Not Exactly a Review: The Cabin in the Woods

It seems a bit silly for me to review a film that came out over a year ago, just because I finally got around to watching it.  So instead of a traditional review, I’m instead going to offer up some disorganized thoughts about The Cabin in the Woods.  (For the record, I give the film an A.)  I didn’t see it in the theaters mostly because we generally don’t go see horror films, both out of personal taste and a general lack of quality.  I’ve never been one for the sort of “jump out and get you” scares, but prefer more cerebral horror.  Give me Hitchcock or The Exorcist over Saw any day.  (We also don’t see a lot of comedy in the theater, but that’s a story for another time.)

Obviously I should have known better, considering the script was by Joss Whedon and one of his frequent collaborators, but the trailers didn’t help the situation.  They presented it as a standard “cabin in the woods” type thriller with a sci-fi/conspiracy twist.  That sort of thing has been done before.  So after it was released I read the plot on wikipedia and it seemed more creative than I had originally supposed, but still not enough to get me to go see it.  However, I recently read the script online out of curiosity which changed my mind, and I finally rented The Cabin in the Woods.  Here are my thoughts:

– I wish the trailers had given us a better sense of the way the film is set up.  The film spends half of its time with the office workers underground, and it’s not like the revelation that they are controlling things is a secret.  The setup is obviously the film’s most clever aspect; the idea that all of the horror movie tropes we know so well are all part of a massive undertaking to save humanity through ritual sacrifice is brilliant.  It allows for the regional variations and the constant repetition of the theme throughout history (or at least film history).

Add to that the idea of mid-level technicians controlling this sacrifice and everything becomes more interesting.  It’s an idea that was explored and toyed with on Angel with Wolfram and Hart and on Buffy with The Initiative, an evil law firm equally adept in the courtroom and at a demonic altar.  The interplay between Sitterson, Hadley and Lin was written to feel familiar to anyone who worked in an office, yet disturbing given the context.  Of course, the high point of this situation is this:

I’m not going to discuss the Chekhov’s Gun aspect of this, because it’s been done by many other people, but it provides a level of scope to the movie that others of its type just can’t have.  If I could sum the entire movie up in one picture, it’d be this one.

– Equally creative are the 5 young people who are chosen for the sacrifice.  We’re so used to the archetypes who appear in these sort of films, that the idea of all of them being well-rounded and intelligent people who don’t fit into the slots is perfect.  The virgin isn’t a virgin, the dumb blonde is a brunette pre-med student, the jocks are actually scholars.  The only character who fits the type is the stoner, but in a world where nothing is what it seems, he gets to be the hero.  Leave it to Joss to turn everything upside down.

– Can we talk for a moment about how badass Fran Kranz is?  I loved him on Dollhouse, and he certainly had his heroic moments there, but here it’s on an entirely different level.  Had I been watching in the theater (and hadn’t read the script beforehand), I totally would have cheered when he reappeared to rescue Dana.  He’s the only person (other than the director) who seems truly capable of handling the level of events they’re dealing with, but he also fought like a badass, chopping up one zombie, bashing another, and dodging through a horde of zombies without much trouble.  “Good work, zombie hand!” might have been my favorite line.

– The speakerphone scene!  It’s the sort of scene that perfectly defines the tone of the film as a balance between parody and homage.  It reminded me of the record debate in Shaun of the Dead in terms of tone.  It tweaked our expectations like a parody while staying true to the characters and rules of the universe.  The idea of the film is an ode to the duality of horror/comedy and parody/homage.  In many ways it’s like Scream, though with an obviously different tone.

– It’s an interesting process, reading a script before seeing the film.  I knew enough of the actors to picture them while reading, but even so some of the changes from page to screen stood out to me.  I feel like I would have preferred Joss to direct (though obviously he’s very busy), simply because I feel like he would have made a slower film with a more rounded tone.  Several of the most hilarious moments in the script were removed, probably to streamline the film.  We lost a chunk of dialogue featuring Sitterson and Hadley that developed their relationship better.  We also lost one of the most clever sections during the “truth or dare” sequence, where the friends instead play “truth or dare or lecture,” where you can choose to be lectured on how to improve your life.  It made the group more interesting and complex, and helped subvert the standard archetypes.  I expect some things to be changed (for example, the director, played by Sigourney Weaver, was originally written as a man), but it’s a little disappointing to see some things get cut.

– I always love seeing the Joss Whedon film troupe make appearances.  Fran Kranz and Amy Acker were obvious, while Chris Hemsworth wasn’t yet a member of the troupe at this point (it was filmed before The Avengers).  But it was great to see Tom Lenk pop up as the enthusiastic intern who won the bet.  Now if only Sigourney Weaver can show up in all of his projects, I’ll be a happy man.

– The ending.  It’s an ending as bleak as Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, but much more upbeat and interesting.  How many films have you seen that argue that it might be best to just let humans be wiped out?  Of course, how many films end in a way that completely rules out sequels?  It fit perfectly within the film, and forces the film to be a standalone story.

What do you think?  Did you enjoy The Cabin in the Woods?  Should I just get over things and see more movies in the theater?  Is there anything Joss can’t do?  Let me know in the comments!

7 thoughts on “Not Exactly a Review: The Cabin in the Woods

  1. Heh, neat review. Solid observations that I fully agree with. I enjoyed the movie, stumbled across some of the same concerns prior, and during. But still, I enjoyed it because the movie did make it worthwhile to watch and enjoy, and discuss afterwards.

    Not a lot of movies these days accomplish that.


    • I’m always on the look out for movies that are different, that do something unexpected. It was certainly more enjoyable than the standard Hollywood horror film. Thanks for the comment!


  2. with Joss there is no such thing as ruling out any hope of a sequel… dead doesn’t necessarily mean dead in the Whedonverse 🙂
    Excellent review. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Loved the film, had no idea there was any twist to the plot at all prior to viewing it. I thought it was just Joss doing a classic horror film. I should have known better. If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t see it in theatres either.


    • That’s true, you can never rule anything out with Joss, but I like the idea of this one being a “one and done”. I’m glad I’m not the only one who missed it in theatres and regretted it. Thanks for the comment!


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