Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods - Theatrical Review



THE CABIN IN THE WOODS



Release Date: April 13, 2012

Imagine all your horror fantasies have come true. Everything you have ever wanted from the horror genre all wrapped up into one messy package served with a heaping amount of wit and intelligence the likes of which have never been seen before. Now go see The Cabin in the Woods to see your fantasies realized in glorious form.



Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC Tyler 16
Time: 11:45 pm April 14, 2012
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 35 min
Studio: Lionsgate

Biases:
Loves: Inventive and original ideas, Joss Whedon, those final 20 minutes...oh.my.god.
Likes: Horror/Comedies, Chris Hemsworth
Neutral: That not very many people will appreciate what this film adds to the mix
Hates: Nothing
Fact: Filming completed in 2009 but was held back due to MGM filing for bankruptcy


Every so often a film comes along that redefines a genre. Some of the greatest films to come along and redefine the horror genre in particular include such classics as The Exorcist, Halloween (1978), Dawn of the Dead (1978), The Thing (1982), Evil Dead 2, Scream and more recently Shaun of the Dead. Those aren't the only examples but those are the ones that I remember being pivotal in regards to changing the way horror in film was done. That is some hard company to keep and I don't say this lightly when I say that first time director Drew Goddard's new horror/comedy The Cabin in the Woods joins those elite ranks as one of the freshest, most inventive and original takes on the horror genre to come along in almost a decade and that it will most likely go down as one of greatest achievements in this overcrowded genre of cookie cutter slasher films of all time.

College friends Curt (Chris Hemsworth), his girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchinson) and friend Holden (Jesse Williams) along with Dana (Kristen Connolly) and her brother Marty (Fran Kranz) head up to a remote cabin in the woods for a fun filled weekend of laughter and hopefully some good ole fashioned pre-marital sex. The cabin however has other plans for them and as this group of wayward souls begin to unravel the mysteries of the enigmatic cabin they unwittingly unleash the forces of evil that will not stop until each and every single one of them is dead.

They have no idea what waits for them at their destination.

Now, there is much much much more to this movie than what I put in that synopsis. The reason I am hesitant to reveal much about the plot is that I believe this is one of those films where the less you know about it going in the more fun and interesting of an experience it is for the viewer as they watch it all unravel before them. The funny thing is that I am hiding a key plot element from you even though the film itself tells you straight up what is going on (sort of) in the opening scene. That opening scene was so jarring to me in comparison to what I thought this movie was going to be that I actually thought I had stepped into the wrong theater at first. It wasn't until that glorious title card appeared ALL OVER the screen and that strange music cue hit that I realized I was not only in the correct auditorium but I was also in store for something very different than the average slasher flick.

So I am putting this out there as a warning to everyone and anyone who is even the slightest bit interested in the film to not read the rest of this review until you have seen the film for yourself. Going into this with a blank slate is truly the best way to experience its wealth of goodies in my opinion and will help you appreciate what Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon have created here. While I'm at it, don't watch the trailer either. The trailer unfortunately gives away more than it probably should and anyone with half a brain will have many of the twists and surprises ruined by some obvious spoilers that have no business being in the trailer at all. Take it from me, this movie amazing and well worth the extra effort it takes to stay away from any of its advertising and see it in theaters IMMEDIATELY. The longer you wait the greater chance there is of its many surprises being ruined for you. Nothing I say below will change that fact. So from this point forward consider yourself warned. While I won't spoil the movie per say, I will be going into certain aspects of the film that would be better left a mystery until you see it for yourself. So here we go...last chance...alright? You asked for it...

There is much more to this cabin that meets the eye.

