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Monday, May 7, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods - Review

Every year dozens of horror movies are released and automatically dismissed by audiences as waste of time, rehashes of stories that you have seen many times before or just plain stupid.  In most cases that assumption is correct.  They are often formula films that do not use take chances with their plots, rather focus on the the creativity and shock of the way the kills are carried out.  Audiences have grown tired of these hit or miss horror offerings and tend to only spend their money at the theater to see reboots and sequels.  There is some good news, "The Cabin In the Woods" is creative, innovative enough to buck that trend while still providing some of that standard horror movie fun you want to see (sickos!)  There is a problem though, it is a very spoiler sensitive film which creates quite a conundrum for me.   How do you review a movie whose very marketing promotes it as being a a unique spin on the standard film without ruining any surprises for others?  As you may know, my tolerance for spoiling any part of the film viewing experience is zero and I don't want to change that now.  So I came up with a solution.  Here it is.  I will start be saying I really enjoyed this movie.  Now go away and come back and read this after you have seen the film.  Just because I am telling you to read no further, don't go expecting the greatest film ever or to be blown out of your seats by some big reveal like that in "The Sixth Sense."  Go expecting to be entertained and stay open minded.  Goodbye.  I'll see you in a few weeks (or days for you go-getters.)

Are you back or did you fail to heed my warnings?  Either way I will attempt to avoid spoiling, that can be left the comments section.

So just what is "The Cabin in the Woods" about?  The first scene has two men talking as they walk through the office as they start their work day... a strange way to start a film called, "The Cabin In The Woods."  No cabin, no woods, just men in an office.  Maybe they go hunting together later on in the film, stay in a cabin...a cabin possessed by an evil spirit.  That kind of be a new and innovative horror movie premise.  Right?  Not really.  OK, then the film cuts to a group of college friends talking.  Wait a second.  Talking about what?  About staying at a cabin in the woods.  Bingo!  I see exactly where this is going.  Forget the middle aged men, that opening scene cannot be connected to the rest of the film.  By the looks of it we are here to see some college students party it up - sex, drugs, alcohol, rock 'n' roll capped off with an attack by some a knife wielding slasher from the local summer camp, or a mythical creature with a taste for blood that was released by a recent earthquake or or or a group of zombies that are hungry to snack on some unwilling participants.  Of course, this is your standard horror fare.  We have seen it all before.  But wait, those office guys are back and they are talking about some strange non-office like topics - one of the topics is the cabin in the woods.  Wait a minute!  What the hell is going on here?

That is essentially how I felt during the opening scenes of the film.  It starts off as something you have grown to expect and is quickly revealed to be much more.  I went into the film pretty much blind.  Basically the only knowledge I had of the film was that it was co-written and produced by Joss Whedon of "Buffy the Vampire" fame.  Upon learning that he was involved I had enough incentive to see the film and chose to avoid any trailers, interviews, etc. 

The film has two parallel storylines.  The first, seem to be your run of the mill horror movie scenarios, college kids partying a cabin in a desolate part of the woods try to fend off impending death from some sort of attacking unknown foe.  The second part of the story takes place in the office (actually a laboratory) where the two men mentioned earlier head a team of people...  (Here is the biggest spoiler of the review, you've been warned.) ...a team that not only watches the events of the cabin from their remote underground lab, but also treat the group of friends as their human lab rats - manipulating them for their own use.  That is all I will tell you about the plot - anything beyond that will spoil the experience for you (feel free to discuss at length in the comments section.)

The film offers more than a unique twist on a familiar storyline, it uses that twist to go meta - self-referential, self-knowing.  Like "Scream: before it, "Cabin" takes something we are very familiar with and then uses that familiarity to break down the rules and plot points of whole genre, rebuilding it to its liking.  It pokes fun at while at the same time embracing the common elements of the films we have grown to love.  The cabin half of the film is populated with every stereotype of the genre - they are all there: the pothead, the jock, the virgin, the egghead, the slut, even the creepy old guy at the gas station that warns of impending doom makes a cameo.  It is everything you silly thing you expect and so much you do not.

Note that it you have not seen a half dozen horror films about a group of kids that gets stranded in a creepy, wooded locale where the only source of shelter is the spooky abandoned cabin, then you may not appreciate the meta aspects of the film.  The good news is that you do not need to be too familiar with the genre to enjoy this film - it offers enough to keep even the most novice horror fan entertained.  It is at times dark, cruel and scary, but it is also creative, hilarious and smart.

This is not an easy film to review because it is so unique that to delve any deeper into it than I have would be a disservice to the reader.  With that said I hope you can forget all that you have read here and go see the movie.  When you have, come back and discuss.

Spoiler-esque comments below.  Highlight to them to read.  Do so at your own risk.
Fans of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe will most likely find this film feels familiar.  All it would take would be a visit by Buffy herself and it truly could be a special episode of the BTVS.  Honestly, I would not be surprised, almost expect, this to one day be referenced in the Buffy comics.

8.0 stars out of 10.

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