The Cabin in the Woods: metafilm tropefest brilliance
Forget Tropfest, see tropefest. Cabin in the Woods, a compendium of horror cliches, is showing in just one cinema in each city — it’s a film for people interested in film, which is as elitist any discrete group of art aficionados. So, you know who you are — enagaged and too clever by 50%.
Above: Both of these two images are accurate evocations of Cabin.
Resist reading any reviews (this is a spoiler-free anti-review)
It’s an extremely tricky film to “review” as speaking about any part of it beyond the first
five three minutes is spoiling the fun; it kicks off with, ahh I can’t say anymore. Even the trailer is too revealing. Indeed, I haven’t read any reviews that don’t give too much away, so it was a good thing I didn’t read any till later.
Two things: 1) This is a double-genre film: it’s primary genre is meta, and the genre it’s meta-ing is horror — and you’re right, there are X number of sub-genres, but you’ll see that literally listed, passingly, in the film itself; it’s a comprehensive critique of horror movies dressed early on as a satire. (2) I scare easily, so I watched not as a fan intent on getting the howling fantods but because I had heard just the right things about it: very smart fun with lashings of splatter.
Horror, not horror: You might read a comment like this: “Very bad movie, don’t waste your time and money … its not scary at all … Bad bad bad bad.” My mainstream standard, Dana Stevens at Slate (she’s Margaret and David in one) wrote a half-heartedly complimentary review remarking: “I thoroughly enjoyed this movie’s gory silliness.” Josh Larsen, half the estimable duo at Filmspotting said, “I didn’t have a problem that it wasn’t scary.”
Which makes me realise that a professional film watcher, or a genre fan, is pretty blase about “horror;” I was pretty icked out a lot of the time and if not howling fantodly, at least spooked and jumpy, which was plenty sufficient for me. This desensitisation works as well with our relation to special effects and rock music and hot food. For Cabin, the”normal” audience is evidently not me. Larsen usefully adds, “I don’t think it’s a horror film really, it’s doing other things, it’s interested in other things.”
Above: two very apposite posters for Cabin with the slogan: “You think you know the story”
Too smart for the critics: I fully agree with Larsen, its interests lie beyond horror. To have been seriously (sickeningly) horrific would have been a distraction from the ideas at play — to discuss which would be a spoiler. It would be like an extremely violent film moralising about violence in movies.
I can say this: the sentiment of the very last line is taken, surprisingly, all too literally by pratically every critic who’s mentioned it. The filmmakers Whedon and Goddard want to tear everything down, but the critics — most of whom are generally but curiously, guardedly positive — have not (why not?) desisted from noticing that “everything” here has a specific context which we’ve been considering the whole time; it’s a not insignificant key to looking back on the movie, which they all seemed to have missed. (Why am I so smart? I’ve no idea; it did take a little time after for the penny to drop but it’s perfectly obvious then. You‘ll see.)
Reasons to go: It’s a great start; four of the five young folk are total eye candy — note Chris Hemsworth, Our Chris, just pre-Thor, who has the appeal of early Crowe/Pearce/Jackman — it has non-stop reversals and surprises and if you’re not satisfied by one just wait a second; and the end sequence is as much fun as any climax can get (Rise of the Planet of the Apes-fun, if you’ve seen it).
And if you care about this sort of stuff: It’s about how we watch what we want to watch (ie, genre), and if that thing is horror, why we want to see bad things happen to more or less innocent people. (Though I think they don’t answer that question; their hands are full just showing us the how.)
For what it’s worth, Best-Horror-Movies.com (“We’re purists”) have given it five freakheads out of five.