Monday, August 25, 2014

Re-viewing The Cabin in the Woods

See that image?  It's really cool right?  This was the poster image used for The Cabin in the Woods.  And incredible as it may be, I have to say I think it was a bad choice for this particular movie.  Stay with me here.  I'm not denying its awesomeness.  I'm just saying it was a lot to live up to.  And there may be haters out there for me saying this, but I'm not entirely sure the movie was quite as awesome as the image.
     Are you done screaming obscenities?  Good.  Because I know there are a lot of deeply devoted Whedonites out there who refuse to hear any sort of criticism of their idol.  Trust me, I'm a fan myself.  I own the soundtrack to the Buffy musical episode for fuck's sake!  But I am also a realist.  And in spite of all the gushing, The Cabin in the Woods was ultimately a disappointment.
     Now before you tell me that I'm crazy, that I missed something, that I just didn't get it, please take note of the title of my review.  This is my take after re-viewing the film.  That is, watching it again.  Because I deeply love horror films and believe they should (almost) all be given a second chance.  Almost, because even the most hardcore horror fans have their limits and some films reach such epic levels of suckitude that no one, not even war criminals, should be forced to watch them more than once (yeah, rambling, idiotic Resident Evil sequels, I'm looking at you).
     I saw The Cabin in the Woods shortly after it was released.  I pulled it up on Amazon because it didn't get much love from the movie theaters in my area, and I didn't want to wait for the DVD.  I had seen all the trailers and I knew Joss Whedon was behind it, so I came to the film fully prepared for awesomeness.  Unfortunately, by the movie's end, my only thought was, "That's it?"  I was expecting to have my mind blown and instead, meh.  I was bummed.
     They say time heals all wounds.  I disagree.  But I do believe time brings perspective.  It's been a while since I first saw The Cabin in the Woods, and I've seen enough glowing reviews to make me think I missed something.  So, in all fairness, I decided to go back and rewatch the movie with fresh eyes.  Going into it already knowing what to expect, there should be no room for disappointment, right?  Well, sort of.
     If you haven't seen this movie, be aware, I hate spoiler-free reviews.  If I wanted a surprise, I would just watch the damn movie now wouldn't I?  If I'm reading a review, it's because I want to know if the movie is worth my time, or get someone else's perspective on a movie I've already seen.  Don't tease me by saying - "You've got to see this."  No.  No I don't.  There aren't enough hours in my lifetime to waste watching every movie ever made.  Sometimes I just want to know what the hell the hype is about.  I have no intention of ever seeing the friggin movie.  So, that being said:
Got it?  Good.  Because I'm not pussy-footing about here.  This whole movie is designed to screw with the conventions of the slasher film, which happens to be my favorite subgenre.  And it announces its intentions pretty early on, if you're paying attention.  The film even opens with a prologue of sorts featuring the two characters who will be screwing with our "heroes" all throughout.  You just don't know who they are yet.  But you will.  And, if you're anything like me, you will wish the movie had been more about them and less about the victims.  More on that later.
   So, after the psych out beginning with the two office workers, we meet our supposed main characters: boring redhead, annoying blonde, surprisingly sweet and intelligent jock.  Hmm, already playing with conventions.  Good.  Redhead (yeah, I don't care about character names here) has apparently been bumping uglies with a professor who has now dumped her.  This should make her the slut of this movie but, because her friend is blonde - recently dyed - that mantle falls on her.  Um, okay.  Blondie and her boyfriend the jock, whom we will call Thor because he is portrayed by Marvel man-meat Chris Hemsworth, are trying to set up Red with one of Thor's teammates.  This should make him jock number 2, but instead he is labelled the academic or something equally stupid.  Possibly because he puts a pair of glasses on later in the film.  Or because he isn't a neanderthal.  Dunno.  Moving on.
    Both couples are headed to Thor's cousin's cabin for some apparent reason.  They're travelling in a motor home they insistently call a van all the way through.  I mention this because it is annoying.  A motor home is not a van.  Anyone who has ever seen Scooby Doo knows what a van looks like.  And everyone has seen Scooby Doo at least once in their lifetime so this misnomer really pissed me off.
    It would have been more appropriate if they did have a van when the fifth wheel, inexplicably invited stoner friend shows up.  Here is the movie's first coup, the brilliantly funny Fran Kranz pulling up in a beater with the windows rolled down and smoke billowing out.  IMDB tells us that his custom made aluminum travel mug bong cost 5 grand, and I think it was worth every penny.  Don't worry my stoner friends, you will see this masterpiece again.  Fran is the perfect stereotype pothead, spouting profundities at every lull in the conversation.  Except, unlike most weed warriors, Fran is actually quite astute and seems to be the most alert and aware member of this party.
     Flash ahead, because I'm getting bored.  Stuff happens.  There is an encounter with a backwoods gas station owner who warns the gang to turn back.  They don't.  Even though the cabin is located on the other side of the most awesome mountain tunnel I have ever seen - which is made even more bizarre by the fact that it goes around an easily bridgeable gap that makes you question the sanity of its builders.  "Dude, why don't we build a bridge across this canyon here?"  "Naw man, I want to blow up the mountain."  "Yeah, but the canyon isn't that far across.  We could build a suspension bridge.  Easy."  "I WANT TO BLOW UP THE MOUNTAIN!!!"
     So, you get that there are some serious logic gaps here, right?  And if the protagonists of this film had any brains, they would see that too. True horror fans are used to such leaps of faith though, and we take them blindly and gleefully, knowing full well the outcome will not always be worth the trouble.  But in this case, the stupidity is intentional.  The filmmakers are counting on you noticing the little details - except for the stupid van gaffe perhaps.  There is something at work here and you're meant to notice the cogs of the machine.
     I won't get into the weirdness that happens at the cabin.  There is a one way mirror for no good reason, hidden behind an ugly ass painting.  The blonde chick starts acting dumb.  Thor becomes a bit of a douche.  And the redhead continues to bore the hell out of me.  Only Fran notices anything strange and thus, he is the only character worth giving a damn about.
     All of this typical horror movie tripe is intercut with scenes of our two office workers from the prologue.  They are not only observing the proceedings, they are tweaking the actions of our gang of morons - all except for Fran.  It is of great concern to them that the stoner is the only one whose actions they can't seem to control. also the only one who seems to be aware that his friends are acting different.
    By the time the cellar door blasts open - "Must be the wind," says Thor, like that makes perfect sense - you are totally ready for most of these assholes to die.  Seriously, anyone over the age of twelve who plays truth or dare is just begging for a machete to the face.  When the group ventures into the cellar and finds a virtual antique store full of bizarre and intriguing goodies, I was ready for something awesome to happen.  So are the office workers, who run a betting pool on what the group will awaken. 
     Now this is the point where the movie started to upset me.  When you have a treasure trove of messed up objects, how can you pick just one?  Especially a stupid one that awakens some freak zombie family.  I wanted more out of this sequence.  I wanted to get the stories behind more of the objects, a la Friday the 13th the series.  There was just SO MUCH there.  And it really felt like a letdown.
   So once the zombie family is awoken, the slaughter begins.  Blondie first.  Then our friend Fran - but not really, we find out later.  Thor bites it in a dashing attempt to jump the canyon when he crashes into some sort of giant bug zapper forcefield.  Then that other gut gets it and we're down to good old Red, who would have been the first one to get it if it was up to me.  Meanwhile there is partying in the office worker compound as they have managed to succeed where all other parts of the world have failed.  What have they succeeded at exactly?  Yeah, we'll get to that.
     Oh, wait, did I mention Fran isn't really dead?  Yay!  He comes back, even though we saw him stabbed in the back, and he's swinging his big ol' bong like a baseball bat.  He saves that annoying redheaded bitch and takes her to this hole he found in the ground.  Except it's not a hole.  It's some kind of maintenance port.  Yeah, Fran is awesome.  And this movie is working its way past suspension of disbelief into full blown stupid.

