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

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