The Cabin in the Woods
The long-awaited collaboration by "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon and "Buffy’ alum Drew Goddard ("Cloverfield") is the horror/comedy hybrid "The Cabin in the Woods." Kind of a messed up version of Sam Raimi’s "Evil Dead," the film is one of those fun little discoveries that - unfortunately - thinks it’s a lot more clever than it really is.
Having sat on the shelf for three years, Lionsgate is releasing "Cabin" with an ingenious movie poster and numerous critical accolades. Supposedly, this is the horror film that will redefine the genre - of which the last film to do this was probably "Scream." And while there are touches of ingenuity, it never fully adds up to a wholly satisfying experience, not to mention there are so many lazy plot holes. If you just think about the film for about five minutes after it ends, you will soon realize that none of it really makes sense.
"Cabin" opens very ingeniously by giving the audience one of the most mundane opening horror film sequences ever. Two government workers in an unnamed lab doing an unstated job are having a rather snoozy conversation over coffee. Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) is clearly the general in charge, and his counterpart Hadley (Bradley Whitford) seems to be someone who gets off on what he does - even though we aren’t quite sure what that is. Lin (Amy Acker "Angel") shows up giving the two a dire report about some projects that are going bad across the globe. We don’t understand anything about what they are talking.
Then just when the conversation can’t get any more humorously ordinary - BAM! - the title of the film smashes onto the screen as if a character has just been startlingly mutilated. Taking the opening teaser convention and turning it on its head is the style that the film promises, and in many ways the filmmakers really do keep the twists and turns coming. In fact, those twists come so fast and furious, there isn’t really much I can say.
The main cast is swiftly introduced, which consists of five college students who are preparing to go to a "cabin in the woods" for an extended weekend of partying and sex. Curt (Chris Hemsworth "Thor") is the hot jock with the sexy (newly) blonde girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchinson). Both seem to be "types" but both aren’t as stereotypically pigeonholed as you’d expect. Kristen Connolly plays Dana, the sweet girl of the bunch who is supposed to be set up for the weekend with bookish Holden ("Grey’s Anatomy’s" Jessie Williams.) Along for the ride is the stoner of the group ("Dollhouse’s" Fran Kranz) who - even constantly under the influence - seems to be the one person who begins figuring out the labyrinth of strange things that will soon happen to them all.
In typical fashion, the crew takes off in an RV only to have to stop at the "ole’ run-down gas station" watched over by the creepy red-neck guy who insults the girls and offers cryptic warnings of doom. We’ve seen all of this before, but based on the opening sequence, we know that all is not as it seems. Once at the creepy cabin (that looks exactly like the one from "Evil Dead," complete with mysterious basement trap door in the floor), the five investigate the place and begin their night of carousing. All the while, they are being watched by the government men that have positioned themselves in a control room where...
And that’s all I’ll say. Again, my reluctance to give anything away is out of respect for the filmmakers (not to mention what makes the film watchable) and the unexpected places it sometimes goes. The problem is - those unexpected places aren’t all that surprising or fresh. Sure, the overall concept - once all is revealed - is certainly original - but so much so you kind of leave with a shrug.
It clearly has the touch of people who’ve worked on "Buffy" and I’ll mention the one thing for which Whedon-ites will crucify me: the dialogue, characterizations, and situations are all a bit off. They don’t really flow well and it just becomes a string of scenes that lead to something else without really connecting the dots as you’d expect. This is how the first few seasons of "Buffy" were. The dialogue was fresh, but could have been fresher. The plots were cool, but could have been cooler.
There’s an odd staleness to "Cabin" that made it seem like an experiment that didn’t quite work. And in the end, you will look at the rules of the film and realize they broke a lot of them. If you’re going to create a universe for your characters to play in with its own rules and mythology, you need to make sure they are air-tight. I can’t really tell you what wasn’t solid because it would give too much away. But if you decide to check the movie out, start discussing the rules that were being given throughout the film and then tell me if they were followed.
Even a "surprise" character, upon learning the truth about one of the other characters, just kind of shrugs and says, "we work with what we have" - essentially jettisoning one of their strictest rules. (This character’s appearance is also not really that surprising seeing as how that actor’s voice was used earlier telegraphing their later appearance.)
I wanted to like "Cabin in the Woods" and I think with some more work on the script, they could have achieved what they wanted to. It’s almost like they could have really gone full tilt at the end when some "things" are revealed. For instance, they needed to relate these things to that we already know of the horror genre, but instead we get generic versions which were kind of fun, but could have been more so. (You will understand when you see it.) But ultimately, I was left feeling like they tried too hard to be crafty, and ended up shooting themselves in the foot because of it.
I think younger audiences will think it’s brilliant, and Whedon-ites will be in a tizzy over it, but for those of us that have seen other (and better) films turn the horror genre on its head ("Scream," "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon"), this just doesn’t totally work; which is disappointing because I was really looking forward to it.
There is missed opportunity after missed opportunity. Yet, there are momentary gasps and chuckles (one scene involving a chasm is incredibly effective) and it’s never boring. Ultimately, the "Cabin in the Woods" is just an all right place to visit, rather than a vacation you’d never forget.
The Cabin in the Woods
Dana :: Kristen Connolly
Curt :: Chris Hemsworth
Jules :: Anna Hutchison
Marty :: Fran Kranz
Holden :: Jesse Williams
Sitterson :: Richard Jenkins
Hadley :: Bradley Whitford
Truman :: Brian White
Lin :: Amy Acker
Truman :: Brian White
The Intern :: Tom Lenk
The Director :: Sigourney Weaver
Screenwriter, Drew Goddard; Producer, Joss Whedon; Executive Producer, Jason Clark; Cinematographer, Peter Deming; Production Design, Martin Whist; Film Editor, Lisa Lassek; Costume Designer, Shawna Trpcic; Original Music, David Julyan; Casting, Amy Britt; Casting, Anya Colloff; Supervising Art Direction, Tom Reta; Art Director, Kendelle Elliott; Art Director, Michael Diner; Set Decoration, Hamish Purdy.