I LOVE this movie in every way a person can love a piece of celluloid, it is the first film in a great many years to do everything right. You know those movies, even the ones you like, that are great but always leaving you wishing they had gone just a bit further and really took the gloves off? Usually this comes in the form of a hint or a tease towards something grander, something that would up the stakes beyond what the film had provided up to a certain point. The Cabin in the Woods delivers on everything its ingenious premise promises its audience and then goes even further. You might think that isn't too much of a big deal but trust me, it is and the creators of this movie know it. There are things hinted towards throughout the course of the movie that...well, not to put too fine a point on it, that had me wishing those things would actually come true...that I would see those things, and when they did happen it...it was...beautiful. But I'm getting ahead of myself here, let's talk first about what's going on under the hood of this thing that makes it such a unique experience like no other before it.

I've eluded to it many times by this point but I have yet to outright say it. This IS NOT the movie you probably think it is. As that tag line says, "You think you know this story? Think again". That is exactly right but here's the thing...the movie doesn't do one thing to hide its "twist" from you. That's right, it shows you its hand BEFORE we even meet our victims and just in case you are unsure about what that means I will tell you. Imagine if you knew that Bruce Willis was dead the whole time in The Sixth Sense the very first time you saw it. Wouldn't that have ruined the surprise at the end? I know not everyone is a fan of having something kept from them and revealed only during the final moments of a movie but for me that mystery is often times the driving force behind everything in any film that has a mystery at its core. That piece of the unknown is what fuels our desire to move forward in the story and figure stuff out...and that is missing from this movie...and I LOVE IT FOR THAT...AND THAT'S CRAZY!

Not exactly the type of girl I would expect of wolf to make out with.

To be fair though there is still a bit of a secret that is revealed towards the end but it isn't nearly as interesting as what takes up the bulk of the film which is this very odd and clever mash up of your standard horror set up and a reality television show scenario. The brilliance of how this film works and unfolds is that it doesn't hide that fact from us, that we know these kids are being manipulated into participating in this "event" is shown to us up front to put our brains to work in a whole different way. Instead of trying to figure what is out to get them and why they are being hunted we are forced to think bigger...as in why ANY of this is happening. Why are there these working class stiffs who are cooped up in a industrial looking facility trying to kill these kids in a cabin in the middle of nowhere? Why do these kids need to be killed? Why these kids in particular? Who is running all this?

While those questions are all answered, and in very satisfying ways I might add, it is the manipulation of these kids in that cabin that had me hooked. There was a quote from Whedon in an article from Totalfilm.com where he states his disdain towards current horror conventions and how much he hates the "stupid teenager syndrome" that pervades almost every film in the genre. His answer (and cure) for this very tired formula is one of the many intelligent stabs the film takes at those other films which is to embrace such a ridiculous notion that these young adults could be so susceptible to their own curiosity as to put themselves in harms way but not allow the audience to hate them for their stupidity. These kids are victims, not just to the terrors that hunt them but also to those guys in their suits and ties running the show from the safety of their control room. My favorite parts of the film is when we get to see how these operators (for lack of a better term) lead these kids to their doom.

Somethings coming for them and there isn't anything they can do about it.

If one of the girls wants to get frisky but it is too cold outside for her to take her top off then they just up the temperature a bit so that we can see the goods, "Score". If they start to smarten up and formulate a plan to fight back then they just pump some more of their "mind gas" into the air to dumb them back down again. If they try to escape the cabin like any sane person would then they block their route back to town. It is this constant tug of war going on that I found so fascinating. These kids aren't just fighting these creatures that have been set loose on them but they are unknowingly fighting against these puppeteers in the background as well whose job it is to make sure each and every one of them dies a gruesome and agonizing death at the hands of whatever evil lurks in the woods. Now if this were just a straight up horror movie then I perhaps would not be quite enamored with it as I am right now but thankfully Goddard and Whedon injected some really great comedy bits throughout the film to help convey to the audience two things. One is that we should all be having a great time while watching this, it isn't meant to be a hide-your-eyes sort of horror experience, it is meant to be a fun ride. Second is that the filmmakers are in on the joke which is made quite clear numerous times from two different sources both of which offer two different variants on how to approach its absurdness.

