Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today, and a perfect fit for the Halloween season, I review Drew Goddard and Josh Whedon’s The Cabin In The Woods.
Directed by Drew Goddard
Screenplay by Drew Goddard and Josh Whedon
Tagline: You think you know the story.
What It’s About:
College students Dana (Kristen Connolly), Holden (Jesse Williams), Marty (Franz Kranz), Jules (Anna Hutchinson), and Curt (Chris Hemsworth) depart for a secluded weekend at a remote forest cabin and ‘accidentally’ summon up an undead clan of pain worshipping murderers who begin to stalk and kill them one at a time. But is all as it seems, or are they being manipulated for some mindbending, sinister purpose by office managers Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford)?
Why I Bought It:
After a premature run-in (in a dark room no less) with the head twisting scene in The Exorcist when I was six or seven years old, I actively avoided watching horror movies for about nine years, finally breaking the ‘fast’ with, ironically enough, Exorcist III.
And I never would have ‘got’ The Cabin In The Woods.
I never actually realized what a horror hound I had become until I saw this.
This is probably one of the greatest horror movies ever made, period. It’s so enjoyable it almost seems like every single horror movie that has gone before was created specifically so this could come into being.
Make no mistake, to fully appreciate the greatness of this movie you have to have at least a passing familiarity with Hellraiser, The Shining, Dracula, An American Werewolf In London, The Mummy, HP Lovecraft, It, The Ring, Suspiria, Evil Dead, Halloween, Juh On, David Cronenberg, George Romero, Scream, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Troll, Poltergeist, Alien, and Friday The 13th.
This is really a movie that benefits in a huge way from going in entirely blind. What a hard movie to cut a trailer for! Being kind of jaded about the summer slasher movie genre, the very title The Cabin In The Woods was a turnoff for me. I’m not into the torture porn genre made popular by stuff like Hostel and Saw and assumed this was going to be more of the same. It looked like yet another vanilla cookie cutter teens in peril flick. There would be some topless scenes, some beer drinking and pot smoking, and in the end, the smartest guy (or more likely, girl) would go through hell at the hands or claws of some inbred hillbilly stereotype or a zombie or plague crazy gutmuncher and maybe get away in the end, maybe not.
Then a couple people whose opinion I trusted started sounding off that this was great, but wisely (and I thank them) refused to give details as to what was so great about it.
Just watch it, they said.
So after a long time of not thinking about it, I finally rented it.
Little did I know that Cabin In The Woods would contain just about every clichéd trope in my aforementioned laundry list….and yet still somehow manage to be entirely original. Thrillingly, awesomely original, and more, a hilarious, subversive in-joke directed solely at horror fans.
This is not to say that you have to be a horror junkie with an all-encompassing knowledge of everything the genre has to offer. It’s just that it offers so much more if you’re a nerd.
Surface-wise, the plot alone is entertaining and the tag line says it all. Going into it, you think you know what’s going to happen. The very title evokes a paint by numbers scenario. Early on though, you realize something weird is going on, when the movie opens not with the teens gearing up for their weekend, but a couple of middle-aged salarymen in suits preparing for some big to-do at their white, sterile workplace.
Of course, then we get the obligatory scenes where get to know who’s who and who’s with who, which is the jock, which the brain, which the burnout. Yet there’s still something just a little off. Our football hero has in-depth knowledge of socio-economic theory. Our stoner and his wild conspiracy theories make more and more sense as the movie progresses. The boy’s aren’t slavering pussy hounds – when one discovers a two-way mirror looking into the object of his desire’s room and she starts to undress, we don’t get the voyeuristic topless scene. He knocks on the wall and lets her know what’s going on (does she do the same for him later on?).
As we go deeper down the rabbit hole of Cabin In The Woods, our expectations start unraveling. A bird hits an invisible force field. The office guys are shown to be having some effect on the behavior of the kids. There are tantalizing hints toward some greater purpose being fulfilled. And when the kids start acting like we expect them to, it’s unexpected.
By the time a character we thought was dead returns, we know this same drama is being enacted all over the world for some strange reason and I doubt anybody who hasn’t seen this movie or read about it beforehand can guess what the heck is happening. Yet it’s not all some fly-by-night-pull-it-out-of-your-ass-make-it-up-as-you-go-along thing. By the time Sigourney Weaver shows up to explain it all, it’s like the last piece of a puzzle is fitting into place and you think to yourself, “Ahhhh that’s perfect.”
It’s a real treat to be surprised by a movie, and it’s even better to be totally delighted by it as a genre fan.
For me, the movie really takes off when they go down into that cellar and find it packed to the gills with thinly disguised items from other movies. The puzzle ‘ball,’ referencing both Hellraiser and perhaps Phantasm. The diary with the incantations right out of Evil Dead. It’s all intercut with that wonderful whiteboard the office workers are all betting over, crammed with achingly great references to threats from across the horror spectrum. When that scene passes and you realize what’s about to happen, you love it, but a small part of you thinks in the back of your head, “Aw man, it would’ve been so great if they’d gone with the BLANK instead.”
And then, maybe twenty or thirty minutes later, they hit the Purge button and it’s Christmas morning, as every monster and beast, every ghost and murderer on that board floods your screen.
