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Worth A Look: 21.21%
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Pretty Crappy: 3.03%
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3 reviews, 15 user ratings

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Cabin in the Woods, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"You Probably Should Not Be Reading This. . ."
5 stars

As those of you who have been reading my reviews with any degree of regularity over the years can attest, I generally try not to get caught up in all the wild fanboy hype regarding upcoming movies, especially the kind of genre exercises that set the Internet humming with speculation and anticipation even before the damn things even go in front of the cameras. Oh sure, there is the occasional title that can't help but fill me with a certain amount of anticipatory giddiness--I cannot wait to see what "Prometheus" has in store, for example--but for the most part, I tend to take a wait-and-see attitude for the most part, partly in the name of journalistic objectivity and partly out of a desire to avoid living in a state of constant grim disappointment when said films fail to live up to all the hoopla. Therefore, when I tell you that the much-anticipated "The Cabin in the Woods" is one of the cleverest and most shamelessly entertaining and ingenious meta-movie mashups to come along since the original "Scream," I am not simply blowing a lot of hot air in the hopes of securing a quote on the ads--it is because the film really is that good. Not only is it one of the best American horror-related films in recent memory, it has so much else going on with it that even those not already predisposed to the genre will find it a blast as well.

Before going any further, we need to get one thing out of the way right now. If ever there was a film that warranted the warning "Spoiler Alert!," it is "The Cabin in the Woods." In fact, I would not be surprised at all to learn that those were the first two words to appear in the screenplay. Granted, it seems as if almost every review of every film these days--at least those not written by Jeffrey Wells--contains some kind of warning along those line but believe me, when it comes to this film, they aren't kidding. Let me put it this way--if you have even the slightest intention of seeing this film at any point in your lifetime, set this review aside right now and don't give it another glance until you have done so. This is not to say that I plan on revealing all of the twists, turns and plot details along the way--in fact, I hope to remain as vague as possible about what goes on in it--but this really is one of those films that works best if you go into it knowing as little as possible about it other than the title.

At first glance, the film appears to be yet another variation of one of the more popular narrative tropes in contemporary horror cinema--the one in which a group of at least five young college people go off to a remote area for a weekend of sun and fun (with the actual levels of fun depending on whether the filmmakers are going for the "R"-rating as nature intended or whether they have decided to soften things down in the hopes of scoring a more commercially viable PG-13 instead) only to find themselves trapped in a nightmare that finds them being brutally picked off one by one by someone or something lurking out there in the darkness. And as with most films of this type, the group of potential victims each represent a specific character archetype--Curt (Chris Hemsworth) is the party-hearty jock, Jules (Anna Hutchinson) is the blonde sexpot, Holden (Jesse Williams) is the brain of the bunch, Marty (Fran Kranz) is the gang's wiseass/pothead/conspiracy theorist and Dana (Kristen Connolly) is the sweet-natured innocent. After arriving at the cabin (following the requisite run-in with some scary old coot foretelling doom for them all), the gang discovers a basement absolutely jam-packed with creepy bric-a-brac. From this point on, most horror buffs could probably fill in the majority of the narrative blanks for themselves--following the requisite tomfoolery, the kids will discover some mysterious secret down in that surprisingly well-appointed basement, it will somehow herald the arrival of some form of murderous evil and our heroes will find themselves messily dispatched until the aforementioned innocent is forced to nut up in the final reel and accept her sacred Final Girl duties in defeating the menace for good (or until the sequel, of course).

In this case, however, viewers will be ahead of the main characters but not for the ordinary reasons of slackness in the creativity area. (Once again, I insist that if you haven't seen the film yet, you need to turn back now before all is ruined.) In the very first scene, before we are introduced to the future Spam-in-a-cabin (to steal a phrase from the great Joe Bob Briggs), we are whisked away to what appears to be an undisclosed government location where we see a couple of blandly pleasant functionaries (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) chatting about a bunch of work-related stuff that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense at first. Before long, however, it becomes apparent that they, along with all the other workers at their installation, are not only observing our heroes but are subtly manipulating events in order to get them into the basement to make their presumably unsavory discovery. As they move things along with the bland efficiency of air-traffic controllers, the bigger questions begin to center on who these people are and what they are doing? Are they part of some elaborate government experiment delving into the nuances of fear on both individuals and the group dynamic? Are the people behind some grisly "Hostel"-like enterprise that stages real-life horror movies for the delight of rich sickos who prefer their low-rent trash entertainment to come with an exceptionally nasty edge? Or is there something else entirely going on out there that makes the aforementioned possibilities seem like child's play (actual child's play--not that crap with the homicidal doll)?

