Sunday, April 22, 2012

Who Should Watch "The Cabin in the Woods"?

I debated with myself how I should review "The Cabin in the Woods," because there's no way to give it a full review without giving away everything that makes it special. So, I've decided to write two posts, a more analytical one with all the spoilers and one without spoilers, simply trying to convince you to give the movie a chance. This is the latter one, and I do urge you to see "Cabin in the Woods" as soon as you can. It's the best damn genre film I've seen in ages, the film it felt like I was waiting for all of last year. For maximum impact, please avoid the trailers, which give away at least two major things they shouldn't. All you really need to know going into "Cabin in the Woods" is that it is a new variation on that classic, done-to-death horror movie premise: five college students go off into the woods for a little R&R, and horrible, violent things happen to them.

Except, well, that's not really enough information. "Cabin in the Woods" got a great reception from critics when it was released last week, but the audience response was poor. Cinemascore surveys showed that "Cabin in the Woods" only got a "C" grade from opening night moviegoers, and female viewers were especially unhappy with it, awarding a "D+." "Cabin in the Woods" sure looks and sounds like a horror film, and its marketing did a great job of attracting horror fans, but I don't know if it's right to call "Cabin in the Woods" a horror film at all. It offers a lot of thrills, but it's not especially scary. And the story goes so far outside the conventions of a regular horror movie I can understand why many unwary viewers reacted badly to it. The writing is much smarter, meaner, and more cynical than most, and is not going to give people what they expect.

So who is the movie for, exactly? I've seen many reviewers gush that "Cabin in the Woods" should play best to ardent horror geeks. Actually, I think it'll play better to the smartasses and the skeptics, to the viewers who can't help but notice that the same tropes and clich├ęs keep coming up in movie after movie. It's for those cinephiles who ask too many questions, who have meta discussions and play the "what if" game with familiar slasher scenarios. It's for the people who watch and enjoy horror – and with the level of violence here, a good tolerance for gore is a must – but who understand how silly and derivative much of the genre has become. No surprise that "Cabin in the Woods" was directed by Drew Goddard and written by Goddard and Joss Whedon, veterans of TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," a show that loved subverting horror movie conventions whenever it could.

I think the trouble is that "Cabin in the Woods" looks like the kind of movie that the "Buffy" crowd wouldn't appreciate, like something much more rote and familiar than it actually is. However, it's hard to talk about the elements that would appeal to the crowd that doesn't usually go to this brand of horror movie without giving away the best surprises. "Cabin in the Woods" is much more of a genre cross-over than anything else, but I don't even want to say which genres it crosses with, because I suspect that would be saying too much. The marketing has had a tough time walking the tightrope between too much information and too little.

As you can guess, all the secrecy and spoiler dodging is what got me into the theater to see this. It seems like everyone who saw and enjoyed "Cabin in the Woods" wants to talk about it, wants to take it apart and marvel at how the pieces fit together. I feel there has been a significant amount of overpraise, because the movie has its flaws. Some of the performances are rough, there are plot holes everywhere, and it can be a little too clever for its own good. But for the most part, I was having too much fun to notice. Fans of Joss Whedon should be especially happy, as several actors from his other projects make appearances.

A full review should be up in a day or two to discuss the actual movie more in depth. And in the meantime, I have a lot of online discussion to catch up on and articles to read. This is one of the first films in a long time I feel justified in going full fangirl over.

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