat the whole thing just like most of you would if you were watching a stalk and slash horror flick, taking bets on who’s gonna die and how they’re gonna die and gawking at the nudity.  And on top of that you can see how alot of the stress they're enduring, the sudden inspiration to fix a no good situation, and the celebration when they think they've got it "in the can" as they say is totally a mirror of what filmakers probably experience making these low budget horror flicks. The majority of the movie's comedy comes from these two, and it all works. There was some laugh out loud funny shit in this, a scene where they keep putting a guy on speaker phone just to fuck with him being one choice example. 

The kids themselves are for the most part nothing particularly special.  This movie’s got Chris Hemswirth before he was Thor, but he’s stuck playing the “dumb jock” role and isn’t anything special.  He isn’t awful at all, just didn’t stand out that much for me.  The best of the bunch is the stoner guy Marty (played by Fran Kranz).  They give him some great lines and some nice unexpected moments where he acts more like a real person than the typical movie stoner caricature.  Near the beginning they’re menaced by the Vietnam Vet crazy dude at a gas station (the same one who gets to be on speaker phone later), and it’s the stoner guy who stands up to him when he’s a dick to one of the other chicks.  You don’t expect it, and he busts out some pretty funny lines in the scene, so it was refreshing.

I will say that going in I had heard a lot of praise for this movie; I avoided reading about it more than that, but I went in with high expectations.  What I found as a result of this was at first the movie was a bit underwhelming.  For example, out of all the potential options for monsters that could’ve been going after the kids in the cabin that you find out later in the movie, they go with the tired old zombies.  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some zombies, but there are already 40,000,000,000 movies, books, tv shows, games, and everything else with Zombies.  Maybe throw something more interesting into the mix.  Also, the gore factor was pretty low for a lot of the movie as well which was dissapointing, I think the Zombies would’ve been more acceptable to me if they came along with gallons of grue.  But thankfully, the movie pulls a bit of a From Dusk Till Dawn on you and toward the end goes for total monster and gore mayhem which was fucking great!  Yes some of the CG effects looked a bit shoddy, but when a movie features a guy getting viciously and repeatedly impaled by a unicorn, I can’t be mad at it for long.

You get all sorts of monsters and you can tell how they’re mostly all nods to other famous horror movies.  You get an evil clown like It, a werewolf, more zombies, ghosts, a giant vampire bat creature that kinda reminded me of Dracula, and they definitely hit you over the head repeatedly with a rather drawn out staring match with a guy who looks like a second rate Cenobite.  But then they also throw in a bunch of other more random shit like a giant snake and the aforementioned unicorn, and of course merman which is built up and foreshadowed in dialogue (this movie is good about having payoffs for everything it foreshadows though so that is a plus).

Basically all these monsters from filmland just go apeshit slaughtering everyone in the compound where the two dudes controlling the horrors in the cabin are working.  It was a cool concept that they kept all these creatures from the horror universe (and apparently the fantasy universe too I guess, although I don’t recall much in the way of unicorn terror films, but perhaps I have not dug deep enough yet) in a bunch of cells and they get sent up based on what evil artifact the kids play with.  It definitely makes the world of this movie seem like it has been going on for some time and is much bigger than what is contained in this 90 or so minutes of movie, but at the same time this isn’t the type of thing to set up a franchise, as the world ending makes sequels difficult.

So yeah, this was a damn fun time at the movies.  Good humour, a clever plot, some good over the top gore (once it gets going) and solid performances with a solid ending (and nice cameo with miss Weaver) combine together nicely. It isn’t the second coming of Christ in horror movie making or anything, but it’s a solid and original horror movie that in this day of nothing but remakes and reboots is a breath of fresh air and if it does influence some kind of movement in horror I hope it’s just to say that yes, it is possible to make something new that is good even if it does not already have an established brand with which to merchandise.  So check this shit out!