Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: The Cabin in the Woods

by Patrick Bromley
Do not read this review.

If you have any intention of ever seeing The Cabin in the Woods, the new horror movie from geek idol Drew Goddard and co-written by Goddard and Joss Whedon, do not read this review. Do not read any review. Do not watch the trailers. Avoid the TV spots. If someone near you is talking about it, politely excuse yourself. The best way to see the movie is to go in totally blank.

And the best way to do that is to go see it as soon as possible, before it can be spoiled for you in the countless future articles about how The Cabin in the Woods sat on the shelf for three years, tangled up in the financial collapse of MGM, was subjected to an ill-conceived 3-D post-conversion (that ultimately didn't happen) and held captive by a studio that didn't know how to market it, before finally being released and sinking like a stone. Because I suspect that's what is going to happen to this movie. And it's wrong. Fucking wrong.

I say this knowing that the movie is designed to appeal to a fairly small section of the movie going public. Casual audiences or teenagers who showed up opening weekend because it was a horror movie may like sections of Cabin in the Woods, but there's a lot that's going to bore or confuse them. This is not a "turn off your brain" movie (no movie really is, even though that's why a huge percentage of people go to the theater), and I suspect that some of the folks who go in blind are going to resent having to do the work that this one requires. That's ok. Let them have The Devil Inside or Silent House or whatever shit "found footage" horror movie is coming up next.

I don't even want to say much about the movie, because I know that there are still those people who read Roger Ebert's review of Super despite me warning them a bunch of times not to. Some people just can't resist the temptation. This makes reviewing it very difficult, but it's a movie that I want to talk about. It's a movie that needs to be talked about, and one that I think horror geeks and movie nerds are going to be picking apart for a long, long time. There is an embarrassment of riches of layers to the film, and that rarely happens anymore -- particularly in genre cinema, which we fans are usually supposed to be satisfied with just by nature of the fact that a movie belongs to a particular genre.

So here are some thoughts on the movie. I've tried to keep them as spoiler-free as possible, but you still shouldn't read them until you've seen it. You shouldn't have even read this far. LISTEN TO ME.
  • The Cabin in the Woods is the best critique/celebration of horror movies and our relationship to horror movies ever made. We could extrapolate it further and argue that it speaks to our relationship with all movies, but fuck it let's stick with horror.
  • It has the greatest opening title card of any movie in a long, long time. Even that's not a wasted moment; where the NAME OF THE MOVIE is placed within the movie is saying something about the structure and tropes of contemporary horror.
  • Will all the people falling all over themselves to declare movies like Hugo and The Artist "love letters to cinema" last year say the same about The Cabin in the Woods? No, because most of them won't see it, even though it is (and a better one than either of those two). It's also a scathing critique. It's nice when a movie can be more than one thing, since the majority succeed only at being zero things.
    • I have a crush on Chris Hemsworth, but this movie would not have made him a movie star. Better that was a job left to Thor.
    • Anna Hutchison, who is totally fine in the movie without being great, has a scene reminiscent of Naomi Watts' second-most famous moment in Mulholland Dr. It's a thing that should not work but totally does. You will know it when you see it.
    • Scream is being brought up a lot in connection to The Cabin in the Woods, and I get it: they're both "meta" horror movies, because that's still a thing. I like Scream and all, but Cabin in the Woods is in a different league altogether. It's also not going to rejuvenate the horror genre the way Scream once did, because a) it's not going to have nearly the same amount of box office success because b) it's not as audience friendly, working more on the head than on the gut.
    • Some of the internet has complained that the movie is not "scary" enough. They may not be wrong to say that, but they're probably wrong to register it as a complaint. No, the movie is not very scary (though even that is debatable, and it certainly is more so than most horror movies being released these days), but I don't know how interested it is in scares. It's a little like an episode of Community in a way, in that it's more interested in being about the thing than it is in being the thing. It still does succeed in being the thing, though, the way that Edgar Wright's movies do. Sometimes it's the thing more than any movie you've ever seen. It's just not as scary as The Descent or Zelda from Pet Sematary. Because NOTHING IS.
    • This is not a movie of twists, though I may have sold it as such. Other reviews have correctly  pointed out that any of the "twists" are given away in the trailer and in the first seconds of the movie. It's not about introducing new turns to surprise us; the movie works by gradually clarifying what is already being shown. That's not to say that there aren't wonderful surprises in store, which is why it's best to go in knowing nothing.
      • I wish the movie had cut to black about 8 seconds earlier than it does. A perfect ending drags just a few frames past when it should have. This is quibbling.
      There is so much more to say about The Cabin in the Woods, but it will have to wait until more people have had a chance to catch up with it.  If you get the opportunity to see it in theaters, you must. Movies like this have to be supported. As film fans, we are constantly complaining about the need for something original or movies that are about more than just mindless escapism. Here is something that's both. It's also inventive and smart and bloody and fun. It's the horror movie that we've been waiting for. The horror movie we deserve. Let's not take it for granted.