Well, considering that "The Cabin in the Woods" is the brainchild of Joss Whedon, the man behind such genre-busting television favorites as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," Firefly" and "Dollhouse" (hey, I liked it), and Drew Goddard, who, in addition to penning key episodes of "BtVS" and "Angel," also worked on "Alias," "Lost" and wrote the screenplay to the found-footage monster movie "Cloverfield," the answer would be a resounding. Of course, to even hint at what they have in store would be grossly unfair but one of the most fascinating things about the film is that it is filled with any number of astonishing twists and genre subversions, they do not allow their screenplay to be fueled solely by such things--if they had, they would wind up with something with absolutely nothing in the way of replay value. In fact, "The Cabin in the Woods" is the rare American horror film of late where multiple viewings are almost necessary to fully recognize the complexity of their achievement. For one thing, the movie is funny and not just in the increasingly tiresome combination of snark and self-awareness that poisoned the horror genre in the wake of "Scream"--it is funny because Whedon & Goddard have written a screenplay that is smart, tart and knowing without ever being obnoxious about and, in his directorial debut, Goddard has successfully executed the humorous elements without ever laying things on too thick. For another, the scare elements are equally effective as well. While I can't say that this film will chill you to your very soul and leave you quaking with fear, I will note that Goddard takes some of the hoarier horror cliches--the horny couple making out in the woods without realizing that there is something out there, the tour of the poorly lit basement, the dope who knows that there is something after him but who still chooses to stand in front of a window that is practically daring that very same something to crash through it--and gives them enough juice to surely inspire more than a few jumps from most observers. Goddard handles these two separate elements quite well--not the easiest thing to do, as anyone who sits through the current monstrosity "Detention" can attest--but when he fully fuses them together for the jaw-dropping third act, they play off of each other with such a beautiful sense of giddy lunacy that the entire sequence feels as if Goddard has tapped directly into the brain of an exceptionally exuberant fanboy letting his freak flag fly--its like "Hellzapoppin" with actual hell being offered up.

What is most impressive about "The Cabin in the Woods" is that unlike most current horror films, which now seem to focus on who can outgross who--both in terms of on-screen gore and off-screen box-office results--it actually gives viewers something to think about once the gags and gruesomeness have faded from memory. In essence, the film wants to explore the entire notion of horror films and what it is about them that compel audiences to keep coming back to them despite their generally rudimentary artistic efforts and the generally unsavory concept of paying money to see people being torn apart like fresh bread in the name of entertainment. this, in and of itself, is nothing particularly new for a horror film--Wes Craven has repeatedly utilized such self-reflexive motifs in films like "Wes Craven's New Nightmare," "Shocker" and, of course, the "Scream" series--but it has rarely been done with the kind of style that has been used here. Without getting too preachy and pedantic, Goddard and Whedon do an excellent job of quietly but effectively illustrating the basic appeal of watching trashy entertainment as it goes through its paces to its seemingly preordained conclusion and metaphorically showing both the pros and cons of what can happen when those expectations are not met for one reason or another. The irony, of course, is that this all occurs in the service of a story that takes great relish in destroying as many conventions as it possibly can, even though doing so means that the chances are somewhat unlikely that it will be turned into a franchise anytime soon.

As some of you may have heard, "The Cabin in the Woods" has had a somewhat troubled post-production period that has included the financial meltdown of its original studio, the long wait for another distributor to step forward and take it over and a brief flirtation with the idea of converting it after the fact into 3-D. (These shenanigans have gone on for so long that since production was completed in the spring of 2009, the then-unknown Chris Hemsworth has gone on to portray Thor in two different movies.) UNder most circumstances, this usually means that something went horribly wrong at some point and no matter how hard the filmmakers try to push forth the story that all is well and good, most viewers can pretty quickly get the sense that the end result is a stinker and will usually stay away from it in droves. Happily, that is not what happened here. In fact, this is one of those rare instances in which a truly ingenious idea somehow made it through the entire filmmaking process virtually unscathed and without any of its cleverness tamped down in an ill-advised effort to make something that will play better with slack-jawed mallrats who will occasionally take glimpses at the screen in between texts. From its hilarious opening sequence (complete with a reference to Michael Haneke's "Funny Games," another film that dealt with the question of why audiences enjoy violent entertainments so much) to its genuinely breathtaking final image, "The Cabin in the Woods" is a keeper that will send viewers out into the streets afterwards in the throes of a cinematic contact high and the urge to tell friends who haven't yet seen it that they need to see it right that second. However, when doing so, please take care to not tell them too much about it--it is the only fair thing to do.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18555&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/12/12 17:59:45
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2012 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/21/17 morris campbell fun & imaginative lots of monsters in the finale 4 stars
11/19/15 Bill Grimmel Very, very scary movie with humorous moments. Kristen Connolly was awesome. 5 stars
5/11/13 Marty Funny, gory, but I wish it was more scary. Unique, fun film. 4 stars
10/22/12 Stephanie I can't stop watching this movie. I love the wit! 5 stars
10/02/12 Katherine Very fun & original! 5 stars
9/23/12 mr.mike Flabby middle section is rescued by a slam-bang third act. 4 stars
9/16/12 action movie fan that,s right-it,s not scary and it gets more absurd as it goes on 2 stars
8/16/12 Langano Doesn't live up to the hype but better than your average hooror flick. 4 stars
5/08/12 Flipsider Very entertaining and original! It's only weakness is it's not scary. 4 stars
5/07/12 elbichosucio If you didn't like it, you're wrong. 5 stars
5/06/12 Adam Myles This movie was Phenomenal! 5 stars
4/19/12 Hannah Just pure wicked fun from start to finish! 5 stars
4/16/12 Mark T. very differernt ending was a little rushed but still worth a look 4 stars
4/16/12 Quigley The most original and entertaining horror film since "Scream." Don't miss it. 5 stars
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  13-Apr-2012 (R)
  DVD: 18-Sep-2012


  DVD: 18-Sep-2012

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