Friday, October 26, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Warning: I don't know what you've heard about this one, but the following review contains spoilers.

Overrated. Groundbreaking? I don't think so. It's clever, no doubt. A good idea. But a good movie? As a horror fan, watching it is like getting a slap in the face. As a member of the horror audience, I am not so stupid as to not have already figured out that horror movies are fantasies constructed by dev teams, and not realistic portrayals of the world and the way people interact (usually). I also understand, already, that people who watch horror movies demand certain things - like sex and violence. That's the point. Telling us that we're pitiable for it is an insult.

Also, as a horror fan, though I am not overly critical of horror cliches (else why would I be a horror fan?), I am not a mindless zombie. I appreciate movies that deviate from formula! If anything, the "ancient gods" represent not the horror fan but the mindless consumer, and this whole movie is a parody of consumer entertainment, happening to focus on the particular genre of horror (by incidence). People who complain that horror is schlock are just as annoying as the people who complain ceaselessly that rock is dead (instead of, you know, writing some songs and starting a rock band). Anyway, it's not a good horror movie (although I don't think it was trying to be) because it's neither insightful nor scary.

The back story of the Buckner family? Fascinating! Too bad it was only a device to introduce another boring set of zombies (the monsters were all cheapened by their disposable, interchangeable, commodified quality). I would enjoy a movie about the Buckner family before they died (and why were they zombies anyway?). Sure, horror movies about inbred rednecks are a dime a dozen, but the sexual overtones that hint at extreme sadism? It just seems like topics like these are treated as cliches, but nobody has the balls to deal with them seriously - or at least noone with the talent to pull it off.

An underground facility that traps all sorts of horror monsters, dishing them out to people based on associated relics in the cabin's basement? Another fascinating idea! But we only get to see one iteration, and when all hell breaks loose, it's just a craptastic CGI fest. Although, the unicorn was pretty awesome. And when the merman crawled through the haze to finish off the one suit - poetic justice. Now if the movie had more of that - people meeting their personal nightmares (or, more likely in this case, the monster of their dreams - something every experienced horror fan has) - it would have been a whole lot more entertaining. Those are good ideas.

Character tropes annoy me as much as anyone. Marty would have been an awesome trope inversion (as would most of the cast) in a serious horror film. I get it - people don't fit into neat little labeled boxes. And anyway, do friend groups really diversify that much? Isn't it more accurate that the stoners hang out with the stoners, the jocks hang out with the jocks, and the nerds hang out with the nerds?

I understand this movie is pointing out the flaw in that logic, but as an audience member, I'm one of the people complaining about those tropes! If anything, the 'ancient gods' are the studios, and the stupid advertising teams, that may know with some accuracy what it takes to turn a profit, but don't know shit about good art (because fans are not the same thing as consumers). I would be much more comfortable, as a self-respecting horror fan, taking this movie as a send-up to Hollywood, and not the mass audiences who view these movies.

I don't know. It's hard for me to know how to feel about this movie. As I said, it's a clever idea, but I'm not sold on the execution. And the implications it makes are strong but not entirely clear. I guess it could successfully sell itself as a critical or parody film, and it certainly had no shortage of humor, but as a horror film, I'm not satisfied. And if it's trying to make some kind of statement about the state of the horror genre, I find it more than a little bit presumptuous.

There's nothing about reality TV or torture porn at all that spells out 'bad horror' - it's people who don't have their hearts in it copying other people who do to make a profit. And while The Cabin in the Woods may be a more or less original idea, it doesn't break new ground by rehashing all the ideas we've seen before. I don't want to watch a movie telling me what's wrong with movies, I want to watch a movie that shows me - whether any other movie has shown me in just that way before or not - what it is about the movie medium that's so magical and entertaining. In other words, I want to see a good movie, not watch some navel-gazing meta amateur attempt at allegory.

But wait, there's more!


  1. I'm sorry you didn't like it (especially considering I recommended it, my bad!) But I guess I'm not entirely surprised you didn't like it, if there's one film I'd compare it to out of any, it is definitely Scream by a landslide.

    I know many people are quick to point a finger at, well... anything they can. So it's no surprise some fans try to paint this is an attack on modern horror. But I see no reason to believe that The Cabin in the Woods is a critique. It's a loving roast, like Scream or Shaun of the Dead.

    Joss Whedon created TCITW, he also created Alien Resurrection and the Buffy The Vampire Slayer movie so the idea that he's in any position to derisively mock anything about horror is laughable. Maybe John Carpenter in 1982 could wag a finger if he so chose, but Whedon poo-pooing modern horror would be like McDonald's deriding cheap food. They're laughing with horror, not at it.

    After all, like you said, we're not idiots, we already knew about all these tropes. You don't watch 60-some HorrorFest films without noticing the common threads. Thing is, people like Joss Whedon and the great Kevin Williamson (creator of Scream), are fans just like us. Horror has always been a self-referential genre and that's all that this is, not an insult but a loving tribute. Every film medium and indeed every medium of anything has its own set of silly tropes, Joss and Kevin only chose horror because they love horror. (And indeed they give the same treatment to the other genres they love). Like you said, it doesn't make these films great horror films per se', but it does make them clever.

    The movie reminded me a lot of The Hunger Games. Not because it involves a dystopian society forcing relatively young people into a gruesome deathmatch for entertainment's sake, but because it takes a myriad of well-worn tropes and combines them into an original idea. I wouldn't have thought you could combine Scream, The Evil Dead and The Hunger Games, just like I wouldn't have thought you could combine Battle Royale, The Truman Show, Twilight and The Giver. Granted the Hunger Games is far smarter. Or at least the book version is...

    I'm just waiting, for god's sake, for someone to do a self-aware Scream-style found footage film. The damn thing pretty much writes itself, but alas I am no filmmaker. If only I had been learning filmmaking for the last 10 years...

    P.S. the monster of my dreams is definitely the carnosaur/velociraptor. I've been having fantasies about meeting my end at the hands of a chance encounter with a raptor since I was 14. I still do every time I look down a dark street and there's a streetlight at a far off intersection, I can just imagine the Carnosaur standing there under the light and then lifting his head to look at me... Then I bolt but he follows and... What's yours??

  2. I don't know that I would say I didn't like it, I just didn't like the implications it was making, and I think the praise that is heaped on it is undeserved. Joss Whedon may love horror (I have my doubts, Buffy aside), but it's like Cabin in the Woods was trying too hard to be a sci-fi movie, which Joss Whedon should stick to, instead of trying to do horror.

    I knew you'd pick the raptor. My dream monster would almost certainly be a xenomorph.