Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods Laughs the Chills Away


The Cabin in the Woods ended up being a test for me on several levels. I was unable to catch the theatrical release of the film. This normally would not have been an issue if it were not for the “go in knowing as little as possible” buzz the film generated. The problem with this though is that avoiding spoilers has become increasingly difficult in an age of twitter, blogs, Youtube, and podcasts. Miraculously, I managed to go through the better part of the year only knowing that Joss Whedon was involved, and that several people found it to be extremely scary. Having finally watched the film, I wish I had known a little more going in.

The film starts off just like your typical horror excursion. A group of attractive college students embark on a weekend of fun at a secluded cabin in the woods. All the standard character archetypes are present. There is Curt the jock (Chris Hemsworth), Jules the temptress (Anna Hutchinson), Holden the brains (Jesse Williams), Marty the pothead (Fran Kranz), Dana and the good girl (Kristen Connolly). However, things start to take a turn for the group of friends when they discover some strange artifacts in the cellar of the cabin. Furthermore, unbeknownst to them, the group’s movements are being monitored by two mysterious men (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford).


To say anymore about the plot of The Cabin in the Woods would be a disservice as it is a film that does indeed need to be experienced. What I will say is that, and I wish I had known, the film is a horror-comedy and not a straight horror film. This may seem like a miniscule point for some, but it really makes a huge difference on how you interpret the film.

The Cabin in the Woods feels like a child spawned from a union between The Evil Dead series and the Scream franchise. While there will no doubt be those who will argue that The Cabin in the Woods is far more “meta” than Scream, which it is, the film is too smart for its own good. Yes we live in an era where hardcore cinephiles love to feel intellectually superior to the average filmgoer. However, just because something is meta does not necessarily mean it is enough to sustain a film. Say what you will about the Scream franchise as a whole, but the original Scream had genuine scares while still managing to dissect the slasher genre. The Cabin in the Woods, for all its great self-aware moments, lacks the chills it needed to be a truly memorable horror film.

Part of the reason for this is that Whedon’s script neglects to leave any room for the audience to put themselves in the character’s shoes. There is never that “what would you do in that situation” moment that all good horror films have. Even as a commentary on horror films, The Cabin in the Woods tends to go a little overboard in pointing out every little nuance being deconstructed. Even the idea of external forces manipulating the outcome of events does not seem as interesting if you have seen films like The Arena and The Tournament. These moments only help to emphasize how bland the “mystery men” really are. Once the tables are turned you feel nothing when watching the mysterious men experience some terror of their own.


Although The Cabin in the Woods did not turn out to be the horror experience I was expecting, I must admit that I did have a fair bit of fun watching it. The humour in the film hits the mark more often than not. Plus the opening and closing sections are fantastic. In regards to the latter section of the film, director Drew Goddard offers some of the film’s most visually interesting aspects of the entire film. The creature designs used in the film payoff well when utter chaos occurs in the last act.

There are some interesting revelations that strive to tie everything together in the last act. However, at times you wish that Goddard had explored some of the ideas revealed a lot earlier in the film. This would help to really sell the choice one of the characters must make at the end. The film spends so much time focusing on the concept of choices, and manipulating things to evoke particular choices, that the reasoning behind the biggest choice in the film feels rushed and out of left field.

The Cabin in the Woods may become a film that I come to appreciate upon repeat viewing. Knowing what to expect may change my overall view of the film. As it stands, the film is one that, while entertaining for the most part, misses the mark in regards to being the scary horror film I was led to believe it was.

10 comments:

  1. Good review Courtney. I didn't fall in love with this as many others did, but I still had a great time and credit Goodard and Whedon for all of that. I just wish more horror flicks were actually this original and smart.

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    1. The horror genre could definitely use a good jolt in regards to originality. The problem is that once someone comes up with a good idea, the formula is copied to death by other studios and/ or directors.

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  2. i had a similar experience. i thought it was gonna be really scary..."the best scary movie in years". not at all. not in that sense at least.

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    1. I think most of the people who are championing this film as being really scary are those who normally do not watch horror films.

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  3. I thought that it was a interesting film. It surely wasn't near as scary as what I thought it would be. Great review.

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    1. I will agree that the concept was interesting, I think my issues with the film are more in the execution.

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  4. I liked this film, but didn't love it...and I'm a big Whedon fan. Like you, I knew nothing about it other than Whedon's involvement, but I knew that meant there would be some humor and some inside-out versions of the standards of the genre.

    I actually feel the movie would have been a lot better if they had not shown us the two mysterious guys at the beginning. It should have been kept as a huge reveal, like when the stoner finds the camera. Knowing it meant I cared nothing about the kids in the cabin and wanted to know more about those two guys. I was just waiting for the kids' story to be over so it could get to the "real" movie.

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    1. Yep, it would have been more effective had they kept the mysterious men a secret until later on in the film. The big reveal would have had much greater impact.

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  5. i enjoyed the film but it doesn't hold up as well on a 2nd viewing.

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    1. I still plan to give the film a re-watch. I am curious to see where I will stand after a 2nd viewing.

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