Overview: Five friends visit a remote cabin and… the rest should be pretty predictable, right? Lionsgate; 2012; Rated R; 95 Minutes.
The Expected: Whedonites love chit chat. The script penned by Whedon with director and disciple Drew Godard provides… well, it provides words. Like all of Whedon’s characters, this doomed group does a lot of talking, particularly for a horror movie (or a horror movie spoof? We’ll get to that later), and whether talking is a fair substitute for character development might be a matter of personal taste.
The Good: Unsubtle homages come in rapid succession. There is a giddy sense of nostalgia evident here, and it is most distinct in the betting room scenes, where Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford push the meta-theatrical limit, scribbling over whiteboards that tease us with possibility. The creature work is a brilliant mishmash of CGI, costume, and make-up, cheesy where it needs to be, precise when the reference requires it. The masked maniac, the werewolf, the zombie, the zombie redneck torture family (different things), Kevin, the merman (oh god, the merman), the giant snake. For adults, none of these monsters, mutants, or murderers will be scary, but they are a great reminder of having once been scared.
Here Comes Mr. Academic Buzzkill: I’m uncertain about Cabin in the Woods‘ intentions. Is this film essay a construction of celebration, satire, or diagnosis? If it’s celebrating the formulaic principles, then I simply disagree with the film. If it’s satire, it’s sophomoric. If it’s a diagnosis, it’s unnecessary. But with an unclear thesis, it’s even worse than those things: it’s just lazy, undaring observation. The horror film doesn’t need how-to guides or graded papers. It certainly doesn’t need film heavyweights announcing that they’re watching, that they see the patterns, but have no solutions. It needs a bold treatment plan, presented by brave and creative innovators with a willingness to look in any direction other than behind.
Watch Instead: Resolution, a 2013 film that toys with meta-awareness but establishes a chilling, amusing, and intelligent forward step with self-supportive narrative structure.
Overall: While sprinkled with moments of nostalgic film-going delight, Cabin in the Woods is not quite as intelligent or fresh as it believes itself to be.
Grade: C –