Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Movie Appraisal: The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

So, this is basically SCP Foundation: The Movie. Yup. Uh-huh. Okay.

Okay, this review is done. You can go now.

Seriously, stop reading, I have nothing else to say.

Nothing else to say here. Doo doo-doo doo-doo. You can stop bothering me now. I said my peace. Said it all in fact. My full thoughts are up there. You should be thankful I wrote any words at all you ungrateful weirdos. So get out of here. Go make a sandwich or something. Some potato salad maybe. Or just go read the entire SCP Foundation website. I'm sure they'd enjoy that. But you can leave this review alone now. Yeah...

Oh, fine... FIIIIIINE... You want me to write words that you will read then I'll do that, but you'll live to regret those words more than likely.

I liked this movie a lot. It was a fun movie all the way through. Sure, there are hiccups from time-to-time and the plot is all kinds of complicated... but it works pretty well in general... even if it works better as a comedy than a horror movie, which is somewhat disappointing. Don't go into this movie expecting the scares and the jumps. It's a movie that relies much more on dialogue and set-pieces then it ever will on the actual horror of the situation despite the fact that this movie is obviously a play on common horror movies and horror tropes.

Now, do all those things make the movie good or bad? Well, that's really up to the watcher of the film, but I found it fairly compelling for the most part... although the "horror movie" portion of the plot is much less compelling than the office job portion. Basically I was more interested in the SCP: The Movie than I was at the actual victims of the whole convoluted premise. I wanted to hear so much more about the lives and working atmosphere of the guys who are in the office environment than I wanted to see the horror movie stuff play out. I honestly thought that having the movie continue on from its almost fake ending of all of the sacrifices working out would have been much more interesting. Maybe not for most audiences, but I think I would have found that much better in literally every way.

I seem to be talking a ton about what this movie isn't rather than what it is, and the problem is, although I liked this flick, I really keep thinking about how easily it could have been better. The last minute of this film left me with a bad taste in my mouth as well, probably because of the inexplicable actions of the two characters left alive as well the very last image, which completely severed any emotional investment I would have had in the plot. I know this is an old Joss Whedon trick, and I simply thought it wasn't as fun or as good as other ideas that I could just come up with now. That being said, it is Joss Whedon, and I was expecting something like this as soon as I understood what the "twist" was. It still doesn't mean I love it... but it was okay.

The movie is basically easily separated into thirds. The first third being the lead up to the horror with the college kids of Dana (played by Kristen Connolly), Curt (played by Chris Hemsworth), Jules (played by Anna Hutchison), Marty (played by Fran Kranz), and Holden (played by Jesse Williams) all going to Curt's cousin's cabin in the woods. (There's a title drop there by the way. Just so you know.) Now each of these five characters represent an archetype in these kinds of films despite the fact that not all of them represent their archetype in question at the beginning of the film. Jules seems to be a rather intelligent and self-conscious girl despite being labelled as "the Whore" by the movie. The controllers drug her to make her more likely to engage in lewd behavior. She does and is promptly killed for showing her breasts and getting physical with her boyfriend. Curt is an intelligent student who becomes "the Athlete," essentially becoming a makeshift leader to the group. Holden, a much more jockish character towards the beginning, becomes "the Scholar" as it is learned that he knows Latin and is fairly intelligent. Marty is always "the Fool," but mostly in the Tarot definition of the Fool as a wild card. And finally there is Dana who is "the Virgin" despite not being a virgin at all. But they have to "work with what they've got."

