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The Cabin in the Woods: A Second Opinion by Chris Moore.

April 24th, 2012 by Kinderpal Chris Moore · 15 Comments

UNK SEZ: I’ve been telling anyone who will listen and some who won’t that I think CABIN IN THE WOODS is a must see. I know a few folks though who not only did not care for the film but hated it passionately! How could it be? One such person is kinderpal Chris Moore (who I tend to agree with especially when he’s singing the praises of MATILDA). I asked Chris if he would write up a post sharing his thoughts on CABIN and he graciously agreed and boy are the gloves off! Take it away Chris! We’ll always have MATILDA!

I’m always championing the underdog. Most of my favorites films are those that were bombs, critically loathed, or simply just came out at the wrong time. To put it into perspective, one of my favorites this year was JASON REITMAN and DIABLO CODY‘s YOUNG ADULT, a film loathed by most of America. I almost always love the original, unique, and avant-garde. Hell, I applaud and enjoy FINAL EXAM for its hour-long collegiate character study as opposed to its slash ‘n stalk-y denouement. Also, I have a shockingly high tolerance for crap. From PIECES or TROLL 2 to STV garbage like AX ‘EM or the CAMP BLOOD series, I can usually find something worthwhile in anything. All I ever ask for is a little entertainment. Make me laugh, cry, or scream and I’m ready to sing your film’s praises right away.

For me, there’s nothing worse than a film stuck in the middle of the road. Those are the kinds of films that leave you feeling like you wasted two hours of your life. Even in a typically bad film, there could be something unintentionally hilarious, whether it be an inept line reading, a campy performance, or a delicious lack of understanding of the cinematic language, that makes the viewing experience a little worthwhile.

I’d been hearing about THE CABIN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD (oops, meant WOODS) since its inception a few years back. Being a casual BUFFY watcher, I was certainly curious to see what JOSS WHEDON would come up with. Once the film went into production, it was masked in a veil of secrecy. No one knew anything about the movie. In this day and age, that’s quite the feat and I was proud of WHEDON and co. being able to keep a film under wraps like that.

Once the trailer was released, I was underwhelmed. It didn’t really interest me very much. It looked predicable and about as dull as the trailer for SHARK NIGHT 3-D (which I still do not plan on seeing. Ever.) Could this really be the film everyone was waiting for?

Then, the reviews came in. All glowing. As horror fans, we don’t like to admit it, but we sort of love it when a horror film gets such great reviews. It feels like our beloved genre has finally found acceptance in the mainstream and people finally “get it.” Plus, as a hardcore horror fan, I’ll usually always go see a new original horror film, foolishly hoping that maybe this will help stop the glut of horrible remakes and over produced, braindead 3-D “epics” from getting the greenlight. Clearly, now, I HAD to see it, so I got a group of my friends together and we sat down, about a week ago, in our local multiplex and…well, something didn’t go as planned.

The story of CABIN IN THE WOODS centers around a rather typical assortment of college students going to the titular cabin in a dense forest for a little R&R and God knows what else. For a film that seems to think it’s rather unique and original, the characters are cookie cutter as can be (which is the point of the film, but still…), but that’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes, it can be fun knowing all the archetypes and what to expect, I mean, there has to be SOME reason why all the FRIDAY THE 13TH films were so successful, right? The problem here is that not many of the characters are very likable or relatable, even in a humorous or satirical way. The film’s lead female “virgin” Dana (KRISTEN CONNOLLY) is amiable enough, but the rest of the crew leave a little be desired, especially the token stoner Marty (FRAN KRANZ).

Let me just talk about Marty for a little while, because I truly feel that a lot of what’s wrong with this film can be summarized with his character. He’s annoying, shrill, un-funny, and doesn’t know when to stop. From the first moment he appears on screen, I was eagerly anticipating his death.

