Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Final Exam on Horror Films - "The Cabin in the Woods" Review

If there is cosmic film justice then The Cabin in the Woods would be the final nail in the coffin for horror film stereotypes that have slowly dug their own mass grave.  The scope of the film is so spectacular and all-encompassing that it leaves no room for these stereotypes to be explored further.  The film literally begs for the rebirth of the horror genre while operating as the tired genre's final chapter and executioner.  To that extent, The Cabin in the Woods should be the final genre horror film ever made.  There is nothing left to say.

Everyone knows the standard tropes of the classic horror story; a group of partying college students embark on a trip to their distant cousin's cabin to escape from the confines of the modern world.  Little do they know that the cabin was either built on an ancient burial ground, the site of a horrible mass murder, a place of childhood trauma for one of the teens that unlocks his/her savage history, the resting place for the book of the dead, home to a creature whose slumber has remained undisturbed for centuries, or the unfortunate neighbor of a group of rednecks whose contempt for the north manifests itself at the end of a chainsaw.  The list goes on; suffice to say that this story has been done to death.

The Cabin in the Woods doesn't break far from this formula and its characters fill in all of the standard stereotypes of conventional horror films: the jock, slut, nerd, stoner, and virgin.  It is so conventional that it even features the clichĂ© redneck who warns them about continuing when they stop by his run down gas-station to fill up.  Even the title, The Cabin in the Woods, is about as generic and stale as one could possibly imagine for a slasher horror flick.  However, it is what The Cabin in the Woods does to turn this whole formula on its head that makes the film so brilliant.

From the first shot of the film (no real spoiler) the audience is made aware that the events at the cabin are being orchestrated by a powerful crew looking to force the tropes of horror films upon these unsuspecting victims.  The world they occupy is very similar to that of The Truman Show but the threats are still real and just as dangerous as any movie monster has ever been.  What starts out as an interesting conceit slowly evolves into something far more sinister, grand, and entertaining.

The idea of playing with these horror stereotypes quickly reveals the metaphor that drives not only the central idea of The Cabin in the Woods but also its comedy.  It is clear that the actions of the crew controlling the cabin are meant to mimic that of lazy horror filmmakers who are content to rest on conventions and stereotypes, fueled by a ravenous and demanding audience.  In this way, The Cabin in the Woods is able to mock its very audience for enjoying the actions occurring on screen.  It comments on how programmed the average horror movie audience has become and turns the joke back on them when they get exactly what they want; breasts, gore, and all.

The Cabin in the Woods is especially enjoyable for someone who is well versed in film technique, language, and horror films.  That person will be able to discern exactly how manipulative The Cabin in the Woods becomes at times and prepare themselves for how precise the dark humor of the film is.  At times The Cabin in the Woods feels like a Rube Goldberg machine, and it is meant to, but seconds later it will subvert that most elaborate of conventional designs for a spectacular moment of humor.

This meta-humor/commentary is the real heart of The Cabin in the Woods and will be what makes it an enduring classic, but that doesn't mean that it is overly highbrow.  Director Drew Goddard (LOST, Cloverfield) and co-writer Joss Whedon's (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Toy Story, Serenity) script still remains a fun and engaging horror story, with real consequences for all of its characters.  All of this high-concept design might go unnoticed by the casual observer and they will lose nothing for it.  The Cabin in the Woods is just good plain fun and its story moves ahead at such a brisk pace, culminating in one of the most satisfying and crazy climaxes in movie history.  Every second is packed with incredible detail that will continue to reward upon multiple viewings, especially for horror fans.

The Cabin in the Woods is a hate-filled love letter to horror cinema, like that of a spurned lover looking to rekindle a relationship.  It isn't content name-checking the horror movies it references, like Wes Craven's Scream, as it moves into full recreations of all of horror's stereotypical history.  Its suspenseful ending begs the genre to advance and innovate once again by adopting not just a new formula but an entirely new existence. 

All told, The Cabin in the Woods has its brains and eats them too.

For a full discussion of The Cabin in the Woods (including SPOILERS) please listen to THE FILM GRIND.

4 / 4 Reels

Trailer: (although I would strongly advocate not watching this)

1 comment:

  1. All in all, Cabin in the Woods is just an awesomely great time at the movies. It's fun and original, which is a huge surprise to say about any horror movie in the 21st century. Good review Dan.