THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)
Starring Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, & Jesse Williams
Directed by Drew Goddard
Written by Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon
Produced by Joss Whedon
Cinematography by Peter Deming
Music by David Julyan
Edited by Lisa Lassek

You know, on paper the whole Rubik's cube thing seems like quite a cool idea, but a bit of the novelty wears off once you find yourself in desperate need of a bathroom.

   If there’s any genre truly dedicated to embodying the simplistic fun the world of films can be, it’s the horror genre. In my opinion, no other genre of moviemaking lends itself to the intrinsic silliness, the pure, imaginative, and almost decadent spectacle associated with grabbing a camera and shooting stuff with it – a single genre obsessed with portraying the most abstract, depraved, mindfucking type of experiences you could ever achieve in a theater. One thing that humans beings love is watching other human beings pretend to meet gruesome, horrific fates. Groups of friends gather together ceremoniously to watch horror movies and willingly share in getting the ever-living crap scared out them. Basically what I’m saying here is, the horror genre is a very crucial part of the filmmaking universe – it encapsulates everything magical about the art of cinema, even if it can be incredibly gross and macabre at times.  I mean, think about it – almost every important and influential filmmaker out there has crafted at least ONE horror movie: Spielberg, Scorcese, Kubrick, Coppola, the list goes on for ages. Countless young filmmakers start their careers by making cheesy little horror flicks on cheap, shitty cameras – it’s just fun making horror movies!

   However, despite the continous love the populace feels for horror movies, an unfortunate stigma the genre has acquired over the years is that it’s just grown so…..repetitive. Redunant. Boring. Played out, even. It’s gotten to the point where you can literally guess exactly what’s around every turn, who’s going to die, HOW they’re going to die, etc. etc….even if you’re not really a horror film buff! There seems to be a blatant sense of laziness clouding the genre nowadays, a notion that “hell, people have paid for this shit time and time again…..so why would they stop now?” I believe If there’s one thing that should be absolutely dreaded by any creative force in the world, be it an individual artist, a group, or even an entire industry, it’s mindless repetition. I’d rather people just stop creating things, or at least take a break once they’ve reached a creative plateau, instead of endlessly churning out the same run-of-the-mill product, effectively diluting anything imaginative or original. Once you stop looking for new ideas, creative ways to bend storytelling to new limits, and genuinely interesting premises, then the entire world can feel the gears beginning to rust – the horror movie especially has become both a victim and perpetrator of this heinous crime.

   Bringing a big, fat can of oil to the party is the new film The Cabin in the Woods, directed by Drew Goddard and written by Goddard and Joss Whedon, both of whom hail from cultish fanboy fame and glory. These two dudes have a bunch of underground TV hits under their belts – Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Angel, and Dollhouse are just a few of their credits. I myself am not a part of the Goddard/Whedon following, but after seeing this film, I could easily see myself checking out their other projects. Basically, The Cabin in the Woods is a tale we’ve seen a billion times before – a group of young, college-age friends go out to a cabin in the middle of the woods and suffer horrific and terrifying fates at the hands of……some ungodly creation from hell. But, one thing that The Cabin in the Woods does – as it quite loudly proclaims in its advertising – is take that age-old (read: clichéd) idea and take it to some unpredictable, mystifying new heights. And hooooooo baby, you ain’t never seen anything like it before.

For one thing, it's got rampant woman-on-stuffed-animal action....an interesting turn of events to say the least.

   Now, before I continue, I just want to warn you: The Cabin in the Woods is not an easy movie to talk about adequately without giving away what happens. If you are genuinely interested in seeing this movie, then please, DO NOT READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW. If you want to truly experience a movie as strange and wonderful as this without any preconceptions, go to the theater right now and SEE IT. Because – and here’s a spoiler of my own review – this movie is REALLY good. If you want to know why and haven’t seen it yet, and have no problem with spoilers, then read on, my friend! But, if you don’t want to have an awesome experience spoiled for you, then I insist that you stop reading this and PLEASE go see this movie!

   Still with me? Good, because we have a lot to talk about. Like I said above in my spoiler warning, The Cabin in the Woods is an AWESOME movie, but not quite for the reasons you’d expect. One thing that needs to be stated about The Cabin in the Woods is that, as far as I’m concerned, it is secretly a comedy. This movie made me laugh a LOT more than it made me jump, and it wasn’t because things happening in the movie were corny or cheesy – this movie is genuinely clever and witty in its execution. Basically, The Cabin in the Woods serves a giant genre deconstruction – a movie made by true lovers of horror who are disappointed with the way the genre has turned out. It’s important to understand that this film is making a statement about the nature of horror films, while also working as one in its own regard – knowing this definitely plays a part in how the movie is perceived. If you’re going to this movie expecting something you’ve seen before, you are in for QUITE the surprise.

Another spoiler alert: creepy shit happens.

