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Thursday, April 19, 2012 03:31 pm

Cabin turns horror genre inside out

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Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz and Kristen Connolly in The Cabin in the Woods.

Since its release at this year’s SXSW festival, Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods has been steadily building buzz. The writer/director’s rabid fans have taken to the blogosphere to herald the movie’s “mind-blowing” concept. I’ve never understood Whedon’s appeal, though many have cited his Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly television series as groundbreaking. Both always struck me as having a great premise but ultimately little follow-through. Cabin left me feeling the same way. While it effectively deconstructs the horror film, literally and figuratively eviscerating its inherent stereotypes and hackneyed situations, in the end it all seems a bit too calculated.

This is more an exercise than a film. Whedon and director Drew Goddard, who cowrote the script, let us know from the get-go that everything is not as it seems and that they’ll be doling out key pieces of necessary information when they feel like it, thank you very much. I wish they had played things a bit closer to the vest. Revealing so much early on undercuts much of the film’s suspense and ruins what could have been one of the most shocking revelations in movie history. As it is, they let us in on the joke, and while this choice allows for some wonderfully dark humor, it’s a misstep nonetheless.

But I digress, and there’s a reason for this. Cabin is ultimately a fun exercise that needs to be discovered by the viewer. Giving away too much would do it a disservice and may result in me being burned in effigy by the Whedon faithful. Here’s what I can tell you: Five teens decide to get out of town and head to a cabin in the woods. Seems Curt’s (Chris Hemsworth) cousin has just bought the place and he’s eager to take his girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchison) with him for a weekend of meaningless sex and excessive drinking. Tagging along is the virginal Dana (Kristen Connolly), dope-fiend Marty (Fran Kranz) and potential suitor Holden (Jesse Williams), a morally upright guy who will sorely regret coming along.

What these five don’t realize is that they’re being watched and monitored by Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), two technicians in an underground bunker who have a vested interest in them. A la The Truman Story and The Hunger Games, they can control the environment where Curt and his crew are staying, subtly pushing them towards acting in a way that will ensure that they reach a desired outcome. If there’s a dark cellar, you can bet they’ll enter it. If there’s Latin that isn’t suppose to be read, you know it will be and if there are grisly deaths to be realized, cue the cryptic music.

What the purpose of all this is or the stakes involved, I will not reveal. Suffice it to say, it requires that these five guinea pigs face their fears and deal with a series of traditional horror film situations. Along the way, a zombie redneck torture family shows up, as do such a wide variety of monsters that it will take repeat viewings to identify them all.

The plot is a bit too clever for its own good and I couldn’t shake the feeling that Whedon and Goddard were grandstanding here, waiting to receive pats on the back for their cleverness. To be sure, the premise is rather cool and would fit right in as an episode of The Twilight Zone. However, the film doesn’t follow its own internal logic. A character returns who shouldn’t and the presence of a button that’s utilized in the end makes little sense. Of course it could be argued that this too is part of Whedon’s post-modern commentary as many horror films make these same mistakes as well.

Cabin shouldn’t be overanalyzed, though its makers are begging you to do so. It would be easy enough to pick it apart and reveal its faults, but you’re better off simply sitting back and having fun with it. After all, any film featuring a werewolf, a giant rattlesnake, a murderous merman and an acid-puking monster at the end is worth the price of admission.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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