Movie Review: The Cabin in the Woods or “Why do we have this big red button anyway?”

Ok, before you read any further, please know that there are spoilers below the jump. Said spoilers are in white-colored font so you have to highlight the text to be able to read it. I have no idea if that will translate to a RSS reader if you are following my blog that way or if you’re viewing my blog through some other style OTHER than my blog. Regardless, you’ve been warned so if you read something you wish you hadn’t, and then complain about it, I will calmly point to this spoiler alert, point you at my spoiler policy and go on not caring.

Simply put, The Cabin in the Woods (TCitW) is my favorite movie of 2012 thus far, hands down, maybe even for 2011.

Written by Joss “I am your Master now” Whedon and Drew Goddard (who wrote Cloverfield and also directed this movie), TCitW is a story about five friends (Dana, Curt, Jules, Holden, and Marty) who go on a weekend get-away to a cabin…in the woods. On the way there they meet a spooky old guy at the last gas station on the way up to the cabin. He says some spooky things as he stands outside his spooky shack, and the kids dismiss what he has to say and head up the mountain to the cabin. This is all I will tell you of what specifically happens in the movie until after the jump.

In a review I read of TCitW they described this film as a love letter to horror films and I think that is entirely accurate. It takes so many of the standard horror movie tropes and tweaks them, puts them on their ear through the conceit of the movie, but then uses them in the same way they’re always used. It’s what I call the Joss Whedon affect, where he sets up a situation you’ve seen before and then gives you an outcome for the scene you’d never expect, like in the first episode of Firefly when Mal and company have double-crossed the bad guy who hired them to steal some stuff from a colony. To try and balance out the betrayal, Mal offers the bad guy’s goon to pay back the money they’d been given for the job and instead of taking the money the goon threatens to hunt them all down and kill them. In any other show Mal might knock him out and leave him there, he might take the money and run, something stereotypical. Instead, we get this:

Another thing that people might expect from TCitW is that it might be a borderline comedy. It’s not. That isn’t to say that there isn’t humor in the movie, intentional, unintentional, light or dark, (it is a Whedon film after all) but it never stops being a horror movie for which I’m glad. I think that something would have been seriously lost if they had tried to introduce a comedic thread through the film, it would’ve taken away some of the seriousness that makes you buy in more.

The cast all does a really great job with this film. From the five kids, who are both stereotypical and not in the same breath (the “jock” while a jock, is also a sociology major who is attending school on a full academic scholarship), and all of the acting talent does a really good job of getting the twists of each character down well. I do think that the best acting came from Fran Kanz, who played the stoner Marty, Kristen Connolly, who played Dana, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford (of West Wing fame), who play what would stereotypically be considered the villains.

Also, can I just say one thing? No. F’ing. Shakycam. Not once did the camera bounce as someone was running away, not once did I feel like I was going to vomit up my slushie.

SEE, DIRECTORS, IT CAN BE DONE.

There is only one thing with this movie, something my wife brought up, that I thought they missed the mark on but I can’t really talk about it here in specifics because it’d be a spoiler. However, what I can say is that there is a situation in the movie where they tried to go for a sense of urgency when something fails and the directors, or the actors, didn’t really get that sense of urgency right. Michelle and I both felt that they could’ve really ramped up the tension regarding the situation but they didn’t and we felt that was definitely a missed opportunity.

That being said, this movie had everything I like in horror films. It had suspense. It had scares. It had just the right amount of gore and violence without dipping into the realms of obscene (such as with torture porn, IMO) or outrageous. It had a few jump scares, which I always find cheap, easy, and dull, and I would love to see more horror come from the likes of Joss Whedon, if only so we can get his touches of humor.

While this movie does not have anything in it that I would say needed the big screen (unlike Avatar which would lose something in translation from the big screen to the home television, unless your home television is an IMAX theater), I am telling you to do yourself a favor and go see this movie. I paid full movie price and I would happily do so again if I knew a separate group of friends who hadn’t seen it were going.

And now, the spoilers:

No, really, spoilers.

Seriously, there are spoilers down here…

Ok, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So, the TCitW’s plot is that what is happening to the five victims has been planned. Take one part Michael Douglas’ The Game and mix it with the gamemasters from The Hunger Games and you get what is happening behind the scenes of what is being done to the five, stereotypical victims in that everything, from the appearance of the zombies that are after them, to them even going to the cabin in the woods in the first place, has been planned and orchestrated by a shadowy organization. Everything in the movie has been controlled and is controlled by the gamemasters. These five college kids have been herded to the cabin to meet their end for a purpose I’m not even going to spoil here, I want to leave you a reason to see it and, really, it’s fun, especially if you’re a fan of horror.

TCitW is a meta-horror film in a number of ways. First, you have your base level horror film with what’s happening to the college kids. Then you have what’s going on with the gamemasters (they aren’t called this but it’s the best way to think of them) and the horror that they are involved in. Finally, the gamemasters reference, a few times, putting on a good show for their audience which, while meant to reference something in the movie, is a nice little breaking of the fourth wall nod to us in the theater.

One thing I appreciated through the movie is that each of these layers of meta-horror has its own tone and tenor of tension. There’s the frantically paced tension of the kids trying to survive the zombies, the slow burn with the gamemasters as their situation begins to unfold (and in some ways unravel), and our own watching this film, knowing what we know.

The missed opportunity that I talked about above comes when all of the other sites the gamemasters control, and there are several scattered all over the world, fail in their task. I will not say what that task is, because it has to do with that thing I’m not going to ruin for you, but when the others fail it should have put an ENORMOUS amount of pressure on the site being shown in this movie to complete its task. However, the tone and tension doesn’t really change at that point, which I thought was odd considering tone and tension was done so well throughout the rest of the movie.

However, start to finish, I found The Cabin in the Woods to be an incredible movie and you should go see it.

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5 Responses to Movie Review: The Cabin in the Woods or “Why do we have this big red button anyway?”

  1. jfrieden says:

    You’ve convinced me to go see it if I get the opportunity. Though having the letter J O S S attached to the movie is probably the force that compels me the most.

    I’m sure you know this already, but that episode of Firefly isn’t the true series premier. It’s the one the network made them show first because the original pilot was “too slow,” or something.

    Also, is it weird that I found a link to this review while surfing Russian porn sites?

    Kidding . . . of course.

  2. spideyj says:

    I loved it SO MUCH.

    A couple of other things that struck me:
    a) Marty = Shaggy (from Scooby Doo), a nod to the whole disguise within a disguise meta plot.
    b) It had almost every level of horror except my favorite: atmospheric. I love Japanese horror (and I appreciate the nod given to the genre in Cabin) for the creepy feeling you get walking down a dark hallway and I felt like that was almost entirely missing from Cabin. I missed it only slightly though because the movie was so very very satisfying on every other level.
    c) It really had me thinking about what it means to write a meaningful character with love and craft and then do terrible things to them in the name of entertainment. This is the theme I want to figure out how to play on in a tabletop game (and also in a video game, of course) – does it matter what we do to our characters (ourselves) in a game?

    • mattmarovich says:

      I was laughing my ass off when he showed up while ripping that giant and collapsible bong. I have never smoked marijuana ever and I thought that bong was cool.

      Yeah, they didn’t really have time for that. I mean, by the time the zombies first appear the movie was pretty much set to a running pace, right? I don’t know if they really had the opportunity to slow it down in a way that atmospheric horror kind of needs (or at least certain kinds of atmospheric horror).

      Well, I think that theme plays out any time a person who knows about the Lovecraft Mythos plays CoC because they know that investigator is going to suffer horrible things, and in some fashion the player gets off on that.

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