Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Holodecks And Horrors, Joss Whedon And Drew Goddard Make A Mess With Cabin In The Woods!

The Good: Moments of dialogue, Very general concept
The Bad: Most of the performances, Utterly ridiculous plot, No character development/interesting characters, Direction.
The Basics: Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard co-write a film that is easy to understand, but makes no real sense with Cabin In The Woods.

It is a pretty rare thing for me as a reviewer to continue writing about any movie or product I encounter and find myself talking myself into steadily lowering the rating I have planned to give it. And yet, with The Cabin In The Woods, I find myself having difficulty writing my full level of distaste for the film without providing massive spoilers. And yet, at the end of the day, it is utterly impossible for me to write anything without first acknowledging that: 1. I am, as a general rule, a big fan of the works of Joss Whedon, and 2. The Cabin In The Woods is a terrible movie built upon an exceptionally flawed premise. And one of the few redeeming elements of the advertising campaign for the film was that it ruined enough of the movie so that I was not scared for . . . well, any of it.

The Cabin In The Woods is a horror film that harkens back to a number of concepts Joss Whedon already mined (to death) in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. My wife suggested to me that I might be too harsh on the initial concept of The Cabin In The Woods (though she liked it even less than I did), despite my general belief that the vast majority of people going to see The Cabin In The Woods will know what a Holodeck is. A Holodeck is a device in Star Trek: The Next Generation (and that era of the Star Trek franchise) that creates a virtual reality experience that includes holograms, force fields and inanimate objects that are materialized from raw matter. Early in The Cabin In The Woods, it becomes apparent that the film is Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s Holodeck horror film . . . or, at the very least, the film employs a barrier that has Holodeck-like qualities.

That said, The Cabin In The Woods is a deadly take on the idea and the film mortgages any sense of personal safety early on. This is not a clean, controlled program . . . and therein lies one of the major problems with the film. Without revealing any spoilers, in the final third of The Cabin In The Woods, the whole purpose to the exercise that involves killing young people is revealed. Sufficed to say, the stakes are ridiculously high. Given that, the movie makes no real sense. The whole, complicated construct around which The Cabin In The Woods revolves leaves far too much to chance with the stakes being as high as they are.

And, at the end of the day, the movie oscillates between the silly, the pointless and elements that Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have already done before. And both have presented the concepts and elements that they use in The Cabin In The Woods with characters we actually care about in their other works. The Cabin In The Woods has no emotional tether for viewers. In fact, probably the biggest jag either my wife or I got out of the film was seeing actors we liked or recognized from other works pop up. That, sadly, is not at all enough to make The Cabin In The Woods worth spending money upon.

Jules, Curt, Marty, Holden and Dana are headed to the woods for a weekend away from everyone and everything. Having inherited a place in a remote location, Curt is eager to check it out and they head up, ignorant of an entire facility existing below the property and agents monitoring them from before they even leave for their trip. At the last possible place, the young people stop for gas where a creepy man, Mordecai, freaks them out. The quintet arrives at Curt’s cabin and almost immediately discovers odd things about it, including a one-way mirror.

With Jules acting hyper sexual, the result of chemicals administered to her through her hair dye by the workers in the facility below the cabin, the friends start a game of “Truth or Dare.” This leads the quintet to the creepy basement of the cabin where they find several mysterious objects, one of which is a journal. Dana reads the journal, including a passage in Latin aloud, which causes the people in the facility below to set a group of zombie rednecks upon the group. From there, the kids get slaughtered one by one and when they are killed, their blood is provided to the subterranean facility for use in a very old machine. . .

The Cabin In The Woods immediately provides viewers with information that the five young characters lack. Because the movie starts with Hadley and Sitterson in the secure facility, some of the traditional horror shock is absent from the film. I like that, in a way, because the movie becomes far less about freaking the viewer out and more about trying to engage the viewer into reasoning out what the purpose of the facility and the scenario is. And the moment Jules is slain by a turn-of-the-century zombie, the viewer knows that The Cabin In The Woods is not some safe, fun flick that is going to have a happy ending that mortgages the rest of the film, a la The Game (reviewed here!).

Director Drew Goddard presents The Cabin In The Woods with a significant amount of physical darkness, while co-writer Joss Whedon’s light and often ironic lines easily stand out to disarm the viewer. But, even Goddard’s direction feels like something that would have made most of The Cabin In The Woods safe for a Buffy The Vampire Slayer arc. In fact, with most of the carnage for the bulk of the movie occurring in very dark scenes or off-screen, the real bloodbath that ensues is of such a scale that it is impossible to focus on any one thing. This actually lessens the impact of The Cabin In The Woods in its climax because by that point in the film, most of the characters the viewer might have cared about are already dead and/or they are dispatched ridiculously fast as part of a wholesale slaughter that gives Joss Whedon a chance to do something so nihilistic and game-changing that he could simply have never done it on a television show (much the way the second season of Millennium ended with such a profound and powerful ending that the show had to entirely retool and negate it to progress to its third season).

The reason this review of The Cabin In The Woods has been so plot-heavy is that is how the film is. None of the characters, above or below, is particularly interesting or even distinctive. The closest any of them come to being engaging is the stoner Marty who seems much more aware of how weird things are. He serves as a strange voice of reason for the group, which is (oddly) both addressed and contradicted within the movie. Marty believes that he is so aware because the THC in the weed he is constantly smoking is making him immune to the various chemicals and pheromones those below are administering to the youths, while scientists below confirm that they have treated his weed.

On the acting front, The Cabin In The Woods is a great example of a film with pretty amazing casting that goes absolutely nowhere with it. What was supposed to be the start of a big summer for Chris Hemsworth,The Cabin In The Woods barely utilizes him and when he is on screen, he has very few lines and takes very few actions. In fact, in The Cabin In The Woods, Hemsworth was used like Channing Tatum might have been and the result is both Hemsworth and his character of Curt are essentially nonentities in the film.

In a similar fashion, Bradley Whitford is woefully misused in The Cabin In The Woods. Whitford’s character in The Cabin In The Woods is Hadley and he is essentially Josh Lyman in an underground compound. This performance shows us nothing new, different or distinctive from the otherwise great actor. Similar things could be said for Amy Acker’s brief appearance, Tom Lenk’s pointless role, or most of Richard Jenkins’s presence in the film. These are usually wonderful actors and Drew Goddard gets nothing from them for The Cabin In The Woods.

The Cabin In The Woods is a hard horror . . . eventually. The gore is mostly computer-generated in the last quarter of the film and by that point, viewers are unlikely to still care. As important, when the special effects kick in, there are so very many of them that the scenes are much more chaotic than either scary or even interesting. That makes The Cabin In The Woods pretty much a failure on all fronts and very easy to recommend against watching at all.

For other films with Chris Hemsworth, please check out my reviews of:
Snow White And The Huntsman
The Avengers
Star Trek


For other movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the films I have reviewed.

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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  1. This is a hell of a fun movie that features twists that got better and better as the film went on. It’s crazy that horror films can be this fun and entertaining just by smart and witty writing. However, it won’t last for too long so we might as well enjoy it while Whedon and Goodard are around. Good review W.L.

  2. Thanks for the comment! I almost completely disagree with your assessment of the film, but I am glad you liked the review! Thanks!