   The movie begins with a rather generic-looking title sequence – dripping blood with spooky images in it, red text, the works. But then suddenly, the film smash cuts to a plain-looking room in an office building, with two white-collar guys talking about something so mundane it’s just impossible not to laugh. We follow these guys – who turn out to be key elements of the story, and are expertly played by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins – out into a fancy-looking compound, continuing their droll conversation until giant red text cover the entire screen with cheesy horror music – THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.  It is truly an unconventional way to begin a movie labeled as a “horror” film, but then again, this is quite an unconventional film.

   We are then introduced to the protagonist of our movie: the very pretty Dana, portrayed by Kristen Connolly, who is getting ready to leave for the weekend with her friends. We soon meet those friends in the same scene, and they appear to be the normal horror movie fodder – a jock, a smart jock, a bimbo, and a stoner. But one thing I appreciate about this movie is that it actually establishes character very well – at least, as well as it needs to. This scene is full of great little moments and lines that set up these characters’ personalities, and all of the actors compliment their roles very adequately. My favorite character in the movie is definitely Marty, the quite articulate and surprisingly wise stoner who is hilariously played by Fran Kranz – he rolls up smoking a giant bong that turns into a Thermos and is soon waxing intellectual about the state of humanity and the fact we’ve let things get too far out of hand. “Society needs to crumble,” he says while rolling a joint, “we’re all just too chickenshit to let it.” Regardless of how you may feel about such a notion, I definitely give Whedon and Goddard props for introducing such a heavy theme into a mainstream horror flick – it doesn’t mean a lot at this early point in the movie, but it will definitely come back later in full effect.

That moment of curious recollection where you feel you've seen all this somewhere before...it usually happens before somebody does something stupid.

   Anyway, the kids get to the cabin after having a run-in with a particularly foul gas station owner named Mordecai, but are fully unaware their every move is being monitored by people in the facility we saw at the beginning. Jenkins and Whitford’s characters are sort of the main puppetmasters, pulling all the strings and manipulating events to influence the decisions of the 5 kids. That dude Mordecai I mentioned is actually apart of their scheme – in one of the film’s funniest scenes, he calls the puppetmasters to preach all kinds of creepy and ridiculous nonsense, unaware that he is on speakerphone and everyone listening to him is trying not to laugh their asses off. You see, Mordecai is the “Harbinger”, the guy who basically screams “YOU WILL DIE” at the “guests” before they arrive at the cabin. His purpose is to intimidate the cabin-goers, and establish a sense of unease in them that they inevitably choose to ignore. By pointing out this paradigm, giving it a name and reason for existing, the film effectively singles out every other time this ploy has taken place in countless other movies. How many horror movies have you seen where the main characters encounter some strange, undeniably creepy fellow who sets an uneasy tone for the rest of the movie? From my own experiences, my personal answer is WAY too many to count.

   This is where I’d like to talk about the interesting dynamic that sets this film apart from all others – the notion that there are people behind the scenes, actually controlling what’s going on according to a strict set of guidelines. The people running this operation know exactly what they’re doing, and how to achieve it – there are brief mentions of toxins in the newly-dyed blonde hair of the character Jules (played by Anna Hutchison) that alter brain operation, and more obvious manipulations with the “pheremone mists” that are deployed when Jules and Curt (Chris Hemsworth) are out in the woods to get a little busy. You see, this movie offers up a sort of ridiculous explanation for why characters in horror movies always make the same stupid and obviously pre-conceived mistakes – there are people directly manipulating it. And this is actually TRUE, because the people writing the scripts for those movies are usually following the general, pre-plotted outline and make their characters act accordingly. This whole “puppeteer” foil is brilliant – acting as its own entity inside the reality of the movie, while also making the external audience (you know, us) aware of the almost routine exercises that lead to these people being brutally slaughtered. The characters played by Whitford and Jenkins have a sort of detached sense of humor about what they do – they’re portrayed as regular Joes whose job just happens to be orchestrating the violent deaths of young, college-going human beings. The other people in their facility are equally detached – at one point, the entire staff starts making bets on which horrible atrocity will be unleashed upon our unwitting heroes. It’s maintained that this is just a job – a horrible one, but one that human beings must commit and cope with for…a purpose. As a self-aware, genre-critiquing foil, the whole “Death Operation” idea is executed perfectly, and I believe it’s what makes the movie great. There are two stories happening at once – the main story with the kids in the cabin, and alternate story with the people behind the scenes controlling it all. Eventually, these two stories collide, and the results are, simply put – a doozy.

I dunno about you but I would completely trust a multi-billion dollar internationally top secret undercover operation to these people.

