April 20, 2012

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (Review)

REVIEW

The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Director: Drew Goddard
 

RATING: 
4.5/ 5 zedheads
 

What's a review of The Cabin in the Woods doing on a zombie blog? Is it a zombie movie?

Well, like most of you, I've been avoiding spoilers for this movie from co-writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard like the zombie plague, so I'm not going to be the one to give away the real story.

What I can say, however, is this: The Cabin in the Woods begins as a story we've seen time and time again, but it's more than it seems. Five friends -- the jock (Chris Hemsworth), the good girl (Kristen Connolly), the slutty one (Anna Hutchison), the brain (Jesse Williams), and the stoner (Fran Kranz) -- head out to a remote and sketchy-looking cabin for the weekend. Against all good sense, they unleash horror. There is blood and pain. But the "how" and "why" and the plot that binds these familiar conventions are anything but conventional. The Cabin in the Woods is an unfolding mystery in which the third act is not just a means to a climax but an integral part of the puzzle, a puzzle that culminates in an ambitious, mind-blowing set piece of pure fanboy horrorgasm.

Don't go in the basement. You'll be THOR-Y!
Let's get back to the undead. Zombies? Yes, there are indeed zombies in The Cabin in the Woods, but believe me when I say that this tells you nothing about what to expect. It's not a zombie movie. It's really not a horror movie at all, or is it? Confused yet?

When is a zombie movie not a zombie movie?
In the tradition of films like Scream, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, and Tucker and Dale vs. EvilThe Cabin in the Woods isn't a zombie movie, a creature feature, or a slasher: it's a movie about horror movies and about the people who create and consume horror films. It's both deconstruction and loving homage. Equal parts genuine horror story and criticism of horror's conventions. Where The Cabin in the Woods tops heavyweights like Scream, however, is that the meta-story is not delivered with that dull post-modern sense of ironic detachment. The Cabin in the Woods commits to its world and its story. It has heart (and plenty of bloody guts to go along with it). Contrary to Scream, the story itself is a loving pastiche of modern horror iconography with a deft touch of levity, but it's also a solid and original story in its own right divorced of its meta-commentary (although, in truth, you can't really divorce the two). There's no "wink, wink, look what we did, aren't we so clever and above it all?" from behind the camera, although the movie is full of horror movie references and Easter eggs for horror fans to find. The cast is supremely likable and the dialogue is self-aware and smart without condescending to the material. In short, co-writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have delivered a contender for best and smartest horror movie of the year.

Hey baby, you know what they say about a guy with big teeth.
Primarily, The Cabin in the Woods is a purely enjoyable horror movie experience. The cast is extremely likable and, despite being cast as archetypes, they begin as unconventionally nuanced and charming teens in a genre that tends to treat such characters as plot devices. In terms of production, the set design is suitably creepy and amazingly reverent to the horror films that The Cabin in the Woods mimics (tell me that cabin doesn't look JUST LIKE the cabin from Evil Dead). The effects are also a perfect mixture of CGI and the practical. Whedon and Goddard portion out the violence and the gore to give audiences exactly what they need when they need it. Altogether, it's a solid package.

Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the first victim of them all?
There's laughs, titillation, and thrills, but there's always a constant questioning and re-evaluation of these elements. The Cabin in the Woods is more than escapist entertainment. The film feels like Whedon and Goddard's attempt to turn the analyses found in academic cultural studies of the horror genre (such as C.J. Clover's Men, Women and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film) into the fun plot of a movie -- and they succeed in spades. The cultural metaphors and historical traditions that inform why we enjoy watching young people hacked to pieces on the silver screen are brought to the fore with absolute charm and uniqueness in a way I've never seen before. Story, fan-service, and critical subtext dance hand in hand, constantly moving around and through each other. Whedon and Goddard open a toy box of horror movie conventions, pick from them carefully at first, and then overturn the box in the film's climax to let all the contents spill out across the screen with bloody, chaotic results.

Do yourself a favor. If the recent offering of horror at the local multiplex has left you cold -- if you're tired of the countless unimaginative remakes that tarnish the legacy of classic horror -- go see The Cabin in the Woods.

3 comments:

  1. I agree 100%!! I loved this movie.
    It's better not knowing. Completely original.

    Here's my review if your interested:
    http://www.bookmarkyourthoughts.com/2012/04/cover-art-undead-to-world-by-dd-barant.html

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  2. P.S Dibs on not giving it away in the labels either! Amazon kind of gives it away, I've noticed.

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  3. I loved that movie! Completely insane and original. I would see it again.

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