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Monday, September 24, 2012

The Cabin In the Woods (2012) review


Kristen Connelly (Dana Polk), Chris Hemsworth (Curt), Anna Hutchison (Jules), Fran Kranz (Marty), Jesse Williams (Holden), Richard Jenkins (Richard), Bradley Whitford (Steve), Brian White (Daniel), Amy Acker (Wendy), Tim De Zarn (Mordecai)

Directed by Drew Goddard 

"I can only imagine your pain and confusion...but know this... What's happening to you is part of something bigger... something older than anything known. You've seen horrible things. An army of nightmare creatures. But they are nothing to what came before. What lies below."

The Short Version: This ferociously original homage to a host of horror classics and their cliches boldly goes where no horror flick has gone before. Goddard's movie is a bizarre 90 minute nightmare that's a gasp of fresh air within a cesspool of genre redundancy and noticeable lack of creativity. The film starts and moves along as a standard horror picture, although scenes here and there clue you in on the fact that not everything is as it seems. An Orwellian aura also adds to the darkly humorous tone the film occasionally entertains via an arcane reality show style backdrop wherein the "viewers" choose a "winner". In addition, the gore-soaked, Lovecraftian conclusion is a major highlight as are the doom-laden final moments that briefly explores some fascinating religious subtext.

Amidst a glut of sequels and remakes, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is truly a treat for horror fans and a welcome change of pace from the typical mainstream terror fare. It often feels like an extended episode of NIGHT GALLERY, but with added sex and gore. Like a great many other movies creeping up on us at the bijou, this is yet another attempt at paying tribute to pass gory glories.

However, Goddard's movie (co-scripted with BUFFY and ANGEL scribe Joss Whedon) is far more successful than so many of the Great Pretenders that attempt to forcibly make horror fans believe they're Kool because they're simultaneously winking and referencing some elder horror mainstay. It's also a film that epitomizes going into it cold without knowing too many details. The trailer subtlely gives away a detail or two, but nothing too revealing; just enough to enhance curiosity.

As much as  I disliked SCREAM (1996), it took a familiar genre style and tried to make it hip by featuring a killer(s) that used the rules of slasher films to claim their victims, while at the same time, convincing viewers that all those slasher movies were populated with nothing but stupid people who supposedly did nothing but stupid things. If anything, SCREAM was successful in reinvigorating the slasher genre for the late 1990s paving the way for such franchises like the SAW series as well as popularizing the laziest, self-centered poster design style in cinema history.

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS isn't that sort of genre acknowledgement. It subverts the conventions without smacking you in the face with them. It plays with them in a self-effacing way that is both familiar and also presents said familiar territory in a way that's not been seen before. Once you realize what's going on, it's like you've been immersed in one of those 'Choose Your Own Adventure' stories; only here, it's a much bigger contingency pulling the strings and manipulating living, breathing people via a macabre Big Brother totalitarianism.

Without revealing too much, all hell literally breaks loose during the last twenty minutes following a string of surprises, shocks and strange details that will leave you scratching your head till all is explained during the final few minutes. Till then, it's a slasher-zombie ode to THE EVIL DEAD (1983) riding the coattails of what amounts to a viscera strewn love letter to the works of H.P. Lovecraft. 

The acting is fine across the board and the jokes are funny; particularly the bleak sarcasm permeating the film. The effects, many of which are practical creations, are top notch save for some dodgy CGI. The film is never quite scary enough, but David Julyan's score aids the superlatively spooky art decor especially during the sequences in the woods.

Take a long look at the poster, or gander at the holographic cover of the DVD (which reveals some of the creatures in the film) and that will give you some idea of the quirky and creepy little film you're in store for. If you played the original RESIDENT EVIL all the way through, that will also give you some insight into what this meticulously morbid movie has to offer. Abandon all expectations and try to enjoy the gruesome ride, just be wary of the consequences of taking a short cut down a dirt road, or venturing into a dark cellar.

This review is representative of the Lionsgate DVD.


Nigel M said...

Well, I think we will have to agree to disagree on this one. Reflexivity is not necessarily big, nor is it clever.

On the plus side the zombie family were potentially great monsters but once the whole thing took a westworld turn the film degenerated beyond self parody to into the realm of farce.

Cramming a load of horror references into little boxes and unleashing them simply made it all a Pulp Fiction for fans of modern horror. Where Tarantino would include a reference to Bande a Part or so on this film would do the same with Hellraiser or Cube.

Ultimately it fails for a number of reasons- firstly the scary test. The zombie family showed potential, in a firefly family way, but this was squandered. The rest tried to be too clever in the way that Jeepers Creepers fell apart at the end or Yellowbrickroad did.

Okay, it was quickly paced for those younger viewers brought up in a post-MTV video gaming era but give me a Jacques Tournier or a Lucio Fulci over this any day.

Still, tastes are a subjective thing and hard to account for. I was almost alone in my love for Open Water for example. But for me. Cabin in the Woods was far too manic for my tastes and the ending, I remember saying after viewing, in throwing all but the kitchen sink at viewers it became like a Blazing Saddles style conclusion of the horror genre.

That said, I was not disappointed, the film lived up to my expectations.

venoms5 said...

Speaking of Fulci, a couple of shots at the end reminded me of THE BEYOND.

And Tarantino is nowhere near as controlled or reigned in as this movie was with its references. The story was original and wasn't ABOUT the references unlike QT's sloptastic ego boosters masquerading as movies.

I, too, enjoyed OPEN WATER, but regarding this movie, I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed it a lot. Thank you for in depth comment, Nigel.

Nigel M said...

