This is less of a review than an editorial. An editorial full of spoilers. I will write a mini-review to explain my thoughts about the film for the curious, but from then on I will be in spoiler territory; so tread carefully. If I am being strongly negative, it isn’t to say that the film lacks strong points, but that the strong points could have been emboldened.
To begin with, this article was inspired by three factors:
1.) Ultra Culture highlights my annoyance
2.) I have a lot more to say about 1.)
3.) At least one of my friend strongly disagrees
Here’s the mini-review for you spoiler-phobes out there who still want to see it cold. The plot is so much of a spoiler I can only tell you that five friends go off to a cabin and horror ensues.
The Cabin In The Woods (d. Goddard, 2012) is a wickedly funny thrill-ride that takes the horror genre and decides to mess around with it. Like Jigsaw from the SAW franchise would do to an unsuspecting attorney who freed a man who drowned some puppies, this film upturns convention and makes for an entertaining mix of zany insane thoughts and meta-commentary.
However, it never really packs a punch, either as a satire or even emotionally as it looks into the mechanics of horror rather than the people involved. While the deconstruction is a committed effort, the film does not justify the narrative turns that it takes at points. Sometimes, hammering the point home is better than implying, particular when other films have done similar things with more aplomb.
All in all, it isn’t the greatest of horror films, and it isn’t particularly biting, but The Cabin In The Woods is an entertaining film that you should go in to cold, without knowing anything.
HERE BE Spoilers.
This editorial will be spread out into separate headings. I hope to achieve a full image of why this film is not a game-changer or a masterpiece.
Here’s the plot again (for those who like being spoiled):
Five friends go off to a remote cabin in the woods. A bunch of office workers are preparing for a mysterious project. Said project: kill the five inhabitants of the cabin, but allow them to choose their death. Reason: appease the gods to not kill humanity. Chaos ensues.
Here we go:
- Once More, With Feeling.
Let me get this straight, I am not going to talk about Whedon’s other work nor Drew Goddard’s for that matter, but this title is apt for what I am trying to get at with this film. This is a movie which judges the aspect of humanity’s addiction to carnage and shows human beings at their worst. The office workers work idlely by while these co-eds are slaughtered by Redneck Zombies. Standard.
However, we never really feel the plight of the characters. As the company turns them into horror stereotypes (through hormones and other mechanics), we see a strong showcase of the ramifications of what change like this could do psychologically. You have Marty (Fran Krantz) acting as the proto-hero, who evades being drugged by having his own stash of weed – and highlights the inconsistencies of character and behavior. We barely see the other characters struggle with their identities, and when we do, with Dana (Kristen Connolly) considering their situation, it is done with an incredibly light touch. The interior lives of the characters are as hollow and thin as the stereotypes that they are forced into. If real people were in horror situations, while acting like idiots, they’ll still feel more pain and agony than a stereotypical one.
However most importantly, horror is not merely the physical; it is also can be emotional. The anxiety and suspense. You might put it on screen, but the audience needs to feel it. This film rarely utilises it, and never makes sure you feel the horror. By extension you – the audience – are responsible. Yes, you. Gods of cinema. But why do we not feel it?
What’s more, we never really see these workers reveling in celebration of the carnage in relation to the characters (except once, in one of the truly greatest scenes I have ever seen, as Steve Hadley, played by Bradley Whitford, claims to feel a connection to Dana but then turns his attention to newly arrived tequila). As such, I felt that the film never earned or justified it’s ending. Speaking of which….
- LOVECRAFT: Cthulhu and other ancient gods.
Cthulhu has merch?
You must have heard of H. P. Lovecraft. If you haven’t, wikipedia him right now. A prominent and prolific horror writer, his influence is felt throughout this film. Of course, Lovecraft never wrote a story about a bunch of co-eds getting slaughtered, but he did create monstrous creatures, such as Cthulhu, shoggoths and a group of alien gods called the Great Old Ones. The whole mythos is based on the idea that there used to be ‘elder gods’ that are worshipped and sacrificed to. The Cabin In The Woods has creatures almost identical in concept; they are called the ‘ancient ones’.
This does not stop Cabin from being ‘game-changing’, but the effect of Lovecraft’s tales – of pure hopelessness and the total destruction of humanity – is far more harrowing and profound than Cabin. The stories iterate that undiluted knowledge of these gods can cause pure insanity. Cabin was fun, sure, but there is nothing chilling about the events (third-act is more Raimi than Craven with the cornucopia of monsters slaughtering everything) or even to be lost (see Once More, With Feeling).
The film builds up to Signorney Weaver’s cameo, explains the reasons for this ‘sacrifice’ but it is never fully justified and loses the momentum. It is an attempt to be funny and ironic, but jars somewhat with the tone of the rest of the film or at least an effective ending. As such humanity might lose, but the main characters win. If we are to consider the grotesque nature of horror, there are far more effective ways, but there needs to be the horror of horrific, a casual spiff. Strangely, the film makes every death very quick and sudden; if these gods asked for full-on torture and anguish, then why are the death so… well… painless (for us).
- Genre form, but not genre.
Jeff Cannata of the Totally Rad Show, guest starring on The /Filmcast, stated that he preferred Charlie Kaufman going for horror deconstruction rather than Whedon (though I agree, Redneck Zombies are not the best monsters to prove the point). Before you try to hurt me, Whedonite, I disagree. However, as a game-changer, this film does not try hard to deconstruct AND destroy. Take what I say with a grain of salt.
There have been better films that deconstruct the subject of love (Certified Copy), filmaking (Adaptation), and the average life (The Truman Show), but when this film deconstructs the horror genre it doesn’t add up. A game-changer should realistically change the perspective of how people view the world, the genre and filmmaking. It feels unlikely that anyone will find this film all that refreshing, as the Scream franchise once was. Our culture is too meta-textual; if the film were released in 2010 then it might be, but with films such as Detention, TV series’ like Community, and choose-your-own-adventure youtube videos, this film will not make an impact outside fans of the horror genre. There is no semiotic connection that people can latch onto, unlike Inception’s totems. People will view the world the same as it ever was and a film like Cabin will not reach that audience.
With the film’s insistence in showing the destruction of narrative cinema, the gods are the cipher for the audience, and the controllers for Hollywood. However, because it does not use a sharper edge, stronger emotions or more playing up of it’s Lovecraftian connections, The Cabin In The Woods loses it’s grip, becoming just shocking instead of enlightening. The film is unpredictable, yes, but affecting, nope. The twists and turns are clever and fun, but as a game-changing text it needed to work on a more thematic level, around the idea of horror film making or even how humanity operates itself.
If the film is subverting the horror genre and it’s techniques and monsters, without directly pointing out the horror clichés, that’s a positive. However, for a film that seems to wants to play around with conventions of horror film-making, it doesn’t work too hard to actually keep to them, and does not revel in the B-Movie tendencies that the creators (that both Whedon and Goddard, and the controllers) want. They want to make a bad B-Movie Horror, but if you are going for comic elements there needs to be more stupid dialogue and human error. Of course, this would sacrifice the pathos… but this film never really truly had any.
I will conclude with this, as a sort of light in the tunnel: the film was a lot of fun. Solid entertainment. With its twists and turns, it was a rollercoaster that turned subverting conventions into a ride that will not be forgotten for some time, referencing to countless other horror films and touches upon the more satirical meta-elements. It could have been even more though.
I do want a Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford to get their own spin-off. That’ll be lovely.
Agree? Disagree? Comment below or email me.