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Movie Review: "THE CABIN IN THE WOODS"

By Jake Mulligan
On April 14, 2012

I'm going to have to tell you the same thing as every other critic when it comes to "THE CABIN IN THE WOODS": just go see it. Don't read the plot, don't ask a friend what happens, and don't expect me to reveal the plot - just go see it. The narrative of this film is so tightly controlled, every piece of information doled out with such exact timing, that to reveal anything that happens even 10 minutes in would be a cheat both to the movie and the viewer. Very rarely do you get a structure so intricate that it almost renders criticism irrelevant (I think "THE SKIN I LIVE IN" pulled it off last year,) but with "CABIN", director Drew Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon have done it.

I don't think it's spoiling anything to say that "CABIN IN THE WOODS" is not the rote horror film it wants you to think it is. Following five kids confronting horrors in a walled-off cabin, as well as a number of white collar types below the surface who serve as directors and producers in monitoring their actions (led by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, who are just as awesome as you expect,) the film is almost more of a thriller/action film than a slasher/horror film. It's exciting, and it's fucking hilarious, but this does need to be said: rarely, if ever, is it scary. Instead, it serves as a hipper-than-thou satire on horror conventions, filled with oblique references and referential in-jokes (if the term 'evil raping tree' means anything to you, you'll probably really like this movie.)

There's something else I have to get off my chest: while this film is a delightful satire, it's hardly the 'definitive' statement on horror conventions that many of its most ardent fans are making it out to be. It's metaphors dealing with 'why we watch horror' are shoddy at best, and it's conclusion only proves that it's more interested in winking at fans than it is in making statements (besides, the smartest movies ask questions, they don't presume to give you answers. And that's what Whedon/Goddard think they're doing.) But when it's making smaller, more specific nods at the genre it lampoons - such as an uproarious running gag dealing with J-horror films not unlike some of the work of Takashi Miike, or one incredible moment set to REO Speedwagon - it's truly inspired.

And it's never more inspired than when all these slowly revealing plot threads implode in the third act, and everything goes haywire. It's in these sequences that the film really finds it's raison d'etre, and it's here that it begins to play the audience with a master's control. Pretty much every gag or reference pays off here (I won't say how) and you can truly feel the bliss coming from behind the camera; Goddard is clearly giddy getting to play around with the entire history of his genre. I'm not sure the philosophical ponderings of the last few moments live up to the 3rd act carnage that precedes it, but by then you feel so exhausted that the complaint hardly registers.

"CABIN IN THE WOODS" isn't the final statement on horror movies that it wants to be - hell, it's obsession with slasher archetypes keeps it more of a commentary on 90s horror than it does on modern horror (and, as should go without saying, "SCREAM" was able to do the same thing, and mine a scare or two from it too.) It's way too ironic to be scary, and it's way too self-satisfied and faux-intellectual to be profound. But between the thrilling pace that somehow, someway, pays off in the 3rd act (seriously, halfway into this film I didn't think there would be any way it could pay off all it sets up,) and the laugh-a-minute script, I think it's a sure thing "THE CABIN IN THE WOODS" will find its audience - if not this weekend, then through the countless series of midnight screenings that are sure to follow at theaters across the country.


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