Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (Movie Review)

The Cabin in the Woods (Lionsgate, 2012.  Directed by Drew Goddard; Screenplay by Goddard and Joss Whedon)

This meta-horror flick has generated plenty of pre-release buzz, but does The Cabin in the Woods ultimately deliver the goods?  To answer a question with a question: does a bear defecate in a commode?

Don't get me wrong, the film has a lot going for it.  The five protagonists
are eminently likable (particularly Fran Kranz as the Shaggy-ish stoner Marty), and never obtuse or obnoxious.  Their dialogue brims with Buffy-style wit--here of the R-rated variety.  The filmmakers poignantly juxtapose settings of dark, rural squalor and gleaming hi-tech (I don't think it's a terrible spoiler to note that the vacationers at the eponymous cabin are being unwittingly manipulated by figures in an underground laboratory).  There are fiendishly clever kill scenes; some will have viewers flinching while others will leave them chuckling.  Fan(goria) boys and girls will also have a wonderful time enumerating the various nods to other horror movies (especially in the film's carnage-filled climax).

On the down side, too much vital story is conveyed by info-dumping exposition, delivered to boot by fast-talking bureaucrats (No doubt Cabin is a film that warrants multiple viewings).  And surprisingly enough, the film falls short as postmodern satire.  Whereas in the original Scream the sense of genre self-awareness crescendos in the last act, here it seems to give way to a more straightforward foray into cosmic horror.

Indeed, Cabin's worst warts pop up in the ending.  This is the kind of film that hinges on its payoff--the answer to the question of why the protagonists have been subjected to such a bizarre experiment in the first place.  For all the attendant chaos, the given explanation is not terribly earth-shattering, and the grand "revelation" can be seen coming from a mile away by anyone moderately versed in Lovecraft.  The filmmakers attempt to pump up the conclusion by bringing in an unbilled star from stage left, and though apropos, this cameo appearance really doesn't make much use of the actor's talents.

The Cabin in the Woods is daring, original, and certainly entertaining.  What's disappointing to me is not that this isn't a good movie but that it fails (given its promising premise) to develop into the great movie it might have been.

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