THE CABIN IN THE WOODS Review

When it comes to "Cabin in the Woods" I was rather worried at first because the film was completed in 2009 and delayed but this was simply due to business reasons. Now that it has seen the light of day and has received some pretty high accolades it seems there are two distinct camps when it comes to the reaction of the film. There are those who went into the film with the expectation this was going to be either a movie lampooning the horror genre cliches in which a nice scary quality was woven in. There are also those that intentionally didn't watch any of the trailers for fear that it would give away too much of what the "twist" of the film was. Like most, for me to be interested in a film I require a little preview of what I am walking into. Needless to say, I was in the former category. It appears though that anyone not within a certain kind of film community would not know to watch the trailer if one did not want to be subjected to any plot details. The fact of the matter is that the trailer did give a little too much away and in the end the hype around the film overshadowed what this actually delivered for me. The idea is there and I'm actually pretty positive that if I had gone into the film without believing the hype or even hearing anything about it I would have likely enjoyed it much more. Unfortunately, I went into the it with the high expectations of seeing a modern horror masterpiece and while the first hour or so was completely engaging, even exciting in terms of what the movie had in store those hopes eventually began to slip at the realization of what was happening was indeed exactly what I expected it to be.

Sitterson (Richard Jenkins), Lin (Amy Acker), and Hadley
(Bradley Whitford) all gear up for another day
at the office.
As I have already complained about, if you have seen the trailer for this you pretty much know what you are walking into. Although I will give the trailer props for at least offering the exact tone of the film that the creators wanted to parody. In that way of thinking about it, most folks who were eager to see this and are strictly fans of the horror genre were likely not expecting as much of a commentary on the genre's stereotypes as "Cabin in the Woods" turns out to be. Since everyone has seemed to make this out to be a film that needs to be guarded so as not to give away any plot details I won't go too far into why the whole "twist ending" was disappointing but I will say that up front, it disappointed me. After hearing from several, and various sources that it was different than what I might expect I was looking forward to this revelation the entire film and when the credits did begin to roll I was shocked at what I'd seen. Not because of how different it actually was or because something happened that completely caught me off guard but the more I thought about it the more it made sense, no. I was shocked because I had been left with an empty feeling of, "that's it?". Again, I am trying to defer from giving too much away, so I guess the best way to put it would be to say that I expected something that was more grounded in reality, something that after the execution of everything that happened throughout the conclusion felt more campy than I expected. It almost went from being too smart for its own good to the exact kind of film it was making fun of in the end.

From left: Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Holden (Jesse Williams),
Jules (Anna Hutchison), Marty (Fran Kranz), and
Dana (Kristen Connolly).
While I have likely gone on for too long now about everything I disliked about the movie I must keep in mind that there is plenty to enjoy here and I only seem so upset because the aspect of the film that was so built up is what let me down. The remainder of what unfolds on screen is not only entertaining but it is disturbingly clever and plays with the archetypes and stock characters of the genre with a no holds barred attitude. We have the standard characters here in the jock Curt (a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth) and his newly blonde girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchison) as well as the token weedhead who is here named as Marty (Fran Kranz). Rounding out the group is Curt's new teammate Holden (Jesse Williams) and Jules newly single friend Dana (Kristen Connolly) aka the innocent virgin of the group that we know will end up being our protagonist. The five college kids set off on a road trip to Curt's cousins cabin and the screenplay weaves in every cliche it can think of and turns it into a point of purpose in its elaborate story. While each of the characters clearly fits into a definitive type the actors give what are credible performances in that they allow a genuine realness in each of them to seep in before things begin to get a little hokey. Obviously Hemsworth is a strong alpha-male presence but even the average Connolly pulls off some moments that could have been taken straight from the movies this is parodying. The real star here becomes Marty though as from the beginning (and in a nice twist) his narcotics give him the edge to see the bigger picture.

Through the process of writing this review it has become kind of obvious in a way that the film, when taken out of the context of movie blogs and rotten tomato percentages stands as a horror movie that is more an inside look at what horror films have become and why they are set up the way they are rather than an actual film on its own. While this could be taken as trying to be too insightful with a film that had no intentions further than mocking the conventions of these types of movies I feel like it is a valid point due to the fact that my gut reaction to the film was something reminiscent of being unfulfilled.  I was not as engaged purely by the story as I hoped to be, but was instead entertained simply because it was pulling back a curtain and taking a peek inside which is naturally interesting, but you can only offer so much insight before that work needs to be exemplified and that is where "Cabin in the Woods" falls short. The film is certainly different than what horror fans have grown used to as of late, but that doesn't make this a great movie, it simply means that those who are making scary movies need to step up up their creativity and deliver something that doesn't always so comfortably fit into a category.

Dana has some issues to deal with by the end of the film.
A film shouldn't have a set of stipulations for it to be received the intended way. If the desired effect is ruined by the marketing campaign then in all honesty the marketing team should have probably figured out a better (or smarter) way to advertise the product. The opinion of a film should not lie in the outside factors but instead should come from that experience where for 95-minutes you are glued to that theater seat. I expected "Cabin in the Woods" to be more than the typical teen weekend getaway horror flick, but wanted it to be more than the "Scream" of the cabin in the woods story line. In that department it failed to live up to the standards that not only the fanboys set for it, but also the ones that the all too revealing trailers did. This looked to be a piece of fun that mocked the aspects of the well worn story while bringing something new to the table. Some will argue that the conclusion does in fact bring something fresh and unexpected to the story but I will argue that it devolves into exactly the kind of been there done that horror flick it so cleverly made fun of in the first half of the film. I enjoyed the set up of the twist and I was especially engaged by the performances and roles that Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford played up nicely. Still, as hard as the movie tries it never feels it reaches that full potential and that is something that doesn't have to be investigated or given reason. That is a pure, emotional reaction and that is all that matters in a scary movie. When that reaction is one that doesn't in some way relate to the title of the genre then a piece of the experiment has failed.