Movie Review – The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
by NIR SHALEV
It’s literally impossible to review The Cabin in the Woods without revealing the tiniest spoiler. Therefore I issue a tiny warning, but then again if you’ve seen the trailer you already know that this is not the typical ’80s slasher horror film.
The film opens with a couple of scientists, Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford). We follow them as they navigate through a secret scientific facility. They converse about the most mundane daily activities, including child-proofing one’s drawers at home, and then the title of the film jumps at us abruptly, and at the wrong moment, and scares the audience. It’s a funny sequence, it’s effective, and it sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Next we meet the five main characters, each embodying a cliche: the jock (Chris Hemsworth), the slut (Anna Hutchison), the virgin (Kristen Connolly), the stoner/philosopher (Fran Kranz), and the handsome straight-A student (Jesse Williams). The jock’s cousin had let them use his cabin in the woods during their school break and they travel there via RV. They make the obvious pit-stop at the derelict gas station that’s run by the local redneck, who takes no guff from anyone, and especially not from college kids, and eventually get to the cabin. There, things go awry just like in traditional ’80s slasher films.
What connection do the scientists have to the college kids? They monitor the cabin with many hidden cameras and produce horror film cliches on cue. The reason for this I leave to you to discover, but if you pay close attention during the opening of the film you’ll figure it out early on like I did.
Suddenly, the trap door to the basement swings open, scaring the group and we hear one of them say, “It must have been the wind.” The jock, who is a sociology major and a brainiac, suddenly dumbs down and tells the group that “they should split up because they’d be able to cover more ground.” There’s a good reason for all this and for why redneck zombies make an appearance as well. This is far more of a comedy than it is a standard horror film. I like the moments early on where we’re told that the main characters are not typical slasher film cliches but then they turn into them when they arrive at the cabin. Also, the best parts of the film are all of the scenes that involve the scientists; and I don’t want to ruin any of them because there lie the best and also funniest moments.
The Cabin in the Woods is a meta-centric, deconstructionist horror/comedy that’s directed and written by Drew Goddard, the writer of Cloverfield (a film that I utterly detest) and co-written by Joss Whedon (writer/direct of the upcoming The Avengers film). The goofiness of the film and the “cleverness” of the situations are definitely the mark of Whedon’s writing but the film suffers from being nothing more than an intriguing, albeit original concept that’s ultimately, heavily predictable.
While the college kids are in the woods and are fending for their lives, living through one cliche after another and being chased by cliched monsters, the film even visually resembles moments from Friday the 13th (any of them), The Hills Have Eyes (any of them), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Piranha (1978), and a few others.
Now, the reason that the film doesn’t completely work is because even though eventually everything that’s happened is explained, I was still left with all of the questions that I had from the start of the film. The story’s concept is neat but the script doesn’t tell the audience why everything happened and the way that it did. I asked the film “why?” at frequent intervals and by the end of it I hadn’t received a single answer. Upon reminiscing and deconstructing the happenings of the film during the past few days I found that I had more questions than answers and realize that the film doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Although I don’t know why anything happened that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. The concept, the scientists, and the final 20 minutes make the film worth watching and it’s nice to see a meta-centric film that doesn’t annoy simply because it’s meta. Many films nowadays, mostly found-footage films, are meta-centric and have grown tiresome rather quickly but this film plays it for fun and right from the get go. There isn’t a single moment of realism or a serious tone to be found and that’s a step in the right direction.
Were those classic ’80s slasher films realistic in any way? No. Were they entertaining? Absolutely. Therefore, the formula works only if you know how to have fun with cheesy material and how to twist it, and Goddard and Whedon most certainly do. This is a fun film but don’t ask it any questions. It’s a one-way transmission.