        1. Shame the studio didn't go with this awesome one-sheet poster (although the one they ended up using is pretty good):

          Caught the movie this morning on a matinee (only three other people in the theater) and didn't like it at all. Then again, I've been sick with the flu since Friday and wasn't feeling all that well. I'll second Patrick's warning: if you plan to watch this, do it now and don't watch/read anything about it (including my thoughts below). I only saw the TV commercials before seeing the flick, and those already spoil way too much.

          I love horror movies as much as the next guy, but to me the screenplay was structured in such a way to neuter the horror aspects of the story with its 'meta' gimmicks ('come for the expected cheap horror tricks, let us WOW you with how clever we think we are'). "Hugo" and "The Artist" at least have a deep love for their subject matters (film preservation and B&W silent cinema, respectively) to compensate for their deficiencies. "The Cabin in the Woods" to me hates its audience by denying them the visceral horror they expect with a cynical attempt by the filmmakers to do something different for the sake of having a twist-atop-a-shitload-of-twists on a well-worn genre. Except for Chris Hemsworth (who looks like a baby compared to his bearded "Thor" role) everybody else in the cast, including Bradley Whitford (!), is clearly slumming for a paycheck and half-heartedly going through the motions. Looks like Hemsworth isn't the only one that lucked out this movie was withheld in MGM's legal/financial hell. Had this come out when it was supposed to I doubt Marvel's suits would have even considered giving Whedon "The Avengers" assignment.

          I'd normally say 'avoid this' or 'wait for the rental' but the only way this movie works is walking into it knowing as little as possible. I didn't like "The Cabin in the Woods" but don't hate it like I do "Sucker Punch," which Patrick loved. Use that as your measuring stick to decide whether this is a better 'love letter to cinema' than "The Artist" and "Hugo" (answer: not on your life).

          1. Those movies suuuuuucked. Cabin was oh so entertaining.

        2. Replies
          1. ^^^ OK, OK... I didn't know you felt so strongly about the artwork for the poster. :'(

        3. I saw it Friday night at a ten oclock showing. I don't remember the last time I went to a movie on a Friday night, so I enjoyed the whole experience. I forgot how much fun it can be to watch a movie with a full theater (probably closer to 75% full). The last two movies I saw on opening night were The Simpsons and Pineapple Express. (I think I saw the last Matrix on opening night even farther back.

          Anyway, before I describe my experience more including how the nachos and Coke Zero were, I will say I could not have hoped for a better movie to see on these rare theater trips. I had a ton of fun.

          I decided to see The Cabin in the Woods because I was on my own and my wife doesn't like horror movies, so I toook advantage of being by myself. I had seen a brief trailer, but the only thing I remembered that seemed like it might be different than a standard convention "kids in creepy cabin horror film" was the bird hitting the force field... I didn't understand what that meant at the time, so I feel like I went in with minimal expectations.

          I felt, while watching it, that they respected their audiences very much (to disagree with JMV). I felt like they totally broke the fourth wall (does that saying translate to movies?) at all the right times and it felt like they were being very direct with the statements they were making to the audience. I also thought the statements they were making were insightful, really funny, and true.

          I thought Whitford was hysterical. I initially made a comparison to Dusk Til Dawn in the sense that it felt like there was a point where the story seemed to completely shift, but as I continue to think about the movie, I would lean towards saying that is not quite accurate. The statement in PB's review that puts into words what I was trying to resolve in my head was "It's not about introducing new turns to surprise us; the movie works by gradually clarifying what is already being shown." The craziness in the control labs towards the end were unexpected to me and it seemed to take on a life of it's own and that was the most distinct shift for me, though, I admit, it was through a natural progression of story telling as opposed to walking into a restaurant for a burger and having a vampire chew your neck off.

          One thing I enjoy about you dudes (and Erika) at F This Movie! is that I feel like I make myself consiously analyze movies I see more often than I did before. I always felt like I had discerning taste in movies, but I would be content just riding my gut reaction. Big Lebowksi made me laugh, I like. Die Hard made me cheer yippee ki yay, mother fv<ker, I like. The Cabin in the Woods made me ... uh...hmmm, I don't know, but I like.

          I look forward to hearing the Casbin in the Woods podcast in a bit when it has been around long enough for those who want to see it.

          1. ^^^ I hope Patrick does a commentary podcast when it comes out on home video, which should be around/close to October. You guys obviously liked what you got, but me and most paying audience members in post-screening surveys are giving it thumbs down. This is a 'love it/hate it' movie with no middle ground, and those usually make for some fun commentaries.

        4. This is a hell of a fun movie that features twists that got better and better as the film went on. It’s crazy that horror films can be this fun and entertaining just by smart and witty writing. However, it won’t last for too long so we might as well enjoy it while Whedon and Goodard are around. Good review Patrick.

        5. I loved it too!!!!!!!!!!!

        6. ^^^ What does Chuck Heston's character in "Touch of Evil" have to do with anything? ;-)

        7. I wasn't going to bring up Sigourney's cameo, but since that cat's out of the proverbial bag...

          As much as I love Weaver, and as cool as I thought her cameo was, I think Jamie Lee Curtis should have been The Director. Adrienne King would have been cool, too, although next to nobody would have had any idea who the hell she is.


        8. Now that you mention it, yes!

          I'm glad you loved it, I'm seriously looking forward to the DVD.