The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #6 – Cabin In The Woods (2012) by Joey Keogh

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #6:

The Agony of THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)

citw1Up next in our award winning (maybe) Ecstasy & Agony run, Joey aims both barrels of her critical shotgun at director Drew Goddard’s much loved meta monster mash…

The marketing campaign for the Joss Whedon-scripted “horror-comedy” (it’s neither) The Cabin In The Woods was incredibly effective. In spite of the fact that the film sat on the shelf for years – long enough for Chris Hemsworth to be known as Thor by the time it finally came out, instead of just some random Australian fellow – when the promotional material was eventually unleashed, it felt new, fresh and even original, thanks to a cracking trailer and a poster that hinted there was more to the titular cabin than was at first obvious.

For me, Cabin was one of the biggest disappointments of a life spent obsessing over horror movies. Relentlessly smug and self-congratulatory – not to mention much less clever than it thinks it is – it renders a decent cast completely useless by offering them absolutely no back-story whatsoever, beyond a throwaway line here and there (she used to fuck her professor, she’s pre-med, Thor understands economics). Meanwhile the only likeable character – the stoner – is betrayed by a heavily-expository and not to mention downright ludicrous explanation towards the end, about how smoking weed has made him immune to the tricks of the puppet-masters.

Even in his own right though, Marty is really just a rubbish version of Randy from Scream, though he does still get the best lines in the film: “I’m on a reality TV show!” he decides at one point, “My parents are going to think I’m such a burnout…”. Further to this, the fact that certain characters aren’t acting like themselves actually has to be explained to us because clearly we don’t know enough about any of them to notice any difference in their behaviour.

citw2Considering the ideas at play, Cabin takes far too long setting everything up with absolutely no carnage whatsoever until almost an hour into its ninety minute running time. The villains – zombie rednecks – are of the lowest calibre imaginable, sporting shitty make-up and the same, boring weapons we’ve seen a million times before. Their presence is later rendered totally worthless by the influx of villains on the Killing Floor, which teases us with what could have been (the less said about the merman joke, which some mouthy bastard clearly thought was HILARIOUS, the better).

Self-referential meta humour can work really well in horror movies, like with Scream which is probably still the best example, but here it falls utterly flat because there are no scares to bounce off the comedy. Everything is so smug and self-congratulatory that it calls to mind Gale Weather’s line from Scream 4 about Stabathon being a circle-jerk: Cabin is the epitome of a circle-jerk for know-it-all horror fans. It’s supposed to make us feel like we’re in on the joke, like we’re too good for it, but we can’t laugh at the horror elements if there are none.

Nods such as the harbinger of doom might have worked better if someone didn’t outright refer to the character as ‘the harbinger’ later in the film, thereby hammering us over the head with it. Sigourney Weaver’s cameo might have been funny if she hadn’t just utterly phoned in her performance: her delivery is so stiff she might as well have been reading the phonebook aloud. The ending might’ve packed a wallop if Weaver’s character hadn’t shown up to specifically explain it, and if its centrepiece wasn’t a laughably bad CGI hand. In fact, lots of moments are lost because they go a bit too far and are a bit too knowing, much like the recent influx of improv comedy bits in films such as Anchorman 2. The joke stops being funny after about ten seconds… And yet it lasts five minutes.

citw3The two most interesting characters are the office workers, but they’re not given enough screen time for us to really give a shit about what their jobs entail or the difficult position they’re in. This B-story, in fact, is the most Whedon-esque element of the entire production, almost harking back to Buffy and her dealings with Riley’s special unit. Even when the two are given some room to breathe, the humour is so on-the-nose it’s completely interminable. Everything has to be spelled out, nothing is left to sink in and, much like in the A-story, there are zero moments of tension, unease or even mild peril (not to sound like a BBFC rating).

There was talk when Cabin was first released of Whedon originally wanting to write a straight horror flick but being talked into this by his superiors instead. Whether or not that’s true, it doesn’t excuse the end product or indeed the way it was sold as a love letter to horror fanatics. Where Scream invites us in on the joke, Cabin beats us over the head with it, as if to say “horror movies are so dumb, right?”, which misses the point: even though it can be an utterly silly and throwaway genre, we still love it and it’s special to us. It doesn’t deserve to be torn apart, especially when it’s not even done cleverly.

