Review: "The Cabin in the Woods"

I’ve never been one to follow with the crowd. In fact, if something it popular, it’s far more likely that I will oppose it rather than join in the love fest just out of principle. At the same time, however, I hate it when I don’t like a film that all of my colleagues seem to adore. When this happens (which isn’t very often), I always feel like I’m missing something or that I didn’t understand the film which, in turn, makes me feel like a moron. In these situations, it takes everything in me to stand by my initial reaction and deny the peer pressure that would have me reverse course and join in the love fest. So let’s get it out of the way up front: I did not care for The Cabin in the Woods.

Needing some rest and relaxation, Dana (Kristen Connolly), her best friend Jules (Anna Hutchison), and Jules’ boyfriend Curt (Chris Hemsworth), retreat to a remote cabin recently purchased by Curt’s cousin. The trio is joined by stoner-buddy Marty (Fran Kranz) and scholarly Holden (Jesse Williams), a friend of Curt’s who Jules would like to set up with Dana. The cabin, while a bit on the rustic side, seems to be the ideal spot for the group to chill out and let loose. But before long, a hidden cellar full of creepy and mysterious artifacts is discovered and when Dana reads from an old journal, she unwittingly unleashes a terror upon the cabin that comes straight out of a nightmare that perhaps none of them will survive.

To write a completely spoiler-free review of Cabin seems borderline impossible but I will try my best to stay away from the important facts. The behind-the-scenes concept of what is really taking place at the cabin is one of the cooler ideas I’ve seen in a film like this in quite some time. Someone or something pulling the strings in the background is not entirely unique within this genre but writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (also the director) bring a fresh take to the idea and make it their own beautifully early on. The happenings which take place away from the cabin (the spoiler-rific portions I shan’t get into here) were BY FAR my favorite parts of the film and really left me wanting more when it was all said and done. By cutting back and forth between the events taking place at the cabin and those going on unbeknownst to our protagonists, Goddard creates a fun contrast through the first half of the film and gives dials up a sense of self-awareness that I almostloved for a while.

But before long, I found that Cabin had no sense of true identity. Or rather, that its identity isn't one that I want to get to know. I think the point of the film is to both poke fun at the horror genre while at the same time creating enough gore to satisfy genre enthusiasts. At times, Goddard and Whedon succeed in this but over the course of the film, I felt that instead of mocking the typical hallmarks of a horror film in hopes of creating a laugh in the midst of the scares (see: Scream), the duo only succeeded in laying the ground work for their own demise. That is to say, the film goes out of its way to point out the generic pratfalls that you could to expect from a slasher film and then deliberately falls directly into those traps over and over again. In essence, the film ends up becoming exactly what it sets out to make fun of in the early going. As a result, almost all of the jump-out-of-your-seat moments have been hamstrung by the Goddard telegraphing what was about to happen for the sake of the self-aware jokes. At the same time, I didn’t find the film to be consistently funny enough to play as a real comedy (see: Shaun of the Dead). To be clear: there are some truly brilliant, witty moments and more than a few laugh-out-loud pieces of dialogue but not enough to keep the comedic ball rolling for 90 minutes. I think Cabin wants to be both a capable slasher film and a hilarious R-rated comedy but for me, the mix comes off almost as a half-hearted spoof.

I think that all of that would have resulted in a three star, “totally acceptable entertainment”-type review from me had it not been for the fact that the vaunted twist which has had so many critics and viewers in a titter is really not that big of a deal. Again, I won’t spoil anything but you can guess the basics of the twist within the first 15 minutes of the movie. (I promise I’m not one of those people who says, “I could totally see the twist coming” or, “I knew Bruce Willis was dead the whole time”; this is just a onetime thing.) I kept waiting and waiting for a real turn to catch me off guard and not only did it never come, that waiting took away from my enjoyment of the back half of the film. So while the whole, “Don’t tell anyone the secret!” marketing campaign got me into the theater for a movie I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise, it also caused me to come out feeling extremely dissatisfied with the finished product.

Believe me when I say, I wanted to love Cabin in the Woods. I wanted to write about Joss Whedon had reinvigorated the horror genre. And maybe more importantly, I wanted to see what all of my colleagues saw in a movie that almost everyone seems to love. But while the concept is fantastic and there are some definite and delicious Whedon-isms that play out through the course of the film, I just could not get completely on board. You may now begin to cast stones.