This movie is funny...hilarious even. There were moments during my time with the film where I just lost it. I knew going in that there was going to be some comedy to it but I had no idea what kind of comedy it was going to be exactly. Would it be self-aware or would it be more straight forward with people doing stupid things to entice laughter? It is easy to label the film as self-aware, that it knows you know that it knows what the hell is going on...but that isn't really the case. One of the approaches taken is with the operators/puppeteers in the control center. As I have already mentioned, the film treats them as though this is just another day job for them, something to pay the bills. They sit around and shoot the shit about family and what have you but they also know what they are doing there and have no illusions towards the fact that their jobs are to kill people...needlessly. You get a real good sense that they have been doing this for an awfully long time and that they have become sort of desensitized to what they are doing as a result. A perfect example of this and one of the funniest gags in the movie is when everyone starts placing bets on how these kids will die, it is played totally straight like they are just doing a regular betting pool that would be commonplace at any office job...but here it takes on a whole new meaning as being sort of depraved but also hilarious in their sheer enthusiasm to see these kids ripped apart. The guy in charge played by the always great Richard Jenkins also has one of the single greatest outbursts in the entire film when something doesn't go as planned which was just spot on.

The control center showcases much of the films offbeat humor.

The other side of the coin is Marty...ah Marty. All the other kids were fine but Marty stole the show. Fran Kranz is not somebody I am overly familiar with but his performance here as the stoner Marty just got me a whole lot more interested in him. Every movie like this has its fool, the joker, the guy who makes witty remarks and comments on anything and everything strange. The best example of this character type would be Randy from the Scream films, an overly self-aware person who is informed on the happenings and thus keeps the audience informed as well. Marty isn't Randy though, he isn't a self-aware guy, he doesn't realize that he is in a horror movie. What he realizes is that nothing is as it seems, that he and his friends are in the middle of some sort of conspiracy. The neat twist on this is that he is the only one who senses that something is off which leads to some of the best reactions to stupidity in a horror film I have ever seen. When a cellar door blasts open and the reasoning for it is explained away by a gust of wind Marty exclaims, "How does that make any sort of sense exactly?". His reactions to everything is just priceless, the disembodied voices or the sudden need to split up are just as baffling and f**ked up to him as it is to us which leads to a great number of fantastic remarks from him and just wait until you see his mighty thermus...amazing.

Then you have that ending. Nothing can prepare you for the tour de force of carnage that gets unleashed during the films final 20 minutes. This movie makes a lot of promises to the audience early on with certain things that are revealed about the nature of this annual "event" and to be honest I wasn't expecting it to come through on those promises. Call me jaded but I have seen so many horror films that would build up to something with the possibility of being amazing only to whimper out at the end. I would have been content with just a sliver of the potential for what was eluded to here. Then comes a moment near the end when you think you are seeing the best the movie has to offer, that it couldn't possibly get any better than what you are seeing. But soon after that there is another moment that arises where you start to think to yourself, "Oh...wait...no f**king way?...they couldn't possibly....oh shit....YES!". That glorious moment of revelation is followed by one of the single most impressive displays of mayhem I have ever seen. While the entire film is built from the ground up to appeal to horror fans of all sorts, it is those final moments that becomes what is essentially a horror fans wet dream come true and something that I believe will go down in history as one of the single greatest moments in horror movie history.

The Cabin in the Woods is without question a modern day horror classic. It has all the components needed to make a good horror story and redefines what we have come to expect from out horror movies. It's smart without ever being so smart that it becomes a parody of itself. It's clever with how it creates stupid characters that we actually forgive for being stupid. It's inventive with how it takes all the established hallmarks of the horror genre and flips them but still stays true to them. This truly is one of those rare films that gets everything right and was one of the most satisfying cinematic experiences I have had in years that was topped off by an ending that will have every horror geek standing up and cheering for its sheer insanity. If you are a horror film fan then this one is a no-brainer but if you are more of a casual fan I still cannot recommend this film enough, if you like horror films even just a little then do yourself a favor and...


CHECK IT OUT IMMEDIATELY


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