Friday, May 4, 2012

Review: The Cabin in the Woods

Some day I am going to have to learn to stay away from horror movies that promise to redefine the genre, because anything that promises so much, usually crumbles beneath the weight of expectations.  But until that day comes, I will continue to watch movies such as The Cabin in the Woods.  What baffles me most about this film is the delusions of grandeur surrounding it did not come from the filmmakers or the marketing team – which were supposedly handcuffed by the desire to keep the “twist” under wraps, but by critics and fan geeks alike.  It shocks me because the movie I watched unfold was hardly worth any of that praise.

Since the powers that be at Lionsgate have gone to such great lengths to not give away much about the actual plot – even at the expense of the theatrical box office, I don’t want to be the one to spoil things.  So here is what I can tell you about the plot.  Five college students head up to a cabin in the woods (hence the title), and bad things ensue, though not exactly how you would expect.

Truth be told, I probably would not have watched this movie in the cinema were it not for two names in the credits – Chris Hemsworth and producer Joss Whedon (also known as Thor and director of Marvel’s The Avengers respectively).  I would have definitely watched it, but probably as a rental.  However, as I debated for a week about whether or not to plunk down the $11 to see it on the big screen, I read in numerous places that the film expertly toyed with the conventions of horror movies.  The last movie to successfully do that was Scream so I mistakenly made the assumption that this movie would be a clever tongue-in-cheek look at the genre, as we know it today in 2012.

That is not what goes on in this film.  I think a better way to describe the movie is as a melting pot of ideas, conventions, icons, and mythos that drive the modern day horror movie.  It is a jambalaya comprised of the ingredients that make up the movies that make you cower behind your hands or jump in your seat.  But like any stew that is loaded with a bunch of mismatched ingredients splashed across your plate, the final product that is The Cabin in the Woods is not visually appetizing.  There are too many things in play; too many layers to what should be a straight meat-and-potatoes plot; so much so that at the end of the day, nothing is distinct, recognizable, or significant.  The movie, its plot, and its direction are all rendered a giant mess.

As for the acting in this film, it grades out at fairly weak.  Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are the best of the cast though clearly not at their best, and as for those in the cabin – well, besides Hemsworth and to a lesser extent Fran Kranz, the rest of the crew (Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchinson, Jesse Williams) leave a lot to be desired.

This movie sat on a shelf for a couple of years because of studio finance problems and I wonder if maybe it would have been best left there.  This assessment is probably a bit harsh and somewhat of a knee-jerk reaction to my expectations.  At the end of the day, like any horror movie, there is a market for this film.  It has some suspense, lots of gore, a bit of sex, and some cheap scares.   So if this is what you seek, I would meekly recommend this movie as a rental.  Just don’t go into it thinking that it will redefine the genre.  If anything, you’ll find yourself hoping that future horror filmmakers will stick to the playbook when making the next fright fest.

Standout Performance:  Brian White.  He was one of the few likable characters in the film and a native of Boston, Massachusetts. 


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