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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Review: The Cabin in the Woods (Spoiler-Free)

All you need to know at this point is this: You should absolutely go see The Cabin in the Woods. Yes, it’s been hyped so much that you’re probably thinking, “Oh, there’s no way it’s THAT good.” Whether you end up thinking it is that good or not, to miss this film is to render yourself mute at watercooler conversations and happy hours for at least the next couple weeks. You’ll just have to stand there nodding your head and trying to pretend you know what you’re talking about every time someone says, “Oh my God, Cabin in the Woods, right?!” and you’ll say something stupid about the movie you didn’t go see, and everyone will stop talking and give you that look. You don’t want to be that guy.

This is the kind of film you could watch over and over again and still find something you missed on the previous viewings, but the first time, you really should see it knowing as little as possible. The bare bones, so to speak: We have our requisite five good-looking kids who vaguely remind you of the Scooby Gang (coin toss on which of them is Scooby): Our players are The Sporto (Chris Hemsworth), The Beauty/Slut (Anna Hutchison), The Stoner (Fran Kranz, who brilliantly manages to simultaneously evoke Shaggy and be way cooler than Shaggy), The Nice Girl/Kinda-Sorta-Almost Virgin (Kristen Connolly) and The Handsome, Nice and Brainy Guy (Jesse Williams). We have our beat-up RV standing in for the Mystery Machine, the Creepy Old Guy Who Warns Those Darn Kids to Stay Away from the Mysterious Cabin. And of course, we have the titular Cabin itself, which you have no doubt seen on the movie posters flying in the air and turning itself into some kind of puzzle box. That, my friends, is absolutely all you should know, except for this:

Just when you think you know where this movie is going, along come Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins and Amy Acker as a trio of government bureaucrat types in some vast, blandly institutional place that looks like it could be any government office building anywhere. And you’ll think, “What the hell is that about?” But you’ll figure it out soon enough, and it’s all pretty clever and cool and really, a great concept for a movie. In spite of my admiration for the idea of the film, my one quibble with The Cabin in the Woods is that while it is a great concept, the characters do tend to feel like constructs designed to fit within that cleverness, as opposed to starting with compelling characters and letting the story build around them, but when you have an idea as good as this one, what’re you gonna do? First-time director Drew Goddard (who’s been earning his stripes writing and story supervising for Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams for years) does a mostly fine job of trying to flesh them all out at least a little bit, and for the most part he’s smart enough to let us learn more about them by the actions they take rather than by boring us with exposition, so I can live with that.

The Cabin in the Woods isn’t derivative, exactly, but it manages to pull of the hat trick of paying homage to more classic horror films than I could keep track of (no doubt my more horror-fanatical friends could tick most of them off for you). The plot structure aims to be somewhat subversive of the horror genre like Scream, but it’s smarter than that film in a way that reminded me more of the vastly under-appreciated Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. It’s smart without being smart-assed, clever without being condescending. Its central conceit is fairly brilliant, but it’s not in-your-face about wanting to make sure you know how smart it is, and it’s certainly neither twee nor precious. There’s also some great production value, with a third act that’s a horror geek’s wet dream. Sure, there are plot holes here and there, but does any horror film not have a few plot holes?

Once you’ve seen The Cabin in the Woods, we can talk and dissect it all you like, but right now I’m on vacation with my kids and you haven’t seen it yet, so go see it and we’ll talk later, when there won’t be any spoilers for me to spoil for you. So go see it already, with a pack of friends or that special someone. Unless you are exceedingly squeamish or completely loathe horror as a genre, you will have a great time. Worst case, you hate it, and then you get to be the sad, bitter, snarky contrarian of your social circle. Hey, someone has to be that guy, and Armond White can’t be everywhere.

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What’s up with your people mover shot, where it seems like people are kind of floating along?
Oh, my signature shot? That’s just a new way for people to move! It’s really become my Alfred Hitchcock cameo. I did not invent that shot, but Ernest and I did it on the set of Mo Better Blues, when Shorty had to walk [through the park], and I thought, “Let’s try it.” But after that, we tried to have a reason for it. For example, that wonderful sequence in Malcolm X where you hear the great song, “A Change Is Gonna Come.” The final scene is like that, Malcolm floating along to his destiny. In 25th Hour, after Philip Seymour Hoffman has kissed Anna Paquin, we did a shot like that, and it shows his state of mind. In Inside Man, after Denzel thinks he’s witnessed the murder of a hostage, we did the floating shot there.

So you just like the way it looks?
Yeah!
~ Spike Lee To Matt Zoller Seitz

“I never accepted the term contrarian. I think that’s offensive, frankly. And my response to that is: if I’m a contrarian, what are other reviewers? What I strive to do is be a good critic, not somebody who simply accepts the product put in front of me. I guess it scares people to think that they don’t have any originality; that they don’t have the capacity to think for themselves.

“There’s a line a lot of reviewers use that I don’t like at all. They say ‘accept the film on its own terms.’ What that really means is, ‘accept the film as it is advertised.’ That’s got nothing to do with criticism. Nothing to do with having a response as a film watcher. A thinking person has to analyze what’s on screen, not simply rubber-stamp it or kowtow to marketing.”m

“To me, everything does have a political component and I think it’s an interesting way to look at art. It’s one way that makes film reviewing, I think, a politically relevant form of journalism. We do live in a political world, and we bring our political sense to the movies with us – unless you’re the kind of person who goes to the movies and shuts off the outside world. I’m not that kind of person.”
~ Armond White to Luke Buckmaster