The Cabin in the Woods
Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Chris Hemsworth
(US theatrical: 13 Apr 2012)
By now, most of the major reviews are in and it looks like The Cabin in the Woods, the long delayed horror film from Buffy creator Joss Whedon and Cloverfield‘s Drew Goddard is going to survive its two years on the shelf. Studios regularly dump this kind of commercial poison on unsuspecting film fans right before the major seasons (Summer and Awards) and even with guarantees from MGM, and later Lionsgate, that the movie was not an unmitigated disaster, audiences had a right to be suspicious. Well, with the raves out ranking the pans nine to one, it seems that all is right in the meta-macabre universe… or is it?
It seems that those who do not like what Whedon and Goddard have created have spent the better part of the last two days filling their reviews with massive (and in some cases, major) spoilers. Everything from the suggested set-up (the trailers have obviously given most of this away) to the final shot of the film, the ‘haters’ have been heckling those still interested by marring the movie’s surprises. Even more shocking, they have taken up the cause of defending the actions, arguing that The Cabin in the Woods is so enamored of, and dependant on, it’s many unusual twists and turns that to fairly discuss the overall result, one must… repeat, MUST discuss the final 50 minutes or so.
For those unaware—or are still confused by the many trailers and TV ads—The Cabin in the Woods offers up a quintet of terror archetypes (the whore, the jock, the scholar, the stoner, the virgin) and ships them off to a remote location where they intend to do some major league intercollegiate partying. Along the way, they run into the typical redneck with a doom and gloom prophecy, as well as a basement filled with spook show talismans. Some Latin incantations later and our group is fighting off a horde of zombies, the undead former residents of this ripe slice of Hell on Earth back to claim more victims for their…
...except, it’s all a set-up. Now, if you haven’t figured out the main plot points by now, far be it from us to totally ruin everything. We will, however, offer up the following “MINOR” SPOILER ALERT, and offer up the movie’s arch approach. Last warning. Okay, the kids are actually part of an elaborate simulation set-up by a shadow agency whose job it is to… well, we’ll save that for another day. Two bumbling bureaucrats play puppet master, making sure everything goes right for… well, once again, we’ll leave that for later. Obviously, something goes wrong, and we are whisked away to the… you know what, it may actually be impossible to discuss the movie without giving away much of its magic.
Of course, those who hate the film would argue that there’s too much pretentious prestidigitation on the part of Whedon and Goddard and not enough good old fashioned fear—and they may have a point. For all its nods to dread’s dizzying past, The Cabin in the Woods is not particularly scary. In fact, it’s easier to say that what has been created is less a horror film and more about the idea of horror films. This is a surprisingly self-referential ride, a crash course in Direct-to-VCR Dread 101. Everything is here—The Evil Dead, Hellraiser, J-Horror and torture porn. As a matter of fact, Whedon and Goddard actually got the idea for the story after feeling betrayed by the genre’s sudden post-Saw dip into needless bloodshed and gore.
All of this love/hate letter lamentation is up on the screen for all to behold, and those already predisposed to hating the genre can’t be blamed for being irritated and annoyed. It’s like a collection of glorified geeks sitting around shooting the shit—not everyone gets to be part of the conversation. But to turn around and argue that you can’t comment on the movie without basically breaking it down, plot point by plot point, is ridiculous. Does it spoil The Godfather to find out that Don Corleone dies at the end? No. Would it ruin The Crying Game to discover that Dil is really…you get the idea. Some movies live and die by their last act reveals. Some don’t. The Cabin in the Woods lies somewhere stuck smack dab in the middle. Reveals can and more than likely do ruin the overall experience. Still, this is a film that’s reliant on its secrets to elevate its status.
Here is where the contrarians are wrong, however: there are dozens of things one can discuss other than spoilers. There’s the acting, the film’s rampant humor, the acknowledged attempt to deal with each and every cliche in the fright canon, the fear factors (or lack thereof), the direction by Goddard (a first timer behind the lens) or the success or failure of the final act. Indeed, what many who wish to spoil this film fail to remember is that you don’t have to say why something doesn’t work, just that in your opinion, it doesn’t. Examples are just that, supporting evidence, but in general, they should be used sparingly, and never to the detriment of what you’re discussing. This isn’t a debate. You’re not looking to win an argument. You’re just trying to help a potential customer make a wise choice come Friday or Saturday night. That’s all.
Offering up everything, especially in light of a outright pan, seems mean-spirited and petty, as if said critic can’t be bothered to leave this dislike well enough alone. Not only does he or she have to tell you that don’t appreciate something, they have to beat that point into the ground. It’s almost as if they are saying “I didn’t like this movie, so I’m not going to let you enjoy it either.” Granted, the surprises are so intertwined with what The Cabin in the Woods is trying to do that it may seem impossible to avoid them, but that’s simply not true. Restraint doesn’t mandate that you avoid being a party pooper, but it should function as a guide.
Let’s face it, anytime there is a narrative which relies on a last minute denouement to determine its worth/purpose, someone is going to come along and whisper the truth to you. Like Homer Simpson after watching The Empire Strikes Back for the first time, some knob will drone on, dismayed, that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. In the case of The Cabin in the Woods, dissatisfaction has driven a few to be that loutish voice of reason. Sadly, it serves no purpose other than their own