Monday, April 16, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

Caveat: this post will be riddled with spoilers. If you haven't seen THE CABIN IN THE WOODS and would like to, just stop reading now. It's best to go in fresh.

I'll admit upfront that I haven't seen most of the horror films from the last decade. I like the horror genre quite a bit, but I don't consider myself a connoisseur or even that particularly well-versed in its recent arcs or tropes. I've seen some and have really liked some (28 DAYS LATER, CABIN FEVER, THE OTHERS, etc.) but mostly I've limited my horror intake to older films because, well, I like older films. This isn't to say that recent horror is all garbage, but that I haven't been that particularly interested in it enough to seek it out on a consistent basis. So, with that being said, I can't really call THE CABIN IN THE WOODS a "game changer" because I haven't been following the game that closely to begin with. I will say that THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is one of the few horror films since 28 DAYS LATER to actually get me excited enough to go see it in a theater. I give it points within the recent horror pantheon right there just for kindling my usual incombustible interest.

I was looking forward to writing a legit review about the film the way Brandon does, but I'm feeling a bit tired and scatter-brained today so I don't think I'll be able to do that. Instead, I'm gonna make this real easy and break the film up into what I liked and didn't like.

Here's what I liked:

-The self-awareness about conforming to horror archetypes. I like that Dana isn't really a virgin, that Jules isn't really a blonde or a sexpot, that Curt is actually intelligent, that Holden becomes more nerdy and sensitive as we go along, and that Marty is overplaying the stoner-role so much so that his introduction to us consists of him getting baked with a massive thurmo-bong while driving. These kids are being processed into their roles and it's fun to see how it happens and how they are able to recognize it or not. The little manipulations by the Company to get them to do things like want to split up or have sex are fun and clever. Definitely commenting on how horror films can become rote or over-processed to the point of being pure formula. I don't know if the Company is selling this footage as underground snuff films or who the "audience" is supposed to be, but the footage is definitely being watched by someone (besides us) who likes formula.

-The obvious mystery to the Company performing the ritual. I loved the introduction of the Japanese footage (with the RINGU-esque ghost terrorizing the school girls). It just added an even stronger air of menace to the Company and really piqued my interest in their purpose, power, and scope. At that point, my mind was racing through all the possible explanations, which is great because I want to be intrigued by what I'm seeing. If I actually care about the mystery, that is a promising sign.

- The choices of monsters. How cool would it have been if were able to shoot several versions of film with different monsters chosen in each? Super ambitious and probably unrealistic, but a wild idea that would have made for a great dvd.

-The multiple screen shot where we see all the various monsters torturing the employees of the company. It's like a Where's Waldo of horror homages, and some of them are pretty damn funny (There's one with monsters holding a guy down and vomiting in his mouth that made me chuckle to myself–not sure if it is referencing anything).

-Merman blow-hole blood spout. Also made me chuckle.

-The genuine love the film has for the horror genre. While it often criticizes and deconstructs recent trends in the genre, there's no denying the film's reverence for horror films as a whole and excitement over getting to include so many of their elements.

What I didn't Like:

-The bad CGI when the monsters are released from the elevators and the hand (Ryan Gosling's hand we established) emerges to destroy humanity. I don't like bad CGI. It takes me out of the fun and the thrill, and this did it. Give me a million of the characters who looked tremendous in their make-up over the CG snake any day.

-I'm on the fence about this next issue, but I'm siding more towards dislike. For a film that does a nice job upsetting so many genre conventions, it can't avoid falling into the retributive third act that is a staple of horror films. I'm pretty sure they were just going for audience approval with it, but having a button that says "purge" where all the monsters are released to turn the tables on the Company just seemed like a lazy way to fall into that vengeful final act. While it's certainly cool to see the monsters released and to see our heroic characters survive long enough to decide their own fate, I wondered if there were a better way to end the film without reverting to an obvious structural denouement. With that being said, I don't think the details of the ending are tired or clich├ęd. It's a pretty wild, go-for-broke, bat-shit-crazy finale. But underneath those details I sense too much reliance on convention. Oh well. Kind of a minor complaint really.

What I didn't really mind:

-That it wasn't scary. It doesn't live or die by its scares, but by its cleverness and ability to entertain. Not being scary didn't hurt the film too much, in my opinion. I also wasn't expecting it to be.


Overall, I thought the film was fun, reasonably clever fluff. It didn't send me over-the-moon or make me reconsider everything I thought I knew about modern horror, but it didn't disappoint me in terms of entertainment and surprise, which was all I was really looking for. It's not really that deep, humanizing, or insightful, but I doesn't have to be nor do I think it aspires to be. It just wants to entertain, and I think it does that well and there's nothing wrong with that. If John wants to bash the film, I probably won't be able to argue against him, and if Jason wants to laud it unconditionally, I probably won't be able to knock him down a peg. To each his own. You either had fun or you didn't. I had fun.

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