Reporting on the movies I see
The Cabin in the Woods is a clever little film. In some ways, it acts as a deconstruction of the horror film genre and is even gleeful in its approach to tear apart the longstanding genre, however, I feel the film probably tries a little too hard to be clever and that backfires on the film a little, resulting in the film almost becoming what it's trying to criticize. And, because the film comes courtesy of two writers that worked together on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, a lot of character from those shows carries over to the film, which both helps the film with its more endearing qualities while also making the film feel a bit smaller than its story.
That story is of five college youths heading to the titular cabin in the woods, but one which we learn straight away is a some sort of replication of horror movie scenarios, manipulated by a secret organization for some seemingly important end. Unfortunately, Dana (Kristen Connolly) and her friends Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchinson), Holden (Jesse Williams), and Marty (Fran Kranz), don't realize that their entire getaway was a setup so that they could live (and die) in a horror movie recreation. Of course, things don't go as planned for all parties involved.
What works exceptionally well is the gleeful sense of toying with horror film conventions, done by adding an additional meta-layer to a horror story via the secret organization and, in the final act of the film, this goes into wild and highly entertaining territory, throwing at the audience more horror tropes, played straight, toyed with and deconstructed, than you can actually keep track of on screen and its in this joyous mirth that the film finds it greatest strength. However, this all comes at a cost, which is that, despite the film's ravenous assault on horror film conventions, the film's character stories really end up being replications of those same horror films. The characters in the film end up becoming as shallow as their horror movie counterparts and hardly experience any real development and even when the bedlam starts, everyone ends up merely a puppet to be slaughtered, but with little reason to care whether they get slaughtered or not. And that loss of agency for the characters drains the film of any kind of meaningful story, resulting in a wildly entertaining ride that has little more substance than a parodic tour through horror movie tropes. In that sense, I actually felt that Raimi's campy horror contemporary, Drag Me to Hell, was actually a little more successful at both sending up conventions while building a real, if simplistic narrative.
In many ways, The Cabin in the Woods does a great job with capturing horror movie references, most obviously to The Evil Dead with the titular cabin, but throughout the film, we see countless references to other horror films and tropes and this is all aided by some great production and art work, giving the film an almost silly level of attention to detail, with the death an dismemberment reaching an cartoonish level of exuberance, which, in the final act, becomes rather intoxicatingly fun. However, the film at times almost feels like watching television in terms of the smallness of other elements of the production and directing, courtesy of first time director Drew Goddard, and while good attention was paid to effects and creatures, the scenes in the secret organization's building sometimes felt cheap enough to resemble producer Joss Whedon's series. And so with the budget constraints being a little visible, it does admittedly take some of the punch out of the presentation. At least the acting was quite amusing and the many performers handle their characters well, most of them seeming to really get the Whedon-Goddard style of humor in the film.
The Cabin in the Woods is at its best in the chaos of the third act, but I can't help but feel that the story still felt far too insubstantial to really carry that carnival of blood beyond more than just being flash for the eyes and confection for the brain as it grabs all the film references and makes connections about tropes being lampooned and lampshaded. And I'm not going to lie, there were times when I felt like I was watching what seemed like a visually upgraded version of Buffy, Season Four, except without the grounding in real developed characters. So, in that sense, knowing what substantial stories both of these talents were able to bring to their shows, The Cabin in the Woods feels just a little disappointing and even falling a bit short of the better examples of horror films that Cabin references. On the other hand, that really does nothing to stop Cabin in the Woods to be wildly fun, careening from horror film to comedy and many crazy places between them, causing the audience to burst into laughter after being shocked out of their seats and vice versa. And even if The Cabin in the Woods doesn't quite muster the substance that I expected from the writers at least it provides a wild ride with aplomb. And that's at least what you can expect from decent entertainment. 7/10.