How many filmmakers out there can take a classic genre and totally flip it on its head? Off the top of my head, I can think of very few who were able to accomplish the task. Spielberg was able to take an entirely new view on science fiction when he made E.T.; showing us what how a child’s heart can connect us with the unknown. Hitchcock was also another master that changed the way certain movies were made, especially when you consider how ‘Rear Window’ and ‘North by Northwest’ changed the scope of mystery movies. With Orson Welles’ ‘Citizen Kane,’ the character study was born with intensity, not only giving protagonists tragic flaws, but also a new level of emotional depth that allowed epic films to take a life of their own.
Do we have to add Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon to the list? Well, after seeing ‘The Cabin in the Woods,’ I’m afraid we have to.
Okay, that’s a stretch. Let me pull the reins back.
Don’t get me wrong, they’re no Hitchcock, but they are defining what the horror movie can be. Not only are Goddard and Whedon redefining it, but they also deconstruct it to a level that makes it not only slasher flick, but also the funniest movie that I’ve seen in a long time.
Before anything else, I want to say how incredible it is that I actually went and saw this movie. I usually don’t see horror movies. I’ve been disappointed too much in the past, my heart has been broken too many times, me and scary films just have “trust issues.” But, I had so many friends tell me I need to see it, and I heard so much positive response from critics, that I ended up dragging my feet to the local theater, prepared for disappointment. Just when I thought I was walking into another mundane slasher flick, this thing surprises me by being totally different from any movie I’ve seen this year. The scariest thing about walking out of that theater was realizing how much I ended up liking ‘Cabin in the Woods.’
‘Cabin in the Woods’ is essentially about the predictability and uniformity of all slasher flicks. The movie opens with two seemingly normal working-stiffs going through another day at the office. Hadley (played by Bradley Whitford) and Sitterson (played by Richard Jenkins) small talk about home life, sports, and the reports they’ve heard about the Stockholm project. When they get to their work stations, we realize that this is no ordinary white-collar company. The project on today’s agenda for Hadley and Sitterson is to coerce 5 college kids to go on a weekend getaway; they take all the wrong turns, make all the usual dumb decisions, and end up at the cabin in the woods, where any handful of horror movie monstrosities could end up ripping them apart.
The college gang are made up of the usual horror movie stereotypes: The jock, the hot blonde, the scholar, the idiot pot-head, and the good girl (who eventually becomes the heroine). And in perfect horror movie fashion, they all play their roles beautifully; over-exaggerated and totally lacking in authenticity. The weekened getaway ends up becoming a fully-fledged nightmare, and not only for the victims, but for those that put them there as well… (cue ominous music).
I hate to say this, but that really is all I can reveal about the plot without spoiling anything. ‘Cabin in the Woods’ really depends on the element of surprise, and I don’t want to be that guy who takes that away from the reader that hasn’t seen it yet, but I feel like there are a few comments that I can make without giving anything away.
First of all, as creative and entertaining as the set up of this movie is, the last 15 minutes of it is the biggest spectacle of ridiculous violence and total absurdity that I think I’ve ever seen. It becomes out of control really fast, to a point where it’s chaotic and the audience ends up asking “What just happened?” While the film never slows down, it also doesn’t have any brakes, and in the end, it crashes and burns. But I don’t see this as a criticism as much as what the filmmakers were going for. They wanted to make the ending as outrageous as possible, refusing to tie it together in a neat-and-tidy ribbon, to fully massacre the horror genre until there is nothing left.
And the ending does leave something to be desired, like a good ending…
Regardless of the ending, it was really great to see Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) back on screen. Sure it might be a step down from being the Deputy Chief of Staff of the White House, you know, going from that to orchestrating the murders of college students by ghouls and ghosts, but he still has that Josh Lyman wit that we’ve all grown to love.
One final thing before I give the Note and the Grade, and that final thing is Chris Hemsworth. I’m going to say this as polite as possible; the guy cannot act. Not a lick. He’s batting 1 for 4 with me, and the only time he could get on base was when he appeared in ‘Star Trek’ for about 5 minutes (I love that movie, by the way.) He was unbearable in ‘Thor’, annoying in ‘The Avengers’, and in ‘Cabin in the Woods’ he strikes out again. As much as I enjoy watching Robert Downey Jr. and Natalie Portman dance circles around this guy with their talent, I’m afraid I got to put Chris Hemsworth in ‘The Sam Worthington Club for Actors that are Cast for being Ripped and Beautiful.’
My Note: Although it ends up being an imperfect mess, ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ is still twenty-times better than any other horror movie out there.
My Grade: B
Stay tuned for more reviews in the ‘Summer Movie Slam’ series!