I mentioned in my trailer reviews for this week how much I was looking forward to Cabin in the Woods and how much I was NOT looking forward to The Three Stooges and Lockout because they were annoying and/or loaded with clichés. Cabin in the Woods is loaded with clichés too, but like the Scream movies – it’s aware of it. It uses clichés to comment on other (lesser) horror movies and then and twists them around to make something new and different.
Five college students are lured to a remote cabin in the woods where they are set upon by murderous entities as part of a mysterious scheme orchestrated by a shadowy organization.
As you would expect from something produced by Joss Whedon, directed by Drew Goddard, and co-written by the two of them, Cabin in the Woods is pretty awesome. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot I can say about it without giving away important plot twists. So if you find this review a little vague, blame Joss and Drew.
First off, I was under the impression that Cabin in the Woods was an 80s remake/commentary/satire/reboot type thing, but it’s not. While it does use the same template as just about every horror movie, 80s or otherwise, the closest it comes to another movie is Cabin Fever, a 2002 Eli Roth film about five college students who go to a cabin in the woods and contract a virus that makes the locals want to murder them. In Cabin in the Woods, the college kids don’t need to contract a virus to make someone want to murder them.
They get by on the strength of their irritating personalities.
With the exception of a strange prologue scene that looks like something out of The Company Men, Cabin in the Woods starts the same way as any other horror movie. There are five characters: a shy virgin (Dana, played by Kristen Connolly), a blonde slut (Jules, played by Anna Hutchison), a dumb jock (Curt, played by Chris Hemsworth), a nerd (Holden, played by Jesse Williams), and a goofy stoner (Marty, played by Fran Kranz) and they’re on there way to the middle of nowhere to vacation in a spot they’ve never seen which is owned by a relative who may or may not be real.
Thank God your long lost uncle Frank left you this creepy old cottage in the ass end
of nowhere or we might have had to go to the Dominican again for spring break!
But right away you start noticing things that are a little off. Jules has just dyed her hair blonde and progresses from “I’m hot for my boyfriend” to “I love making out with dead wolf heads” in just a few hours. Holden is introduced as a football player and Curt as a sociology major, yet when they get to the cabin Curt’s wearing a letter jacket, knocking back beers, and hooting like a howler monkey while Holden has produced glasses from nowhere and is reading a book in his room.
Hey there, Mr. Wolfenstein. You smell so sexy. Is that Axe or formaldehyde?
At the same time, these previously sensible people start making the same abysmal decisions that all horror movie characters make. They get it on in the woods, play with mysterious and sinister objects, blame big obvious furniture movements on the wind, and most importantly: split up when things get bad. The only exception here is Marty, who starts figuring things out but is ignored by the others because he spends the whole movie high as a kite.
If there’s a lesson here, kids, it’s that you should smoke more pot.
It’s obvious that someone is knocking these poor saps onto a well worn track, rather than it being a total coincidence like usual. This is where the Company Men characters, played by Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and Amy Acker, come in. I can’t tell you exactly who they are, of course. I also can’t tell you why the college students being manipulated, only that there are parts in the story where I’m not sure who to root for – the college students or the Company Men.
Which should give you an idea of how annoying the students are.
The best thing about this movie is that once it’s over – once you’ve seen the big reveal and know the big secret – you’ll be able to think back over the movie and find all the little clues that lead up to it.
Though I still don’t see the point of the one-way mirror.
Now, I’m not saying it’s a perfect movie. In fact, I’m not even sure I would watch it again. The characters are inconsistent (most of this is on purpose, but not all of it) and hard to care about, the scary monsters aren’t really all that scary or even interesting, and once you get past the big reveal all logic seems to go to hell in a handbasket. For me, there are a lot of “why, ifs” in this movie, and not because I was too dumb to understand what was really going on.
Also, this doom chamber looks like the foyer of my junior high school.
That said – you should see this movie if you like or are familiar with the horror genre. It’s funny and insightful and genuinely tense and scary in quite a few places. Be aware, though: once you see through the common horror clichés you might not want to watch the other (lesser) horror movies that actually try to use them seriously. In other words: you may start to demand quality. Now there’s a horrifying thought.