Movie Review: The Cabin in the Woods

Is there such a thing as too clever? I would typically say, no. But then, I typically would say anything with Joss Whedon involved would suffer from being “too clever” or better yet, “too far up its own ass”.

Cabin in the Woods wolf makeout

The whore makes out with a stuffed wolf head. She's such a slut, she's into bestiality! Oh Joss Whedon!

Cabin in the Woods basically presents two movies at once. Rather, one movie within a movie that you’re watching. And given that Scream milked slasher horror movie tropes dry, it only seemed necessary to have another movie that did the exact same thing, except this time with the whole genre and the Wayans Brothers aren’t involved! At the end of the day, it’s all the same thing, horny white teenagers get hacked up.

So movie #1 starts with two ordinary businessmen (the always amazing Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) setting up five teenagers to be offered up as part of a sacrifice (the story of the five teenagers is movie #2). Basically, they’ve set up a horror movie with the usual recurring cast of characters – the “virgin” (she’s not really a virgin though! Aw, shucks!), whore (typical and blonde), brains (he wears glasses), jock (this one is Thor! or Chris Hemsworth), and burnout/fool/freak (he smokes weed! Hilarity!). These people are basically being set up by the two aforementioned old dudes to be murdered in a cabin in the woods. It’s all part of a ritualistic sacrifice dating from prehistory. Other countries do it too (the “international” focus is namely Japan, sending up the most common Japanese horror movie staple: ghost of murdered Japanese girl who has hair in her face) but it’s all part of the greater good. Quell the spirits below. It’s basically similar to the plot of The Harvest, The Wicker Man; there was even a South Park episode about it. Except here, the “harvest” in question are the horror movie universes we love? It’s hard to say – the movie doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining things (or anything really). The people they chose turned out to be smarter than they hoped and chaos ensues and Sigourney Weaver makes a cameo. Wa-hoo – so now the tables have turned and the plot continues.

It can be funny. Sure, there’s no doubt about that. It can even be clever and rather ingenious about its whole presentation (despite it being all presentation and no actual explanation. I don’t need an explanation per se, but I’d prefer something more than what I’ve been given here – complete with giant Titan/Greek God hand emerging from Hell at the very end). It’s just not very scary and much like how Studio 60 was supposed to give us the backstage details on SNL but wasn’t very funny, the same thing is happening here. The thrills and suspense ebbs more toward action than true horror. Just because zombies are chasing you doesn’t give the chase any gravitas. Just because a man has razor blades flying out of his face doesn’t make the fact that he’s just standing there scary. There’s no weight behind any of it – it’s all pulling from horror movie clichés that we’ve come to expect (or have been told as such) rather than ones that truly exist. Good horror movies don’t subscribe to the usual – but then I guess this isn’t sending up good horror movies.

My problem is that this is where horror is going – to this place where being the most ironic, self-referential asshole of a script means the better horror movie you are. There’s no thrill to any of these scenes. There’s no chase. There’s no suspense. There’s no horror in gore, there’s no horror in mocking a trope – so what’s the point? The same can be said for Scream 4 – sure you made some good points about the current state of the genre and sequels and trilogies and whatnot, but the movie just wasn’t very scary. So what’s to make of a genre that when it’s good it’s damn good and when it’s bad it’s as hackneyed and clichéd as a Christina Aguilera song? Cabin in the Woods seems to think it’s the former (like most Joss Whedon ventures, it rests assuredly on the fact that it’s better than everything you’ve ever seen, deserved or not…usually not) when it’s really more of the latter. Maybe I just want my horror movies to actually scare the shit out of me.


[Cabin in the Woods is Rated R for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language, drug use and some sexuality/nudity. It stars Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and Chris Hemsworth. Directed by Drew Goddard and written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard.]

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