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The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)

Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams

Written By: Drew Goddard, Joss Whedon Directed By: Drew Goddard

The Short Version

Behold the most talked about slasher flick since Freddy met Jason.

The premise is in outstanding one.

The execution is interesting… once or twice.

As for the standard slasher elements, like, say, a killer?  Um, well…

The Cabin in the Woods is worth the watch for any slasher fan, but it’s got a shelf life.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

ONION GOUDA.

It’s tasty to try, but the novelty wears off after a while.


Pairs Well With...

MILLER HIGH LIFE.

Stocked by the case at many a cabin in the woods.

“These fucking zombies.  Remember when you could just throw a girl in a volcano?”


Every so often, a movie comes along about which seemingly everyone I know tells me “You have got to see this!”  Among them: The Cabin in the Woods.

I don’t remember what kept me from seeing it in the theatre; I knew it was there, but I’d let the opportunity slip, and even given the encouragement of friends and acquaintances, I  just never had the urge to go out of my way to see it once it made the transition to home video.  But then along came insomnia and an outlet streaming the movie at just the right time, and so I finally gave in.

I admit to being pleasantly surprised.  (The “You have got to see this!” thing has, historically, tended toward the negative side of “mixed results” for me.)  Not as spellbound as most seem to be, mind, but pleasantly surprised.

The Cabin in the Woods is a unique, unrepeatable genre experiment: a fresh take on one of the least fresh genres out there (that’s not an indictment) that cleverly plays with the audience’s expectations and serves as a combination love letter to/sendup of the traditional slasher formula.  It starts with an outstanding premise, and then executes in an almost unheard of fashion that is primarily dependent upon the strength of its story and not on either its killer or its Final Girl.  By any normal standard, this is not how a flick like this is supposed to be made.

That’s why it works.  It’s also why I’m encouraging you to see it, and why I’d be happy to watch this movie again with a friend who hasn’t seen it before.  But it’s also why I feel no urge to add it to my permanent collection on blu ray, or to watch it again on my own.  Much like The Sixth Sense, The Cabin in the Woods is a one trick pony whose show is spoiled once the viewer has seen the trick play through.  Maybe a second viewing to catch telling details missed the first time around could be in order, but beyond that?  Surprise has a shelf life, folks, and novelty ceases to be novel sooner than later.  This isn’t to say that the movie’s bad – it is, indeed, good – but its appeal does have its limits.

For the dozen or so people who aren’t in on the secret yet, I won’t spoil the surprises to be found in The Cabin in the Woods.  (That’d be counterproductive, really, since being surprised by them is the best thing about experiencing the movie.)  I’ll just say that if the first few minutes seem “off” to you and decidedly un-slasher-like, they’re supposed to.  Roll with it, and you’ll understand quickly enough.  Of course, this also means that I can’t tell you what I liked about the movie in any great detail, but in this case I’m calling discretion the better part of valor.

This leaves us with the standard slasher stuff, and while not horrible, it’s far less impressive than the Grand Tricks of the story and its premise.

Most slasher films rely on one (or, in the best cases, both) of two things: the strength/appeal of the killer, and/or the strength/appeal of the Final Girl and possibly a few her friends, too.  If you’re lucky, you get the combined awesomeness of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode; if not, and the Final Girl and her friends are just a bunch of losers, then hey, you can still root for Jason Voorhees, right?  That’s how the formula works, and that’s the standard escape valve.

Unfortunately, for all of the cleverness that The Cabin in the Woods has invested into its premise and its story, it is decidedly lacking when it comes to some of the basic formula stuff, starting with that most basic of elements (which is indeed the one that separates slashers from the rest of the horror genre): the killer.  At the risk of saying too much, The Cabin in the Woods doesn’t have one.  Not a traditional one, anyway, and certainly not one whose presence is always felt or who even gets more than literally a second or three of screen time.  The homicidal cannibal zombies from whom our “heroes” first must flee are never treated as anything more than shells, and have none of that very basic slasher appeal that make Jason and Freddy and Michael so much fun to watch.  The successors to the cannibal zombies range from even less interesting cardboard cutouts to – more often than not – one-shot jokes or inside references.  (The successors, at least, are entertaining enough the first time around, but they’ve got no shelf life to speak of.)  So that essential appeal that makes traditional slashers what they are?  Forget it; it’s not here.

As for the slasher bait… well, the story wants them to be generic, and they are; too much so, in fact.  Aside from the novelty of seeing Thor before he was Thor (The Cabin in the Woods sat on the shelf for a few years between being filmed and being released; Chris Hemsworth was an overall unknown at the time he made this), there is absolutely nothing interesting or appealing about these people.  And if one can’t be made to care whether or not the “good guys” live or die, and there’s no fallback of an awesome killer to root for, what’s left?

After all of the story’s surprises are spoiled… well, nothing.  There’s  not even the base appeal of exceptionally clever kills or even the extremely base holdout of something exciting going on for sex to equal death (which any slasher fan knows is a cardinal rule, as does the script here; it’s just nothing to get excited about, if you get what I’m saying).  And that’s why I can’t bring myself to be as gung ho about The Cabin in the Woods as most others I know are.  Yes, it’s got a great premise which I do genuinely love and a pretty cool story capped off by a fantastic cameo near the end, but it spends so much of it creative energy being unusual that it skimps out on a whole lot of stuff that’s expected to be there, and which, to my mind, still needs to be.

So yes, it’s good… but.  Very much “but.”

Bottom line, The Cabin in the Woods is a very cool riff on the slasher genre, I do recommend that any slasher fan see it once; it’s certainly entertaining enough to be worth the look.  But beyond that… once you’ve seen the pony’s trick, there’s just not enough appeal there to make it a must for the permanent collection.  A rental or a streaming service should prove perfectly adequate for this one.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2014


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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