Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

At least ten people told me I needed to watch The Cabin in the Woods even when they knew I do not like horror films. The last time I watched a critically-acclaimed tongue-in-cheek horror film recommended by friends (Drag Me to Hell), it turned out to be a mistake. But this time Joss Whedon, a master of characterization and dialogue, is one of the writers (joined by director Drew Goddard) so, having missed it at the theatre, I took a chance and watched it as soon as it was released on DVD (Blu-ray, to be precise). 

Let me start by saying that satirizing slasher/zombie horror films by making a slasher/zombie horror film is what I would call precarious undertaking. At one level, I can understand why many people (especially horror fans) believe that The Cabin in the Woods succeeded in its attempt to do this (among its other accomplishments). At another level, however, my intense dislike of slasher/zombie horror films (I can’t think of a sub-genre I like less) prevents me from fully appreciating what this film is doing.

As for the plot, let’s just say it starts with five stereotypical college students (the jock, the brain, the bad girl, the good girl and the nerd) deciding to spend the weekend at a remote cabin in the woods. Warnings that they may be in danger are of course ignored and soon enough some very bad things start to happen. But there is much much more to this horror flick than these formulaic cliches, which it is obviously satirizing. 

For example, the film starts with a dialogue between Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, who are marvellous and very funny as two scientists/technicians overseeing the events taking place in the cabin. This is not usual fare for slasher films and is worth the price of admission by itself, but there were actually many more things to appreciate. The five actors playing the students are effective and well-cast. As expected , the dialogue is intelligent, funny and generally outstanding. In one classic scene, the decision of the group to split up instead of sticking together (they can cover more ground that way?) is particularly effective. But the clever satire goes beyond satirizing horror films (and the film industry in general) by venturing into philosophical questions like the nature of self-sacrifice.

There is no doubt that The Cabin in the Woods is both insightful and entertaining, but for me (the opposite of a horror fan, though keep in mind that I love Alien) it was only slightly better than tolerable, which is not exactly high praise. Setting aside the fact that I was able to predict two major plot twists, which is disappointing, my big problem with the film is the blending of comedy and slaughter. Many people in this film meet a very grisly demise at the hands of monsters of every variety. The last line of one of these people, just before one of the monsters begins to devour him, is meant to be hilarious. It may be a great line and part of me did start to laugh at the irony, but I find it very difficult to laugh while people are killed off. Those who do not share this difficulty will appreciate the film much more than I did (and no doubt laugh throughout). 

I can’t give The Cabin in the Woods more than ***, but my mug is up.


  1. Yeah, I ended up liking it but I totally understand your position. I feel somewhat indebted to Cabin in the Woods however since it's a large part of the reason my own blog gets views. Another great review.