Intercut in between all the cliched EVIL DEAD inspired hi-jinx, there’s a group of people controlling and supervising what these hormonally challenged 20-somethings say and do? BRADLEY WHITFORD and RICHARD JENKINS, two fantastic actors who I always enjoy watching, play the two leads in this sub-plot, but they have little to work with. Their jokes are painfully unfunny and as interesting as this concept could be, it more often than not, falls flat.

Look, I love humor with my horror. From SCREAM to DRAG ME TO HELL, I enjoy horror comedies if they are done correctly and feel balanced. Even last year’s deliciously spooky INSIDIOUS kept me interested and entertained when it went of the rails into WILLIAM CASTLE/camp-ville mid way through. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS feels like a concept concocted through a cloud of pot smoke at a wrap party for one of WHEDON‘s other shows. It’s like walking into a conversation that’s already been going on for days and not getting anything the other people are saying. CABIN is the cinematic equivalent of an in-joke.

If there is any humor to be found, it’s at the expense of the audience. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was a little offended by how rude the humor was to horror fans. They might as well just cut to a shot of WHEDON giving us the finger. It’s clear that WHEDON is not the horror fan people think he is. One would think he’d have been at least a little more reverent with his digs at the genre, but, instead, it almost feels as if he’s mocking the audience that goes to see this kind of movie by saying “Gah! Don’t you know how stupid these movies are?” At least SCREAM‘s digs at the genre were never at the price of the film itself and were always in good humor.

There is one admittedly hysterical scene mid way through involving our films “hero,” a motorcycle, an epic speech, and an unexpected outcome that had me in stitches for a little while, but other than that, the film’s humor never landed for me. I got what they were trying to say, but I feel like it’s been done so many times now (and WAY better might I add) that it just felt tired.

Also, the film is still going by the same old set of crusty old horror movie “rules” set out by SCREAM almost 20 years ago. The virgin always lives. The jock is a braindead horn dog. The stoner’s the wise comedic relief. I feel like, if they were true horror fans, they would have figured this out by now. HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE and MY BLOODY VALENTINE both feature heroines who, while mostly kind and sweet, are probably neither virgins. Hell, do we even know if Laurie Strode was really a virgin? Maybe she just had a lot of homework to do and didn’t care too much about the dudes. Alice, Ginny, Chris, and Trish from the first four FRIDAY movies were certainly no virgins, either. Where does this stuff come from? Although, honestly, this always bothered me in SCREAM, too.

Some people are telling me the humor isn’t supposed to be funny, because it’s “satire.” I’m all for satire, in fact, it’s my favorite kind of humor. HEATHERS, DROP DEAD GORGEOUS, NETWORK, and most of JOHN WATERS‘ films, are some of my all time favorite movies, but those were actually funny. They at least made me chuckle. I’m not expecting SCARY MOVIE-style slapstick, but c’mon! CABIN, besides said motorcycle speech scene, failed to ever even make me so much as grin during it’s hour and a half run time.

So, if it’s not funny, is it at least scary? Far from it. In fact, I believe a four-year-old could take this movie. Without scares or laughs, what am I supposed to make of this movie? It’s middle of the road. It’s just there. I’m not worse for wear after watching it, but I’m not going to remember it in a few weeks either. Even a surprising (if useless) last minute cameo by a member of horror/sci-fi royalty in the middle of the horrendously bad CGI fest of an ending that even the SyFy Channel would disown (hope that’s not what took them so long to get this released) can’t save it from “been there, done that” syndrome. It just felt like a waste of time.

By my (admittedly low) standards, the film fails. It didn’t make me laugh, cry, or scream.

I’m already aware that most people will say that “I just didn’t get it!” and I’m prepared to take the heat. There are always a few movies every year that a lot of people love that I don’t get. AVATAR and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY are the most recent examples. So, I don’t understand what the big deal is about them, but if you enjoy them, that’s all that matters.

My friend, Nina, who saw the film with me (we both loathed it) put it best. She said it was like a “hipster horror film.” The more I think about it, the more I realize she’s right. God knows those goobers love their irony. All the people praising the film seem to take pride in the fact that they somehow cracked the code and feel smarter than everyone else. Sorry, but there is no code to crack. A bad movie is just a bad movie, folks. OR maybe I’m just not “sophisticated” enough to get it. You guys be the judge.