Mostly pleased I have found someone to share the Open Water love! I think a lot were expecting a Jaws movie because of how it was trailed. As to Cabin in the Woods- I knew nothing at all about it, so no expectations. I thought it had a promising start, first looking like My Little Eye then the zombies were pretty good. But that whole Pandora's box thing didn't work for me. From the moment the characters entered the elevator it lost me. It was a bit Westworld from there on in- not that this is a bad thing in itself but Westworld is Westworld. Maybe it didn't help that I have been watching a lot of top notch films lately- and clever ones with a completely different pacing- as you know the pacing on Italian film tends to be leisurely while Cabin in the Woods was absolutely manic. For all the criticisms I will say this- there certainly wasn't a quiet moment.

Note here though, the criticisms I offer, as you can tell, are more to do with my tastes really. Because if say a younger colleague asked me if I recommended Cabin in the Woods then to them, yes I would. Even if some of the references were more for the 30 and 40 somethings. But still it was not for me. But on the other side of the coin, I adore Anthropophagus and I know that many of my colleagues would find little worth in that but would like Cabin in the Woods :)

Kaijinu said...

As a dude who loves his monsters as much as he loves his slashers, this movie came in a real treat for me from beginning to end, and more coming from that last twenty minutes.

I mean come on, who can top a cavalcade of ghouls and spooks prowling around, massacring everybody in sight?

Plus there's that random unicorn; Never saw it coming.

Franco Macabro said...

I enjoyed this one as well, it was like a mish mash of so many different types of horror filmsss...the slasher, the zombie...the ghosts, the lovecraftian just went all over the place. It also comments on the nature of marketing and filmmaking if you ask me. This is one horror film that is smarter then it appears to be.

venoms5 said...

@ Nigel: Most people seem to dislike movies that show very little, or virtually nothing at all. It's also why I think audiences have been programmed to like films with less plot and characterization, instead gear more towards an accent on visuals which are rammed down your throat every few minutes. With enough of that, watching something slower paced, or of an older vintage will be seen as hopelessly boring.

I didn't see CABIN as one of these till the ending, and for me, a films finale should be the culmination of everything that has come before it. I also appreciated the film because it wasn't a sequel nor another dreary remake.

But OPEN WATER was definitely a suspenseful, tragic movie that sadly, takes its cue from actual incidents that seem to happen more often than you'd think. That they shot the film around real sharks was also a testament to the filmmakers willingness to do anything to get their film made. THE REEF is another good, tense shark movie, Nigel if you haven't seen it yet.

And I quite like ANTHROPOPHAGUS as well. Despite plodding along here and there, D'Amato definitely created an eerie atmosphere of dread throughout. I do think the stock score of the US version was better than the one on the Italian original.

venoms5 said...

@ Kaijinu: I wish I'd of went to the theater to see it. I had planned to but personal issues kept me from being in the mood for venturing out into public at the time, lol. I've never been a huge Lovecraft fan, but liked its usage here as well as the plethora of familiar monsters and the bizarre additions. I dug the creepy clown. You weren't expecting the unicorn, I wasn't expecting the clown, or the horse for that matter, lol.

venoms5 said...

@ Fran: I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Aside from the collage of creatures, I liked the whole Big Brother-1984 backdrop that this mysterious cult built around some sort of big corporation was watching and manipulating the moves of a group of people to serve them up as some sort of sacrifice to avert global destruction. And the religious annotations during the final scene were also interesting.

Scott Strout said...

while i really enjoyed the movie and it shows you Hollywood's judgement as it sat on the shelf.

my only question is did you laugh as loud as i did when that guy got speared by the unicorn?

Aaron said...

Great review, sir! I pretty much agree with everything you have to say, and you did a good job of tip-toeing around certain things. I'm really impressed with how everyone (including fans) went out of their way to be secretive about the film when it was released and actually be successful for the most part.

Unknown said...

The guys in my office at DISH kept telling me to rent Cabin in the Woods, but they wouldn’t tell me what it was about. So when I put Cabin in the Woods in my Blockbuster at Home movie queue I thought I was going to be scared within an inch of my life. You hit the nail on the head when you said that it was never really scary enough, but funny is way too light a word to use for what Whedon has created. This movie was absolutely hilarious! The plot was amazing and the acting really was on point throughout the film. And I don’t know what you mean about dodgy CGI. Since it does not cost me any extra I rented Cabin in the Woods in blu-ray and the graphics looked awesome to me.

Maynard Morrissey said...

One of this year's biggest disapointments. For me, it was too meta, too Whedon-esque and too unscary/unthrilling.

Guess this wasn't made for me, as I am a huge Scream-fan and an avid Whedon-hater :)

venoms5 said...

@ Scott: I didn't laugh, but it caught me by surprise. I did get a giggle out of the insane killer clown, though!

@ Aaron: Thanks! I thought it was important to skirt around things where this movie was concerned. I wasn't in love with it at first, but once I began figuring it out as it got closer to the end, the second viewing was much, much better.

@ Titanius: I loved it, too, but some of the CGI, particularly the giant snake and some of the CG gore during the ending looked only slightly more polished than what you get on SyFy Channel.

@ Harry: I'm a SCREAM hater, actually, lol. Never been into BUFFY or those other TV "horror" shows. I do wish I'd of went to see this in the theater now, though.

Apologies for the late replies, all.

ZomBoy said...

One of the high points for me were the quick glimpses into the boxes of the nastiness about to be unleashed. The patiently waiting Ku Kluxers cracked me up.

venoms5 said...

I don't remember the KKK thing, Zom, lol. I will have to see it again. But the finale blew me away. Wasn't expecting that at all.

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