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.