Movie Review: The Cabin in the Woods

There used to be a time where I watched horror movies in the middle of the night, and went peacefully off to sleep just after. I watched Poltergeist when I was about 12, and enjoyed every disgusting second, but it didn’t damage my ability to sleep.

Now? I watch horror movies exclusively in the afternoon. And bright afternoons at that, with broad rays of sunshine streaming in through the windows. I’ve become a chicken in my old age.

So, one rainy afternoon (quelle courage) I settled in to watch The Cabin in the Woods a couple of days ago.

Story: Five college kids in the standard formation: a couple, a single girlfriend who has just broken up, a new guy who is a little mysterious, and the pothead. They borrow a camper and go off to a cabin in the woods for the weekend. The cabin belongs to a cousin of Curt’s (Chris Hemsworth (nearly put “Thor, Son of Odin” here)). And horror ensues.

Two things signalled that this movie was going to be slightly different: the two scientist-looking guys in beginning; and that the kids appeared to be very intelligent. Not just one of them though; ALL of them.

The poster leaves no doubt that this is a horror movie, and most if not all of these guys are going to die awful deaths perpetrated by an unspecified evil.

Review: The Cabin in the Woods is not your average horror movie. It is an elaborate spoof of the typical slasher flick, encased in a larger, more original horror movie story of its own. I thought it was very enjoyable, and would probably watch it again to see the foreshadowing before the reveal.

Story: Five young college students go away to a beautiful wooden cabin in the woods for the weekend. They have an unpleasant encounter with a grizzled old man at a petrol pump on the way, and find strange objects in the house. The horror starts to unfold when they go into the basement, and see strange objects in it.

Alongside, there is a facility, appearing to be run by scientists and researchers. There is a massive control room with two lab-coated men in front of loads of dials and switches. When the monitors come on, the feeds are of the rooms inside the cabin. The men are watching the students.

The story progresses, and the students encounter an evil force. The men in the facility, along with the other departments, appear to celebrate. They also place bets on various aspects of the unfolding horror. And they operate machinery with what appears to be blood.

The story is quite baffling at this point because, even though the common horror tropes are fulfilled, they seem to be deliberate. The facility controls many of the aspects, invisibly influencing the scene in front of them to play out in predictable ways.

I was mystified midway through the movie, because I couldn’t piece together the clues. I came to the conclusion it was an elaborate snuff film, but that didn’t fit together with the seriousness with which the facility took its job. There was a lot of talk about ‘the stakes’ and ‘rituals’ and the like. Yeah, I had no idea what was happening – and that was fantastic!

Characters: The characters are not really important in the movie. The students are highly intelligent individuals, but the facility manipulates them into certain behaviour patterns to fit the horror stereotypes: alpha male, the promiscuous girl, joker, the virginal girl, and the scholarly type, when in fact they are all the scholarly type. In fact, they were little better than puppets. Only Dana (Kristen Connolly) is given a tiny bit of a backstory, possibly to show that she is not actually a virgin. [I know this sounds awful, but if you’ve seen the movie, you know the reason.] Marty (Fran Kranz) also has a little more dimension, but that is essentially to supplement a plot point. The other three are left as they appear, with the occasional comment to indicate that they are behaving oddly.

The people in the facility are more developed, with a facet of personal lives, a facet for their office work and camaraderie, and another mysterious religious facet.

The character development was sufficient for a comedic-horror movie. I wasn’t left wondering as to their motivation to do something or the other. The Director was a ridiculous character in my opinion, and her place was only for exposition and reveal.

Acting: Pretty decent acting overall, I thought. I thought that the famous actress who plays the Director is wasted in her fatuous role.

What I liked: I love the unexpected. I have gotten too used to formulaic movies, and I rapidly get bored when I can predict the twists and turns. Sometimes, I can also predict dialogue, much to my chagrin. However, this movie actively encourages that! The second thing I loved is the fact that there is obviously a larger mystery, right from the beginning. It doesn’t come as a complete surprise in the middle, because those types of twists are poorly introduced. The cohesion of story between one half to the next is actively maintained here. I also loved that the story moved forward from different perspectives, without resorting to time manipulation. Another modern storytelling mechanism of which I have rapidly tired. It was great with Memento, but should’ve stopped there. It tends to get abused a lot, because it doesn’t really contribute to the story in any way.

What I disliked: Nothing in particular. I do wish the time spent at the facility was a little more drawn out, and the climax took a little more time, but I do see that the urgency would have been lost if that had been the case. I thought the exposition was sloppy. They didn’t have to introduce an entirely new character just for that. Although, again I can see why; because they had to put a face to the red telephone.

Rating: ✩✩✩✩

Thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and loved the unexpectedness of it all. There were some good scares, which was fun too.

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