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Tags: General Horror · Special Guest Stars

15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Chuckles72No Gravatar // Apr 24, 2012 at 9:58 am

    As to the last paragraph – I’m not sure that “hipsters” actually exist. Have you ever met anyone who would self-identify as a “hipster”? “Hipsters” are the modern urban “other” – some soulless pod-person that is supporting/enjoying/doing something that you don’t like. I mean, if Unk liked The Cabin in the Woods, is he a hipster? Is all of Kindertrauma a hipster blog?

    Otherwise Chris’s criticism was perfectly fine – he hated it and explained his reasons – no need to invoke the evil “hipster”.

  • 2 Chris MooreNo Gravatar // Apr 24, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Certainly not. You don’t have to be hipster to enjoy the film. I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear. Not calling any of the film’s fans hipsters. I do know a few people who actually do call themselves hipsters, which sort of tickles me actually. They seem to be trying too hard. In my group of friends and acquaintances, the people who seemed to enjoy it the most were the hipsters and pot heads who seemed to admire what the film was trying to do more than the film itself. I guess it’s just the people I socialize with. I dunno.

  • 3 Vince LiagunoNo Gravatar // Apr 24, 2012 at 10:42 am

    Spot on, Chris. This movie tried way too hard to be clever for clever’s sake…forsaking all sense of genuine scariness and humor in the process. I stand proudly with you on the “Hated It” side of the proverbial fence. That third act just deteriorated into utter silliness, killing whatever semblance of intrigue Whedon and company managed to set up at the film’s start.

    I’ll go your “hipster” theory one further by stating, without hestitation, that what we’re seeing here is an audience so horribly STARVED for something good and original in the horror genre, something that’s not an uninspired remake or SyFy Channel drek, that they’ve convinced themselves that this film is actually good. There, I said it. And I’m not taking it back.

    Great review!

  • 4 Mark SmithNo Gravatar // Apr 24, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Chris, the scene you described as having an “unexpected outcome” was the only scene in the movie where I was pretty sure I knew what was going to happen. This movie was evidently not intended for you or for people like you. As much as I liked it, I knew right away that some people would dislike it to the same degree.

    Roger Ebert said, you can’t argue about funny. You either laugh or you don’t. I have a feeling it has a lot to do with the choice of the butt of the joke, or the target of the satire.

    Maybe it’s because I grew up on Mad magazine, but I don’t agree that making fun of something is a sign you don’t like it. Or that because you sincerely like something, you should always take it seriously.

  • 5 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Apr 24, 2012 at 11:01 am

    Thanks Chris! I’m still a giant fan of CABIN but I think I now understand where you’re coming from and I appreciate you standing up for horror when you feel its being slighted and looked at in a reductive way. I don’t think the “rules” and cliches presented in SCREAM and now CABIN are as prevalent in horror as folks pretend they are either. I had to give CABIN a pass on this though because it made clear that the characters were forced into their roles and that the cliches were part of a ritual. In the end though I’m thinking horror is so much like comedy in that you can’t make somebody find something funny or scary if they don’t. Also I can see how the whole thing would fall apart if you’re not feeling Marty the stoner!

    CABIN aside, I do agree with the FINAL EXAM love, the Paranormal Activity hate and your questionable regard for AXE’EM. I have that one on VHS as “The Weekend it Lives” and many a poor helpless person has been forced to watch that one while innocently visiting my home. They are never the same. How did that one find its way to DVD while so many others have not?

    I’m not so sure Laurie Strode is a virgin either. What is that crap? It’s way more relevant within the coarse of HALLOWEEN that Laurie Knits because that’s what really saves her ass!!!