While the kids are all introduced the operators are as well. The most prominent of these are Richard Jenkins as Gary Sitterson, Bradley Whitford as Steve Hadley (the mer-man guy), Brian White as the military guy Daniel Truman, and Amy Acker as Wendy Lin, a chemistry lady. These characters are the most compelling to me, being both the most easily related to, and the most easily liked. Look, nobody likes college kids, not even the college kids. I'm a college kid and I can say without a doubt that I have no liking of college kids. So, the "lead" characters are far and beyond the least likable in the movie. I won't say they deserve what they get, but I wasn't really sorry for any of their deaths or potential deaths. Whereas I felt pretty down as all the operators were killed off in the final act. They were morally ambiguous certainly, but they were trying to do the greater good under the worst circumstances... and what's wrong with that? Whereas the last two "hero" characters alive in Dana and Marty go ahead and let the world end. I mean, seriously? Why would you guys do that? Die then a save billions or die a few minutes later and save no-one? That is seriously messed up. And it was the one part of the movie I really didn't like. It felt out of character, and honestly damned both of those characters in my eyes. You do what you have to do to prevent an apocalypse if you want to go traipsing around calling yourself a good guy. I don't know... I guess it left a bitter taste in my mouth. I like dark endings, but seriously, if you have to make characters act out of character and have a bunch of convenient plot things happen at the same time to get your dark ending, it's just not worth it. There's no payoff and no punch. And the hand coming up from the earth at the end just seemed dumb. If you're going to keep the dark ending leave it a little ambiguous at least. The hand looked worst than what I could have imagined in my mind... but there's the problem... this movie is inherently not a horror movie.

Now, I know when I sat that people will be all like, "But it says it's a horror movie!" It's not a horror movie. It's a horror comedy more than anything else... just as much as Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland. Sure, there is gore and things that should be creepy, but it never really reaches the upper echelon of actually being scary. It's not The Evil Dead... that's for sure. Instead, everything works out for this movie to be a fairly compelling comedy... really not even a horror comedy. This is no Trick 'r Treat where there are actual horror elements to it (I'll get to that movie soon, don't you worry.), this is more generic horror with some good humor, good dialogue, and good characters tying it together.

Now, I liked the operators quite a bit, but Marty was also incredibly well written. His dialogue is witty and his comic-timing is really good. I found myself laughing at a good majority of his lines. The whole operators business was also amusing in its own right, especially the mundane conversations they have throughout the movie. This is actually one of those movies that I prefer the big twist out there in the beginning... because without that twist this would be a relatively generic horror movie... but with it it is definitely SCP: The Movie, and I can get behind that wholesale. I love how the monsters are kept in enclosed areas to be released at a desired time. I love how they have that cool of a collection from regular zombies all the way to a weird ballerina with her face a giant mouth-thing... and all the other horror references besides. I love how some old gods need to be appeased by the sacrifices of the respective horror tropes of different cultures. I really like this movie even despite the missteps. It works on a fundamental level to be an enjoyable experience.

And while there are some problems, if you keep an opened mind, this movie can really amaze you with both its plot and storytelling becoming something really amazing in the process. Now, as for scares... this movie offers very few. There is a lot of gore, but really only one scare... kind of a jump scare, but I found myself surprised... and that's the death of Holden. You see it coming from a mile away, but it happens so quickly that it left me surprised. The only "death" I didn't like was the fake Marty death. He should've died there. There was no way he fought back, not in the time required before the blood splatter goes up... but somehow I knew his offscreen death would be negated. I still didn't like it. It felt too fake... too manufactured. I just couldn't get behind the explanation or his character's continued life. But... I guess it is what it is. I've also heard some complain about the big red PURGE button for all the monsters... and while I found it incredibly dumb... I also thought it worked from a thematic standpoint. This is the SCP Foundation we're talking about. Of course they'd have a big red PURGE button. Why am I not even a little surprised? Plus, this leads to some of the best tension in the entire film, so how can I get up in arms over a little button?

I have to recommend this movie to people who love horror. It is a great little movie. Yes, it has some issues, but it mostly fulfills exactly what it's supposed to, and it does it ridiculously well. While reminiscent of The Evil Dead, don't expect too many scares. Instead hand on for some great dialogue, an interesting premise, and a fun ride.


  1. Great review! I also liked the "office" scenes much more than the "horror" scenes, so I compiled a list of all the monsters on Sitterson's whiteboard with links to all of the monsters that appear in the movie and what movie they're paying homage to. Here's the link to that if you're interested: http://screeningnotes.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-cabin-in-woods-bestiary.html

    Super impressed you wrote a piece for every day in October! Still going through your blog but liking what I see so far! Keep up the good work.

    1. That's a great link!

      Yeah, I'm literally insane. I still can't believe that I've done three Octobers full of reviews. I will say, it's been very difficult to find the time, but it's always massively fun.