Cabin in the Woods

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Abraham is told that he should really just watch the movie already

Cabin in the Woods is an excellent film, particularly if you’re looking for a bloody romp through the menacing trees with a plot twist that will leave you trying to screw your head back on straight.  You get plenty of warning, and the ending is staring you down from a mile away, looming like a blood-hungry Macy’s parade balloon as it swoops down on you and consumes all in its path.  But for all that you can see it coming once you put the pieces together, it’s so totally not what I’ve come to expect from a “kill-the-youngsters” horror movie that I was still gobsmacked when I actually realized what was happening.  And if you can handle the buckets of gore and unrepentantly dark story, the humor which rears its head time and again will keep you chuckling the whole way through.

This is a movie to watch with friends.  You’ll commiserate with each other as your favorites die, and laugh as the movie’s pervasive dark humor gets the better of you.  You’ll cringe and make awkward noises together as you watch those uncomfortable scenes, and that will be just right.  This is not the sort of film that requires a silent audience.  I mean, you’ll want to pay attention, but that’s easy to do.  This is the sort of movie that will catch your attention and hold it while you squirm.

I mentioned that Cabin in the Woods doesn’t deliver what you’d expect from a horror movie, and the real reason for that is because it isn’t a horror movie.  Correction: it’s not the horror movie that you think it is.  I’ll avoid saying anything more about what kind of movie it really is, but you deserve to know that its grim humor is more than just a patch on the well-worn tread of bloody murder which defines so many horror movies.  It goes far enough with its defiance of expectations to eke out a comfortably distinct new realm for itself within the horror genre.

I don’t know that I can continue to write about this movie without nattering on excitedly about exactly how it manipulated my expectations, so I’ll say this instead: if you haven’t already seen the movie, stop reading.  Don’t read any more, please don’t ruin it for yourself, this is your last chance to turn back because everything after this is

*SPOILERS*

I feel a little bit like I just watched one of M. Night Shyamalan’s early movies, one of the ones that really held together and felt just right.  But instead of letting the reveal creep up on you completely unexpectedly, Joss Whedon keeps poking you with it, intentionally hinting at what’s going on with a none-too-subtle stick.  The opening sequence of images, showing glimmers of human sacrifice through the ages, intentionally tells you all about what’s really happening.  But Whedon teases you with it, clearly aware of what he’s doing as he shows you early scenes of a vast corporate-scientific complex.  The dialogue of the people in this complex just drives home the point that what is about to happen is part of their normal day at work.  That surreal normalcy is only heightened by the dynamics between the various crew-members as they take bets on how the unwary campers are going to die.

Meanwhile, the campers are playing up their roles to a tee, while their stupidity is explained by the technical artistry of the watchers from that mysterious complex.  It comes out fairly quickly that the people in the complex are engineering the ritual murders of the campers (as per the introduction’s visuals), and that they are doing it for spooky supernatural reasons at the same time that many other groups of people are doing similar things around the globe.  None of these things is presented as being particularly novel, despite the fact that having human agency behind the usual supernatural horror is a delightful reversal of our normal expectations around horror movies.

All of that is fun to watch and very well done, and helps to explain why it is that all of the predictably horrible things happen to our camper-protagonists.  It would probably even make for a decent movie.  But Whedon takes the next step and brings the two parts together for the final act, in the plot twist that left me stunned and elated, delightedly laughing my head off.  As one of my friends pointed out when I saw this with her, the two sides simply have to meet in order for the appropriate resolution of the film’s dramatic tension.  But the way that it happens, and what comes after, both make sense narratively and were (for me) totally unexpected.  I just didn’t think of that as even being possible.

The last minute surprise reveals, and the tension that arises with the movie’s final clear-cut revelations, are wonderfully matched up with the tone of the rest of the movie, and give the Cabin in the Woods a lovely finish.  I really enjoyed it.  A lot.

Have you seen the movie?  What did you think of it?

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One response to “Cabin in the Woods

  1. This movie cracked me up, and you are right, it just wasn’t the movie I expected it to be. It was a glorious combination of heavy tones and looming doom, and bursts of humor and down and out science fiction mania. I went into it knowing absolutely nothing, preconceptions be damned. I loved it, it is definitely a watch with a crowd kind of film.
    http://thedarkandstormynight.wordpress.com/

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