    Certainly she can’t thank virginity for her survival in H2O! In any case there are way more instances of non-virgins surviving slasher movies than virgins. More important than sexual history I think is whether one can fix a car and a latent talent for telekinesis doesn’t hurt either. Anyway as you pointed out to me before this virgin theory is at least responsible for one of the better lines in CABIN “We work with what we got.”

  • 6 Chris MooreNo Gravatar // Apr 24, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Yes. “We work with what we got” was quite funny. Gotta admit.

    As for AXE ‘EM, it’s truly a mind altering experience. There’s no need to take any drugs if someone close to you has a copy of that one. Same for DON’T GO IN THE WOODS.

    The Marty character really is the glue that holds the film together (or doesn’t, IMO), so I see your point there, too. Had Marty just stayed dead and they let Dana (or any of the other characters really) take over, I might have been a happier camper in the long run. I just didn’t like his Scooby Doo/Shaggy schtick at all.

  • 7 Jami JoAnne RussellNo Gravatar // Apr 24, 2012 at 11:22 am

    I haven’t seen the movie but I will fully admit I read about it on Wikipedia. And if the ending is what people say it is, I have no desire to see it. I’m so bored with that HP Lovecraft crap. It’s been done to death. Heck, a certain one appeared in a scene in “And Another Thing” – the 6th edition (taken from Douglas Adam’s notes and approved of by his family) of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Eion Colfer.

    They’re freaking over used. As internet memes, stories, movies, video games, etc.

    And I’ll go ahead and say it – Joss Whedon is freaking over rated. I never found any of his stuff very impressive.

  • 8 tehdarwinatorNo Gravatar // Apr 24, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Clearly this is a great example of the YMMV phenomenon. I saw the movie last night and absolutely loved it. In fact, I am giving it my highest compliment and paying to see it again this weekend, just to catch some of the little details I missed (the DVD absolutely must have an extra that deconstructs the entire basement!). Chris, I appreciate your well-written critique and agree with most of your specific comments. In particular, it amuses me that the film is billed as a ‘horror comedy,’ because while there were plenty of surprises, I didn’t find it scary and I didn’t find it laugh-out-loud funny, for the most part. That said, I had a huge grin on my face for most of the movie and discussing it with friends afterward involved a lot of laughing. While virtually all of the reviews I’ve seen by horror fans have been glowing, most of the mainstream reviews I’ve seen have been ‘meh.’ EW gave it a B-, Roger Ebert gave it only three stars, etc. I did not take my non-horror-fan husband to see it and I’m glad I didn’t.

    There are a few points that I want to comment on. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have frequently described this as a “loving hate letter” to horror movies, but I didn’t take that personally. For me, that came out with the Bradley Whitford/Richard Jenkins (great choices!) characters standing in for directors who use stock characters and a random monster from a whiteboard list. By the end I found these crass manipulators rather sympathetic and I was sorry about what happens to them. (Of course, given the finale, it might turn out that everyone who was killed in the bunker got off easy.) In my mind, these guys are the ones who forced the students into archetypal characters. That first scene on campus introducing the five students, instead of being the usual throwaway, demonstrated that these individuals did not exactly fit the archetypes, although presumably they were chosen because of a general resemblance. The ‘jock’ is actually quite intelligent, at least about economics, and later he is the one who wants to stick together until he’s gassed into insisting that they split up. Our ‘virgin’ is explicitly not a virgin, given that she slept with her professor (hence The Director’s comment). And our ‘slutty dumb blond’ didn’t start out blond, and apparently wasn’t all that slutty until she dyed her hair with drugs. She doesn’t want to get it on in the creepy woods until she gets gassed too. (And the line, “Release the pheromones!” made me chuckle.) I agree that Marty/Shaggy bugged me in the beginning, but he ended up as the only sensible character (“Don’t read the Latin!”) and he did grow on me. His survival until the end is essential for the film’s finale. Even if you aren’t too fond of him, his bong is a star and I loved its reappearance in the dock scene.

    Oh, and Ax ‘Em? Awww, shit.

