Welcome to Electroshadow’s first non-review.
What does that mean? Well, it’s kind of pointless to do a normal, spoiler-free review for a movie like “The Cabin In The Woods”. There’s no way to effectively discuss it without giving away some significant surprises, thereby ruining your enjoyment of it. And there are some real delights to be discovered in this much-delayed little gem.
As it turns out, MGM’s bankruptcy might’ve worked to the film’s advantage. In the 3 years since it was completed, its leading man and co-writer have gone on to very big things. This has added a degree of visibility that the film sorely needs, because it’s a pain to market. The tagline goes “You think you know the story”, and while it doesn’t quite sell the film, it’s probably the best way to describe the film.
What then, do I discuss without spoiling anything? Let’s start with the premise. 5 college kids head out for a weekend of partying at a remote cabin in the woods, only to have unspeakable waking nightmares attack them. Cue the stereotypical notions of your average horror flick — hence the tagline. That’s merely the jumping-off point for writer-director Drew Goddard, working with co-writer Joss Whedon (yes, “The Avengers” director) to concoct a highly ambitious, genre-bending thrill ride that confounds expectations and spins old clichés into shiny new post-modern commentaries.
I’m now going to attempt the impossible: to dissect the film’s themes and ideas without explicitly talking about them. There are some pretty Big Ideas in “The Cabin In The Woods” and while not all of them are terribly original, they are all very ballsy and I have to admire Goddard and Whedon for even trying. On the surface, the movie simply works as a rock-solid piece of entertainment. It does what it’s supposed to, exactly when and how it’s supposed to. The laughs, scares and thrills are served generously throughout, though the balance tips more in favour of humour than flat-out horror. Which is perfectly fine, too. It’s a fun time at the movies for the average moviegoer.
Where “Cabin” really impresses a geek like me is beneath the surface. Some might argue that the stuff presented is too on-the-nose to be subtextual, but they’re just pretentious hipster idiots. Cynicism has no place when viewing a movie like this: you either roll with it or not. When it comes to deconstructing character stereotypes, “Scream” may have done it way earlier, but they erred too heavily on the side of self-consciousness. Here, the filmmakers present the characters as stereotypes — eg: The Jock, The Stoner, The Egghead, The Slut, and The Virgin. But there is a reason for them to be that way. In fact, they are mandatory to the story. Here’s the twist: they’re actually manipulated into thinking and behaving like stereotypes, by Truman Show-like authorities with a dark agenda. By the way, that’s no spoiler. It’s essential to the setup and revealed right from the start. While “Scream” pointed out the rules and conventions that got people killed, “Cabin” goes one further and explains why characters must behave the way they do in these kinds of movies. Then it proceeds to mess around with the established norms — The Stoner turns out to be the smartest, most lucid guy in the room. I like what the filmmakers have done here. They’re simultaneously honouring the genre conventions while breaking them down, in a way that doesn’t feel cynical or “we’re above this”. Goddard and Whedon clearly understand horror and science-fiction. More importantly, they genuinely love it.
Talking about genre deconstruction, this is perhaps the one thing that excited and energised me most about the film. I won’t go into specifics as promised, but I will say this: what the guys have accomplished here is nothing short of mind-blowing (for me, at least). Thanks to a key idea in “Cabin”, pretty much every horror film out there has now been given a meta context. Meaning, what if all those characters from all those other films had also been labouring under the very same conspiracy, their every action steered by unknown puppeteers? And imagine if they were all tied back to one singular, disturbing reason as posited by this film… Any movie that challenges you to see other movies in a new light is definitely something special in my book. Told you “Cabin” is ambitious.
If anything, the film is perhaps a little too ambitious for its own good. It puts out more ideas than it can fully address within its limited story framework and running time. For example, “Cabin” tries to comment on the state of modern horror, and our primal need for the bloody, violent tropes that comprise it. Then there is a thinly veiled jab at modern audiences and the inability to tolerate entertainment that strays from formula. This comes cloaked in the form of the film’s most audacious concept — the revelation at the heart of all the behind-the-scenes manipulations. These points are raised but barely taken anywhere, let alone satisfactorily answered.
Although frustrating, that’s a small complaint compared to the amount of things it does get right. A little bit of credit should go to its cast, who carry the sometimes credibility-stretching script with full conviction. Chris “Thor” Hemsworth may be the most recognisable face in the cast, but his welcome presence notwithstanding, he’s not the highlight. That honour goes to the awesome duo of Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, as weary white-collar workers tasked with pulling all the strings. Whenever they’re onscreen, the film just gets funnier and more interesting to watch.
Oops, guess I’ve slipped back into review mode, so what the heck. I might as well tell you about the climax of the film. Again, no spoilers so I’m just going to rattle off some superlatives: batshit insane, gloriously over-the-top, beautifully-orchestrated chaos. Expect all that and more in the climax. It is in this sequence that the filmmaker’s true intentions come into crystal-clear focus. This film is a love letter to geeks, from a bunch of proud, card-carrying, life-long members of the club.
If there’s one secret the filmmakers wouldn’t mind me giving away, it’s this: “The Cabin In The Woods” is every inch a work of fan-fiction… only done right.