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The Cabin in the Woods

A movie directed by Drew Goddard

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A Very Loving Hate Letter to Horror

  • Apr 14, 2012
Star Rating:

“I love being scared.” So said Joss Whedon in an interview with Total Film regarding The Cabin in the Woods, which he produced and co-wrote with director Drew Goddard. “The things that I don’t like are kids acting like idiots, the devolution of the horror movie into torture porn and into a long series of sadistic comeuppances. Drew and I both felt that the pendulum had sung a little too far in that direction.” When I first read that quote a few weeks ago, I wished Whedon had been there with me, for I wanted to shake him by the hand and thank him for publically reaffirming what I’ve felt about horror movies for quite some time. But then I actually saw The Cabin in the Woods, and I couldn’t help but wonder why I wasn’t seeing things as he saw them. Something wasn’t quite right.
The film, promoted by Whedon himself as a “very loving hate letter” and “a serious critique of what we love and what we don’t about horror movies,” is nowhere near as clever or insightful as it has been made to seem. Whedon and Goddard clearly have fun with a number of threadbare horror clichés, but never once do they actually say anything relevant about them. All these men really do is confirm that they exist, which is shortsighted considering the fact that most horror audiences are already well aware of this. They think they’re letting us in on the joke when in fact we were in on it all along. What I was promised was satire; what I got was a confusing, ridiculous, and surprisingly depressing film in which archetypes and conventions are addressed but barely improved.

Central to the story are five college kids who were clearly intended to be one-dimensional caricatures. But pointing out their shallowness and actually commenting on it are two entirely different matters, and frankly, I would have preferred the filmmakers to go in the latter direction. There’s Dana, the reluctant virgin (Kristen Connolly). There’s her best friend, Jules, the perpetually horny sexpot (Anna Hutchison), who just dyed her hair blonde; although she can’t pronounce one of the words on Dana’s math book, it’s declared that she’s premed. There’s Jules’ boyfriend, Curt, the hunky jock (Chris Hemsworth). There’s Holden, the scholarly gentleman (Jesse Williams), who will inevitably fall for Dana. Finally, there’s Marty, the goofy pothead (Fran Kranz), who sounds like he knows more than he initially lets on.
They leave campus and take an RV to a remote part of the woods, where they vacation in a strangely decorated and certifiably creepy cabin. Little do they know that beneath the cabin lies a subterranean office superstructure, where a bureaucratic team of workers in suits, ties, and lab coats watch their every move via surveillance cameras. Two scientists, Hadley (Richard Jenkins) and Sitterson (Bradley Whitford), use a force field to seal the college kids into the wooded area and subject them to a scenario of their own design. They manipulate the circumstances as much as possible, mostly by the release of airborne chemicals that can change a person’s ability to think. They eventually open the cellar, where, amidst an eclectic mix of creepy Victorian paraphernalia, Dana finds an old diary. Upon reading a Latin incantation, zombies emerge from the ground and descend on the cabin.

At this point, I’m going to stop describing the plot in detail, as there are numerous twists and turns that most will not want spoiled. I will say that the film is intended to be both frightening and funny, and to an extent, it succeeds at both. In the humor department, we have more than the antics of the college kids; we have the working environment of the subterranean office. Just as it would be in an urban skyrise, we see division of labor and the formation of cliques. We see money pools and office partying, and there’s even enough time to work in the playful ribbing of the nerdy intern. When they’re not working, the scientists will gab about their personal lives; in the opening scene, Sitterson spends a great deal of time complain about his wife and her new cabinets.
There’s an extremely bloody confrontation involving every imaginable monster from the annals of horror, from wispy spirits to werewolves to giant cobras to robotic slicing machines to zombies to carnivorous mermen. All leads to a Lovecraftian ending that was not only lame-brained and inappropriate but also needlessly upsetting. Was that the point of The Cabin in the Woods? To espouse a nihilistic viewpoint of humanity? If this is Whedon’s idea of sticking it to the makers of slasher films and gore fests, he might want to steer clear of the horror genre altogether. I hate to think that there are other genres he feels have been corrupted. If he were to write another very loving hate letter, say for a romantic comedy or a musical, would it too end in the same way?


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April 20, 2012
OOOH. Harsh. the second negative review I've read for the film overall, but kudos for being honest. Being a HUGE horror fan, I definitely plan to see this at some point while it's enjoying its theatrical run, and I'll tell you what I think once I do, but as of now; I'm not planning on avoiding this. Two to, you know, a thousand positive reviews (exaggerating) in this case.
April 21, 2012
It's hard to say this with any degree of certainty, but given your taste in horror movies, I have a feeling you will enjoy this one. However, I don't think you will absolutely love it. You are right in that most critics are overrating it.
April 16, 2012
"to an extent" Darn. I wanted this to be an unqualified success. Thank you for the persuasive recommendation to lower my expectations when I see it.
April 16, 2012
Thanks for the comment, but you must keep in mind that I seem to be the only person alive who thinks this movie is disappointing. You might not want to take my word for it.
April 14, 2012
I enjoyed this one quite a bit. I liked its good parts more than I did the uneven parts. Fun movie for me since I love horror movies.
April 14, 2012
What can I say? I guess we have different ideas of what a good horror movie is.
April 14, 2012
yeah, comedies and horror are always tough to crack, most of the time they all depend on one's sense of humor and horror. I find comedies very hard to review, which is why I am trying to review more under that genre for practice.
April 14, 2012
It wasn't so much that it blended horror and comedy. It was more a matter of promising one thing and getting another. The film was advertised as being smarter than the average horror film, but it didn't seem that way to me. And I really didn't appreciate the ending.
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review by . April 14, 2012
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One of the names that is almost guaranteed to make me want to see a movie (or read a comic book) is Joss Whedon. Despite the less-than-impressive trailers, this was why I’ve decided to take a chance with “The Cabin in the Woods” and honestly, I really did not know what to expect. Once you see the opening title reel, you would know exactly what you are in for. It would be easy to dismiss it as a horror B-movie romp with some twisted touches and macabre humor around it. Yeah, …
review by . April 19, 2012
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The "plot" of THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is a classic cliché of horror films: a group of five friends travels to a cabin in the woods out in the middle of nowhere that is supposedly owned by a cousin of one of the friends. There's a jock, a slutty girl, a scholar, a stoner, and an innocent. The trip to the cabin is really spooky complete with a run-down gas station where the group stops for a fill-up and to make sure their directions to the cabin are correct. Once they get to the …
review by . April 13, 2012
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'The Cabin In The Woods' 'Two Jews On Film' Only One Gets Chills (Video)
            By Joan Alperin Schwartz      'The Cabin In The Woods', written by Josh Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer & Avengers) and Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) who also directed, is one of the most clever horror films I've seen in a really long time.      Okay, without giving too much away, here's the scenerio...Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods and really horrible things start …
Quick Tip by . April 12, 2012
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Hey!     This movie is awesome and anyone looking for a little more insight into the film should check out my geek-tastic interview with director, Drew Goddard.    Enjoy!
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #2
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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