  • 9 Chris MooreNo Gravatar // Apr 24, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    Y’see, this is the kind of civilized discussion between those that loved and hated the film that I adore. You should try sharing your opinion on IMDB. You’ll get torn to pieces. Maybe it’s just that the readers of Kindertrauma are of a finer, more civilized breed. LOL!

  • 10 Chuckles72No Gravatar // Apr 24, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    Or, you could take the discussion one step lower and start a thread on the Rotten Tomatoes forums – it’s strictly trogs and morlocks in there.

    Oh, and I have not seen Cabin yet so thanks for keeping things fairly spoiler-free!

  • 11 knobgobblerNo Gravatar // Apr 24, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    I finally gave up hope of getting someone to go see this with me… kinda sad.
    While I pretty much agree with most all of Mr. Moore’s sentiments I don’t feel them nearly as strongly. I basically enjoyed the movie, there were moments that I thought were clever or interesting (mostly the peripheral stuff on monitors)… but as a whole? Meh. (the stoner guy was a fail for me too… it might have worked better if they’d kept him as the autistic kid as he was in Cube).
    Like has been said, the whole thing feels like it owes its existence to an alcohol fueled bit of ‘genius’ at some Hollywood party.
    If it’s meant as a ‘Loving hate letter’ it’s neither loving or hateful enough. It needed to go further but instead played it safe… so that gets a ‘meh’.

  • 12 knobgobblerNo Gravatar // Apr 25, 2012 at 2:17 am

    Two more thoughts I felt compelled to mentions:

    1. I’ve heard people make the ‘Lovecraftian’ remarks about this movie… but I don’t really see it except in the broadest of continuums. I’m more inclined to think in terms of Greek Myths and such.

    2. Did anyone else see similarities between Cabin In The Woods and The Hunger Games? Maybe I’m delusional but I think they were close to being the same story.

  • 13 Chris MooreNo Gravatar // Apr 25, 2012 at 3:25 am

    It was nowhere near as Lovecraftian as people were making it out to be. I can see The Hunger Games similarities, too.

    Actually, there was a low budget Canadian(?) horror film that came out about a decade ago called Slashers where a group of contestants are chased and killed in a sort of indoor funhouse all for the sake of a Japanese game show. For it’s budget, it’s pretty entertaining and creative. TCITW reminded me of this film except I didn’t find it as enjoyable. I’d check that one out!

  • 14 tehdarwinatorNo Gravatar // Apr 25, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    I agree that this isn’t particularly Lovecraftian; there are no indications of that his Ancient Ones are interested in ritual sacrifices of punishable young people. Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed seeing a few Cthulhu-esque tentacles at the end…

    Speaking of the ending, I confess that I was a bit disappointed that Ash wasn’t The Director. Failing that, though, I was amused at the inclusion of a high profile ‘final girl.’

    And yes, it’s a tremendous pleasure to find a blog where reading the comments doesn’t both raise my blood pressure and lower my IQ by fifty points. The whole point of horror movies is tapping into our personal triggers, whether those are our fears or objects of humor or something else, and if that doesn’t happen, the movie doesn’t work for you. In this case, Marty is apparently our ‘way in,’ given that he’s the only one who makes sense after the druggings and the only one who fights back effectively (Poor Curt! He gave it a good shot.) Unless you warm up to him, it’s gonna be a tough slog, and he is utterly annoying in the beginning (deliberately, I think, to set up the contrast).

    Roald Dahl and Kindertrauma rule!

  • 15 SlasherChickNo Gravatar // Sep 28, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    I don’t post often, but I’m with Unk. I loved the film, so much so that I watched it three times during the same two day OnDemand rental and dragged my eldest son into the room for one of them (he loved it too). I’m aware that I’ll be in the minority, but I liked Marty. Also, I found the entire concept of the film to be original and hilarious. The scenes in the control room were among the most memorable in the film and though a lot of it had me wondering where the hell the story was going for awhile, I really enjoyed the payoff and thought it tied up nicely at the end.

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