Cabin In The Woods that does the impossible. It’s a flick with a one off plot twist so great you can’t possibly expect it to be rewatchable once you know it’s coming. But you do watch it again. And you rewind and pause and slow mo it to death to see all those white board monsters tear their way through the complex. Geez there’s even a 50 foot woman in one of those cages.
One of the most supremely satisfying movies I’ve ever seen.
And, like the complexity of the plot itself, it’s smart. You can still delve a level deeper beyond the monsters and uncover a rich examination of the movie fan himself. There’s a great scene when Hemsworth and Hutchinson are being manipulated via hormone gasses, temperature, and lighting to have sex in the woods, and the team of manipulators are shown hanging on the scene from their viewing room, waiting for Hutchinson to show her breasts and groaning when she initially defers. How many guys have sat together watching a horror movie at home or in a theater and experienced the same audience reaction? It’s a funny scene, and yet the makers bring it back a step when Hadley and Sitterson dismiss the greater portion of the crew and put their full resources toward getting Hutchinson to disrobe, ostensibly for the viewing pleasure of the Old One (is the band of randy office drones a stand in for the moviegoing audience, which is funny, or is it the Old One, which suggests something more unseemly). Their expressions completely change. They’re almost sad to do it. But the Old One must be appeased. The tropes of the ritual must be adhered to.
When Marty says early on that the world needs to crumble, but everybody’s afraid to let it crumble, he speaks of the loss of privacy, the invasion of nebulous government watchers and dropping of sanctions on private life. This foreshadows the situation of the kids in the cabin, but doesn’t it also reflect on the fears of modern life in America?
What is the change Mary is calling for if we apply it to ourselves? Should the Old One rise up to completely tear down the system? Is popular entertainment an opiate used to keep that giant from waking up and breaking out? Maybe this is ham-handed political commentary to some, but then again how many of the general movie going audience came away with this message from something as innocuous seeming as a summer horror movie?
It also cleverly breaks the horror movie cliché down into a thematic, seemingly ancient codification. The athlete, the fool, the whore, the virgin. These are mystical concepts that really do occur throughout the history of human storytelling, and are most clearly represented in the cards of the Waite Tarot. The fool is often considered the stand-in for the questioner in a card divination. In Arthurian literature it’s the fool, often Sir Dagonet (as in Tennyson), Percivale (Perfect Fool) or in some cases (TH White) Merlin, who can look beyond the confines of his own story to comment on the greater meaning. The fool sees the strings, and can follow them to the storyteller. The fool attains the Grail, the greater, hidden knowledge, often to his detriment, as is the case with Marty here.
One wonders what cultural tropes the Old Ones in Japan need to see to keep them sleeping.
A thing I’ve said this in other reviews, but a good movie is entertaining. A great movie ‘moves’ the watcher, either moving their heart to experience some emotion, or moving the mind into a previously unconsidered mode of thought.
I would say The Cabin In The Wood is a great movie.
Marty’s weirdly funny and cryptic (and ultimately prophetic):
Cops will never pull over a man with a huge bong in his car. Why? They fear this man. They know he sees further than they and he will bind them with ancient logics.
Without a doubt the best scene is the monster Purge I’ve already described above. This flick has a lot of funny moments amid all the horror. Mordecai on speakerphone comes to mind.
But if I had to pick a scene that never fails to make me laugh because it’s totally indicative of the multilevel enjoyment I get out of this movie, is when Hemsworth’s Curt tries to escape the area by jumping the gorge on his motorbike.
After their camper is blocked from escaping through the tunnel by an unexpected explosion which results in a cave-in, Curt devises a plan to jump the gorge and escape on his motorbike, vowing to return with the police, the national guard, the ghost of Steve McQueen the LA Raiders, and ten thousand Roman gladiators to get his friends out, and especially to avenge the horrifying death and post mortem beheading of his girlfriend.
He assures them he can easily make the jump, and cuts a heroic, Thor-like figure for a moment, revving his bike and nodding to them his assurance.
“You can’t hold back,” his friend Holden warns him. He has to achieve maximum velocity to make this leap to freedom.
“I never do,” Curt growls.
He cuts loose, leaps the bike into the air, and it looks like he’s going to make it, until he smashes head on into the invisible honeycomb field enclosing the area. His bike explodes in a fiery ball and we sees his lifeless body tumble down the long length of the shield wall, bouncing as it goes, giving us a glimpse as to how deep it really goes (perhaps it’s there to keep the Old One penned in?).
For the victims in the story, it’s a horrible, hope-smashing moment.
For the guys in the control center, it’s a sigh inducing close call, which if you think of the movie in the terms that they are actually the ones trying to preserve the world and all human life on it, is kind of a time bomb cut the blue wire hero moment for them.
And for me, I just burst out laughing. Is it a guilty laugh? Maybe upon multiple viewings, but the first time, no. I just found the failure of Curt’s heroics unintentionally hilarious, like a somebody calling their shot in a game and then fumbling utterly, or Jack Burton exuberantly shooting in his gun in the air before the big fight in Big Trouble In Little China and then getting knocked out by the falling plaster.
I wonder if this made the Old One chuckle in his bed too?
Next In The Queue: The Call Of Cthulhu