At one point, Chris Hemsworth’s character demands they all stick together, which encourages the office workers to pump gas into the cabin to make him change his mind – anyone who’s seen a horror movie knows that the group inevitably separates, no matter how hard they try to stay together, so why wasn’t this moment simply allowed to play out? Why did it have to be such a gut reaction?

joeyagonyI was worried I’d judged Cabin too harshly (everyone else seems to love it, after all). But upon re-watching it years later, I’ve discovered it’s become even more of a chore. It’s plodding, bloated, incredibly self-congratulatory, expository to the point of nausea, unfunny, not in the least bit scary, highly derivative and just plain dull.

A horror film for people who don’t like horror, The Cabin In The Woods is not something I enjoyed either time I watched it, and it sucks that it was such a disappointment because I really did want to like it. Try-hard and blatant in its execution, Cabin tries to be the new Scream, but goes one step too far and actually makes us the joke.



Read the previous Ecstasy & Agony features by clicking on them here:

#1 Dead & Buried (1981) by Duane Hicks 

#2 The Happening (2008) by James Pemberton 

#3 Sleepstalker (1995) by Matty Budrewicz

#4 A Serbian Film (2010) by Oli Ryder

#5 A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Dead (1985) by Dave Wain

Cabin In The Woods (2011) Review


Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Dir. Drew Goddard – 95 Minutes

This was undoubtedly the *horror hit* of 2012, this is one film I had been waiting so long to see but had waited until Christmas Eve as an early Xmas present.

The directorial debut of Lost, Alias, Angel and Buffy writer Drew Goddard and co-written by Goddard and the masterful Joss Whedon, this had the pedigree but would it have the final product?

Hell Yeah! This was absolute genius , just everything about this works and is obviously put together by real horror fans with a huge knowledge of the genre.

So before this review starts , please be aware there may be a couple of spoilers BUT nothing that wasn’t in the trailers and nothing mentioned from after the first 20 minutes.

We start with 2 men in what looks like an underground facility, they seem to be getting ready for a days work , then straight to your stereotypical slasher fodder.

There are 5 college kids getting ready for a weekend away at a cabin, and low and behold it is *the slut , the jock , the stoner, the nerd and the virgin*.

This is typical genre material , they get into the campervan and head off to the cabin , stopping enroute to fill up at the spooky gas station.

Now this all sounds very pedestrian and done a million times before and that is the films genius. This is a brilliant homage to all the great films that we have been brought up on in the last 40 years.

After the kids arrive at the cabin then the movie kicks into top gear and off it goes. Now that is all I am going to say as I can’t spoil anything here, it is just not fair. There are so many moments of genius here that you just need to watch this and judge it for yourself.

Whedon and Goddard just have a ball here , I got references from Evil Dead , Cabin Fever , Scream , Dawn of the Dead , 2001 ,TCM , Halloween , Hellraiser , Friday 13th , Left 4 Dead , Truman Show and even The Shining.

This is a remarkable film, it is genuinely funny and creepy at times. But what won it for me was the intelligence in the script writing, direction and cinematography. It is like every horror film from the last 4 decades was rolled into one but it goes off on such a tangent that just as you think “oh yeah seen this” then BANG a 90 degree turn and your off again.

The acting is great especially from Kristen Connolly and Fran Kranz (Dana and Marty respectively), the casting is superb throughout with Richard Jenkins (Sitterson) and Bradley Whitford (Hadley) giving real stellar performances. Must give a real honourable mention to Tim DeZarn who plays The Harbinger with real aplomb.

This truly surprised me , I knew that people loved it and also many hated it. But I fall in the loved it camp. As I watched it I saw so many things that I recognised and that had made me love the horror genre.

I think if you are a genre buff then this is definitely for you as there is so much to get out of it. I know I shall return to this many times and each time get something new from it.

This is a wonderful homage to all that is good in horror , but is written in such a way that it is truly unique and a milestone in cinema.

I urge everyone to watch this , just sit back and enjoy the 95 minute horror rollercoaster that awaits.

A special moment in horror film 9/10