So Fran tells Red this hole he found opens to an elevator.  And they get in.  And it goes down.  And sideways.  And the viewer gets a view of all the other, much cooler monsters that could have, and should have been in this movie.  Except they will be.  Briefly.  First we get a view of the Cube homage/ripoff that is the "zoo" where all the beasties are kept.  Eventually Fran and Red find their way out and are chased after by a swat team.  They hide out in a control room and Red makes her first and only interesting move of the entire film, pushing a button to release all the monsters into this weird underground complex.  The carnage that ensues is the best visual we've yet encountered and makes you wish this were a different movie, where we got to see all those awesome creatures at work.
   Okay, so I totally hated this movie, right?  No.  Actually I enjoyed it much more this second time around.  I was aware of what was happening and it felt like being part of an inside joke.  I still wish there was more development of backstory and the office workers/other creatures.  In fact, I think that a prequel would be awesome (there is a reference made to a previous near-failure that might work great), or even a series of webisodes tapping into some of that wasted potential.  But we haven't gotten to the end of the movie yet and here is where it failed for me a second time.
     So Fran and Red have escaped the cabin, gotten themselves into this bizarre underground bunker and are trying to find a way out.  Only, they can only seem to go down, where they encounter some sort of effed up pagan temple - and Sigourney Weaver in a business suit.  She explains the whole human sacrifice deal in some of the worst expository dialogue I have ever heard.  She even almost convinces Red - dumb bitch - to shoot Fran.  Because, you know, the good of the world and all.  Then the movie ends with a giant, very human looking, hand coming out of the ground and reaching for the screen.  Um, okay?  
     So all of this was to appease a pagan god?  And there are strict rules.  And multiple locations all over the world attempt this sacrifice.  But they have different rules?  Because Sigourney clearly states there must be five archetypes in the sacrifice, yet the Japanese were just going after a classroom of little girls.  Was one of them a slut?  I kind of doubt it.  See this is where I get upset.  I suspended disbelief.  I ignored flaws in logic.  But there all seemed to be a good reason.  We were supposed to play along with the characters.  But then you introduce a set of rules that pisses all over everything your movie was about.  And I say, "What the fuck?"
     Was The Cabin in the Woods a bad movie?  No.  And I don't feel like I wasted precious minutes of my life by rewatching it.  But I also don't think that I can excuse all its flaws either.  This was a good movie with potential for greatness that wound up being weighed down by its own hype.  I would love to see more movies like this, but ones that don't drop the ball in the last five minutes of the game.  That incredible poster deserves better.

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