   So the kids start to get murdered by a “zombie redneck torture family”, a choice unwittingly picked by Dana out of a cornucopia of hellish freaks, beasts, and monstrosities. This is where the horror movie aspect of the movie works really well; the zombies actually look pretty damn scary, and there are even a few creative embellishments here and there. I especially enjoyed the zombie that wielded a bear trap as a weapon and swung it around in the air like a lasso to latch onto the backs of escaping victims – even if I saw that in a normal horror movie I’d STILL think that was a hilarious idea. Eventually the kids start to understand that something is NOT right when the tunnel they’re escaping through caves in due to an explosion (cued by a frantic Jenkins at the facility, trying desperately to keep them from leaving), and when Curt dramatically tries to jump the gorge that would lead to freedom, only to be killed instantly when he smacks directly into an invisible force field keeping them caged inside. Eventually the survivors come across an elevator that takes them down into the facility, where a blockade is set up to execute them before they cause any further trouble. Backed into an inescapable corner, Dana spots a conveniently large and bright red button that says “SYSTEM PURGE” and pushes it. This unleashes all sorts of hell and painful, torturous mayhem as the countless horror movie monsters run rampant on everyone in their path, resulting in what is undoubtedly one of the GREATEST climaxes to ever exist in cinema history! Seriously, if I had to choose one simple reason to see this movie, I’d pick the final 20 minutes of the film where absolutely absurd chaos reigns supreme….it is A LOT of fun to watch! There are many visual allusions to horror films past, and indeed the entire scene is a loving celebration of why horror movies are so damn awesome in the first place – any kind of horrific fate can and WILL happen, no matter what. The survivors use this chaos and unpredictability to make their ways to the very bottom of the facility, where an explanation and the end of the movie both reside.

   So, at this point I’m gonna delve into the BIG spoiler of the movie, the big juicy secret which I’ve avoided mentioning until now. If you’ve been reading this and haven’t seen the movie, you might be wondering just what in the hell is the exact reason for all this brain manipulation and horrible acts of violence. The answer, to put it quite simply, is – human sacrifice. The fact of the matter is, the old gods which used to rule the Earth – they’re referred to as the “Ancient Ones” – have agreed to stay underground and let humans do their thing on the surface, so long as they are appeased by the bloody sacrifice of 5 particular youths at some sort of regular rate. The gods demand the blood of certain human archetypes: The Whore, The Athelete, The Scholar, The Fool, and finally, The Virgin. These 5 people, whoever they may be, are manipulated and brainwashed into being unwilling sacrifices to these gods, so that the rest of humanity may live. That’s right, the entire plot revolves around an intricately elaborate sacrifice of young blood to ancient, as-of-yet dormant gods. And my guess is, by the time you’ve finished reading that sentence, you’ll have already decided if this is the type of movie for you. Once the survivors make it to the sacrificial center room, we’re treated to an awesome cameo from Sigourney Weaver as The Director of the entire operation, who explains the details I just laid out for you. If the blood quota is not met by sunrise, The Director says, the Ancient Ones will rise out of their dwellings and wreak havoc upon the entire human race, no doubt ushering in a new era of life on Earth…with significantly less humans. I won’t spoil precisely what happens in the end, but I will say that the whole “society needs to crumble” theme I addressed earlier plays heavily into the proceedings.

Bro, it's like....a cabin, inside of a cabin, inside of a CABIN....it's like, the Inception of horror flicks, no joke.

   Simply put, the premise for The Cabin in the Woods is inherently silly and over-the-top. Once you begin the apply real-world logic to it and try to pick apart how the whole operation could work, you realize the silliness of it because there’s no way it could feasibly function in reality – for example, whenever somebody is killed, the Puppeteers pull a giant wooden lever which siphons their blood into a sacrificial offering for the gods. The whole mechanism for how this blood is retained is never explained, and honestly, there really is no way to logically explain how they got the blood to flow exactly where they needed it to go. But, despite the flaws in logic that would normally make other movies fall apart, I feel that this absurdity is precisely why the movie works, and what makes it so lovably strange – it’s a completely outrageous story that exists to point out the tired clichés of a genre that might have gotten too needlessly predetermined for its own good, while establishing a new precedent in movie silliness. The movie is more focused on having fun than making sense in a truly logical way; the logic holds up just enough for the plot to work, and that’s really all it needs. I don’t feel that Cabin is a movie that should be held to “regular” movie standards, because it is clearly not a “regular” movie….it’s trying to be something a little more than that.

   The Cabin in the Woods is definitely a comedy in disguise, a critical smart-ass of a film that picks apart and pinpoints every expectation of the horror genre we’ve grown to both love and hate. It’s a self-referential, self-aware movie that deliberately doesn’t play by the rules…in fact, it completely defies those rules and makes us question if they should even be followed to begin with. It delves into the idea that things might go a little deeper than we previously assumed, the idea that there is something vastly greater going on right beneath our noses. These are the core reasons why I particularly enjoyed the movie – it exists to make the audience watching it aware of what makes these movies tick, while also existing as its own hilarious story which stands up on its own. I just enjoyed the themes of the movie, what it was trying to convey to the audience, and on top of that it was well-written, directed and performed outside of all that other “deep” shit. I have no qualms with saying that The Cabin in the Woods is a groundbreaking film in that regard. It’s an undeniably funny movie that provides a fresh and interesting perspective on what we’ve previously accepted as the norm, and not just in horror films. Like I said before, I’m not a big Joss Whedon/Drew Goddard fan, but I can definitely say that they have achieved something very original and needed in the realm of horror movies. I’m hoping that the movie finds a wide audience that will understand and be inspired by its convictions, although to be honest it is a very weird movie. If you’re the type of person who can deal with unconventional, self-referential moviemaking, then this is definitely a movie for you. If not, well…..the remake of Friday The 13th is always a safe option.

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