The Cabin In The Woods (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Cabin In The Woods (2012)

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A few months back, when Red Tails was released, a whole swath of people were operating under the assumption it was a George Lucas film.  Yes, he helped produce it, but it was written and directed by entirely different people, and a similar situation is occurring with The Cabin in the Woods.   Joss Whedon's name is appearing all over the place but this film is a true collaboration between himself, functioning as the cowriter and producer, and Drew Goddard, a long-time collaborator who directed and also helped write the film.

I wanted to get these facts straight to put credit where it is deserved because this is the most fun I've had in a theater all year.  Cabin is breathlessly determined to undermine the philosophical horror behind most slasher, monster, and supernatural flicks that have come out in our lifetimes and before.  It does this in a crisp and electrifying fashion, relying on the audience intelligence to figure out what's going on, and leaving tidbits with some office suits while cross-cutting with a group of teens destined for backstreet troubles.

This is the response to horror films I did not realize I had been waiting for.  As opposed to  Human Centipede 2, Cabin directly engages with the way horror films have been used to reinforce whatever the cultural norm is supposed to be.  Part of what makes cabin so great is it realizes we here in America do love our dead teens and breasts, and on that note Cabin still delivers even if it's going to do its damnedest to make sure you get an idea of unethical this is.

This trust begins after a blood-soaked opening, in which the heavy metal soundtrack ascends in volume and suddenly a smash cut to two guys chatting in an office and getting some coffee (Bradley Whitford and the amazing Richard Jenkins).  Not quite the visceral horror you might be expecting, but the film quickly cuts to another group of young college students getting ready for a trip to the woods.  From the way the camera descends from the clouds onto her pantsless form, it's clear straight away that Dana (Kristen Connolly) is the token virgin for the film.  Very quickly we're introduced to the rest of the crew, a seemingly by the books set consisting of the jock, stoner, promiscuous one, and academic.

But the dialogue does their best to form them into individuals instead of their archetypes, quoting old anti-drug PSAs along with their love of academia ("Where did you learn about reading?"  "I learned it from you dad!")  For those familiar with Whedon's scripts it has the same kind of back-and-forth the best episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer had but with less pop culture buzzwording and more development in the wit itself.  Goddard and Whedon have a blast when they force them into their more traditional horror roles and those in the party able to keep their heads react hilariously.

Script aside, Goddard's sets revel in their over-exaggeration of horror visuals.  Once the zombie hillbilly torture family enters the picture (a decision played out in a smart and funny scene involving a conch, a book, a puzzle, and a music box) the darkness becomes so pervasive nothing is visible but the immediate ground, character, and zombie currently hunting them.  It's in these very visuals and some of the surprise plot points the ethical nature of Cabin becomes very clear.

The moral test, not for the characters but for the audience, comes early on when Holden (the academic, Jesse Williams) goes into his room and finds a one-way mirror into Dana's.  He watches her undress because it beats looking at the grotesque painting previously up on the wall.  The uneasy feeling comes quickly, we were watching her undressed at the beginning of the film and it was happy and boppy, now it's grimy and distasteful, and (after he graciously offers to switch rooms) neither are able to make the correct moral choice straight away.

From it's inception, the vast majority of horror films have served to reinforce the cultural norm of whatever their country of origin is.  Cabin realizes this all too well and most broadly contrasts this with Japan's form of reinforcement (and also biggest laugh in the movie).  Audiences passively engage in the material and usually don't realize what they're rooting for is the one who is most normal and least likely to deviate from what is acceptable to survive.  Ethically speaking, there's a responsibility of the audience to recognize and identify what's going on, but instead they're typically urged on at the basest level.  But filmmakers have simply reinforced the norm, no matter how brilliant the results may be sometimes (case in point, Halloween).

Cabin is actually arguing for something fairly radical.  The standards horror films are held to need to be completely overworked, but in order for that to happen our own standards for the typical norm must be destroyed and rebuilt.  My only contention with Cabin is how directly it makes this point at the end, but considering the history of this horror trope goes back to Psycho, it's a minor quibble.

There is enough atmosphere and wit to the film for those who just want their thrills, but those with knowledge in horror film history and a bit of film theory will be delighted at the way it utilizes both.  I hope this goes on to be a huge hit and gathers enough traction for a merman sequel.

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The Cabin In The Woods (2012)

Directed by Drew Goddard.
Screenplay by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard.
Starring Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, and Bradley Whitford.

Posted by Andrew

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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 Andrew.

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