Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Watcher of the Woods: "The Cabin in the Woods" (2012)

Without repeating the phrase "spoiler alert" every two sentences, I am going to try to review the trippy, disappointing "The Cabin in the Woods" without revealing too much about the film.

Five college students: virginal Dana (Kristen Connolly), jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth), hottie Jules (Anna Hutchison), pothead Marty (Fran Kranz), and jockish egghead Holden (Jesse Williams) head to an isolated cabin recently purchased by Curt's cousin. They encounter a creepy old guy (Tim DeZarn) who proclaims impending gloom and doom, arrive at the cabin, and discover unsettling things like a two-way mirror, a gory painting, and a basement full of items guaranteed to trigger some sort of evil.

Now, let's go ahead and kick in the "spoiler alert", even though this subplot is touched on in the preview and one of the first things the audience experiences: Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins are very entertaining as two weathered techies who seem to be manipulating what our five co-eds are experiencing. Until the cartoonish climax, which does feature a welcome cameo from the genre's most successful actress, the audience gets caught up in the machinations of the puppets and puppeteers. Alright, end of "spoiler alert".

The slasher film has been asking to be turned on its head for years, and aside from some spoofs and unimaginative reimaginings, we have become desensitized to these horror films. While writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard should be lauded for crafting something new, I did not feel like the parallel stories combined well. The slasher aspect is a foregone conclusion, and while some of its imagery is creepy, I quickly tired of it the same way I tired of the myriad of "Friday the 13th"/"A Nightmare on Elm Street" sequels (although a lot of the dark comedic elements had me laughing out loud).

The entire cast is great, they seem to know their characters are actually caricatures. The special effects are hot and cold, and maybe intentionally so. I felt the last half hour of the film thought itself so clever, it decided to let loose with a violent barrage that made me think "okay, the 'been there, seen that' element has broken out of the slasher plot and invaded the subplot." Sure, you can argue nothing like "The Cabin in the Woods" has ever been done before, but many elements of it have- from "The Truman Show" to "Cube" to "Hellraiser" and so on.

A friend who will never see the film asked me if everyone died in the end. I was able to give her a sweeping seven word sentence about the climax that made me realize how convoluted the plot gets. The six people in the theater with me seemed even more unimpressed with the film. Also, the gore and blood are so heavy (literally flowing) that suspense and scares are also killed in the process. The preview shown for "Chernobyl Diaries" had more squirm-inducing imagery than the last half hour of "The Cabin in the Woods."

Although not a bad film, this is not the groundbreaking event you may have been hyped into believing. Thank goodness we shouldn't have to worry about any sequels. (* * *) out of five stars.