Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

I’m fascinated with fresh takes on horror movie conventions.  If done well, these movies can give you something new to think about while watching horror movies, and can also stand on their own as a great movie.  Scream helped to redefine the slasher movie in 1996.  In one masterful stroke, Wes Craven pointed out slasher movie conventions dating back to the beginning of the genre, while simultaneously reviving it at a time most had given it up for dead.  He also gave us a great new movie monster in “Ghost Face”.

A more recent example would be 2006’s Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.  We got to see a slasher movie through the eyes of the slasher.  Again, it successfully deconstructed the slasher genre while standing alone on its own merit, and introducing a new monster…something else to scare you when things go bump in the night.

Colin didn’t deconstruct the zombie genre, but it did allow us to see a zombie movie from the zombie’s perspective.  It was a touching story of a reluctant zombie that still clung to pieces of his past life.  For the first time in my life, I saw the crowd of zombie hunters and felt bad for the zombies.  It allowed me to watch zombie movies in an entirely different light.

Basically, these types of movies can almost be seen as a class in the genre.  How many people learned about “the rules of a slasher movie” from Scream?

All three of those movies rank among my favorite modern horror movies.  I was hoping The Cabin in the Woods would be able to join that list.  For the first hour, I thought I was right.

From the outside, the premise is simple: a group of five college kids (the jock, the intellectual, the comic relief/stoner, the slut and the virgin) head out to a cabin in the woods for a weekend vacation.  They hear noises, and they are all terrorized (and most of them killed) by some random terror.
All of this borrows heavily from the “cabin in the woods” genre, most notably Evil Dead 2 (right down to the look of the cabin).

Sadly, Ash was nowhere to be found

But, of course, there is more going on in this movie than the plot suggests.
Without giving too much away, I feel I can say this: there is a group of people who have set this entire scenario up.  They don’t control everything that happens, but they definitely have influence over the kids in the cabin.  Or, as one of the characters says, “We rig the game as much as we have to, but in the end, if they don’t transgress, they can’t be punished.”  

Still, it gives little glimpses into what causes these slasher movie stereotypes to act the way they do.  Why does the girl drop the knife after stabbing her attacker?  Why does the alpha male decide it’s a good idea for everyone to split up? 

 The Cabin in the Woods takes this horror subgenre and pulls back the curtain a bit, revealing a vast conspiracy behind the seemingly mindless slaughter.  They add a healthy dose of humor to the process, but they don’t skimp on the gore and jumps that the genre is famous for.  It’s a pitch-perfect deconstruction of the genre.
Until the final half hour.
[I don’t want to give anything away from this portion, so I’ll try to keep it vague.  I’m toying with the notion of starting up another blog to link to with nothing but spoilers – which would make for a better discussion area for those who have seen the movie – but, since I’m not sure anyone is actually reading this blog in the first place, I doubt I’ll do that.]

 During the first hour, I felt they did a great job of deconstructing the genre, while still revealing the vast conspiracy behind it.  There was still a little bit of mystery surrounding it, but that’s okay: not everything needed to be fully explained.  I picked up enough of what was going on to know why they were doing what they were doing…I didn’t need to know everything.  I didn’t need to see everything.  But that’s exactly what the last half hour of this movie was.  Instead of pulling back the curtain a little and inviting us in for a peek, they threw the curtain open and screamed, “Hey!  Look at this!”
It wasn’t terrible, but it just felt like a completely different movie.  The subtlety and humor from the first hour was thrown out the window in favor of a huge spectacle.  I know there were some people who enjoyed this portion of it, but it just wasn’t for me.  Give me the brilliant and entertaining deconstruction of the genre from the first hour. 

Perhaps it was a way to please all viewers.  I watch a lot of horror movies, so it was pretty much a given that I would enjoy the first hour of the movie more than the last half hour.  But what of the person who doesn’t watch many horror movies?  Perhaps they are more inclined to enjoy the last half hour.

My main problem with the movie was this: I feel like it could have been amazing.  And for the first hour, it was.  If they had kept that momentum going, this easily could have become one of my new favorite horror movies.  As it is, I still really liked it, but not to the extent that I could have.  

This movie was very close to perfect: I guess settling for pretty good isn’t the end of the world.  (Or is it?)

Rating: 4/5

I'll mention this once more, just in case I haven't said it enough: this movie was really funny.  Whether they were needling horror movie conventions, or just sitting around talking, there were plenty of extremely funny moments.

Notable actors: Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker, Fran Kranz

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Silent House (La Casa Muda)

When the American version came out a few months ago, I looked up to see what the movie was about.  It was then that I discovered that it was a remake of a Uruguayan movie that came out a couple years prior.  So I thought I would check it out

The plot: Laura and her father (Wilson) go to fix up an old house owned by Nestor (in the American version, I believe the Nestor character is Laura’s uncle, but I don’t think there was any such connection between the two here).  The house is out in the middle of the woods, and, since no one has lived there in a while, it is broken down and the lawn is overgrown.  Laura and Wilson are supposed to fix up the house to get it ready to sell.  They get in a little late, so they decide to sleep in the house and get started the following day. 
Before too long, Laura begins to hear noises, and it’s clear there is someone else in the house.  She sends Wilson upstairs to check out a noise.  She hears a thump, and he ends up at the bottom of the steps: his head bloodied, his hands tied, and his body lifeless.  So Laura finds herself needing to fend for herself in the house.  Throughout the movie, she begins to discover an even bigger mystery about the house.

 This movie was shot in entirely one take; or, at the very least, shot in such a way to resemble one take.  As far as getting me interested in the movie, it worked really well.  I was on edge from the minute the movie opened.  Since there weren’t any tight shots, I was always looking to see if there was any movement going on in the background.  It made for an incredibly stressful movie watching experience.  For the first half or so, anyway.

There were some pretty obnoxious parts in this movie.  There were a number of times where I screamed at the TV, “Look behind you!”  With the knowledge that there was someone else in the house (someone who had already beaten her father to death), she spent a ton of time investigating rooms in the house.  There were a couple of scenes where she went into a room and spent two minutes looking at objects in the room, with her back to the door the entire time.  It got a little old after a while, but there were still enough tense moments throughout the movie that kept me interested the entire time.

 Also, there were a lot of parts that ended up not making any sense when the ending was revealed.  I can’t say much else without giving the ending away, so I’ll venture into some spoiler territory here.

[SPOILER]  As it turns out, it was Laura the entire time.  Basically, Nestor got her pregnant (while her father watched), and he killed the baby.  So the killings inside the house were her revenge.  But the camera basically followed Laura the entire movie.  We didn’t see the murders at all.  When her father was killed upstairs, the camera was on Laura downstairs.  So did she have an accomplice?  Was the camera only showing us what she thought was true in her original personality, not showing what her other – more sinister – personality was doing?  If the entire movie is based around using the one-shot approach, it has to make sense.  And there were many times where this movie failed to make sense.  Since I didn’t know who the killer was while I was watching the movie, it didn’t seem strange to me.  But, when I was thinking about it after I finished watching, I started wondering about these things.  [END SPOILER] 

Overall, I liked it.  I didn’t love it, mainly because of the glaring inconsistencies and the ridiculous room-searching of Laura.  But it was still a well-done movie.  It kept me interested for the majority of the movie, and the one-shot style definitely drove that.  It could have been better.  As it stands, it’s still pretty good.
I hope to watch the American version at some point in the not-too-distant future, and then I’ll be able to compare the two.

Rating: 4/5