Have Your Say: Did You Hate CABIN IN THE WOODS? Me Too! [Spoilers Abound]

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Have Your Say: Did You Hate CABIN IN THE WOODS? Me Too! [Spoilers Abound]

Please note that the following post and ensuing comments will spoil Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's The Cabin in the Woods. Please read on at your own peril.

It's not a new reaction for me--for any of us genre fans, really--to walk away from a movie with a "that was it" reaction. You know the one, where you scrunch up your face and the inflection on "it" is kind of high-pitched? The reaction is somewhere on the continuum between "disappointed" and "annoyed," the former being a reaction to unmet expectations and the latter to having any expectations at all.

This was (im)precisely my reaction to Cabin in the Woods, the occasionally clever, bloody, but ultimately frustrating big screen collaboration between Cloverfield and Lost scribe Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon (you know who he is). Whedon and Goddard's film wasn't so much an issue of unmet expectations (although I will confess to the cardinal critical sin of going into a movie with expectations), but of unmet potential. I don't mean in those futile terms of fan editing a movie in one's head because the one on screen didn't play out the way you wanted to. I'm saying that Cabin in the Woods' first and subsequent scenes play out as some sort of commentary on the genre which it purports to skewer, ultimately doing nothing so much as pointing out that they exist.

And really, this brought me to a realization: I think that more often than not, I'm put off by fiction about fiction, because it's so damned hard to do well. And this is precisely the reason for this Have Your Say piece; I'm offering it up less as a direct criticism of meta movies and more as an open conversation about movies that observe their own genre with varying degrees of success. In the case of Cabin, the entire movie is a callout to specific tropes in the slasher drama within the context of a global conspiracy to placate bloodthirsty ancient gods.

As a premise, that's the thrilling, heady stuff of grand fiction. As a plot, well, we're mostly left with a bunch of types in a cabin and the question of whether they will live or die. And just because they were manipulated into being types doesn't make them any less types. Same as it ever was with Scream, which I've never been able to really appreciate, mostly owing to the fact that the entire hook of the movie is "see, we know horror movies and how they work." It's why I can appreciate Behind the Mask all the more because it starts from the similar tack of "we know horror movies" and wraps that around a character and his aspirations to be a part of those tropes.

Our own Peter Gutierrez pointed out quite aptly that this is the same criticism leveled against The Artist: or why use the form and formula and pointing out how the form/formula works when you're not going to say anything about either. I also love Peter a little for adding Rankin Bass's Mad Monster Party to the list of "meta" films that work, even if I don't necessarily agree with that particular title [Correction: Peter was calling MMP "postmodern" and not necessarily meta]. But what about Shaun of the Dead, which deftly reconfigured a zombie movie into a romantic comedy or Punch Drunk Love which followed the Adam Sandler man-child character to its natural conclusion? I'd add to that list the toxic/beautiful Love Me If You Dare which takes the early 00's quirk typified by Amelie (which I love, by the way) and, again, shows how twisted and terrible plucky, free-spirited pranksters in that brand of romantic comedy would probably be nightmares to live with (Tautou had her own say on this type of movie in He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not).

Mine isn't, of course, the final word on the movie as our own Jason Gorber loved it when he saw it at SXSW earlier this year. So what say you? In the comments, feel free to tell me why I'm wrong here and feel free to spoil Cabin in the Woods if it's in the service of elaborating on how the movie made or failed to make its case (whatever that case may be). Also, what were some other movies articulate something interesting about the form or genre? We'd love to hear your suggestions (plus, I'd like some recommended viewing to fill out my own sparse recent movie watching).

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Drew GoddardJoss WhedonKristen ConnollyChris HemsworthAnna HutchisonFran KranzFantasyHorrorMystery

More about The Cabin In The Woods

MarsHottentotApril 20, 2012 10:23 AM

Didn't see it, but I loathed Scream as I found it smug (only saw the first one) and this whole "horror movie in reflection mode" thing just serves the idea that the genre is done for, creatively, in Hollywood. Which is fine.

Kurt HalfyardApril 20, 2012 10:28 AM

I was painfully indifferent to it. And I seriously want to love it. The issue: Lack of soul, or reason to care, it's too snarky for its own damn good. The idea is a sound one, it's the execution took major issue with.


Jeremy WheelerApril 20, 2012 10:36 AM

I just couldn't stand the stoner dude.

Ard VijnApril 20, 2012 10:48 AM

THE MATRIX cleverly used genre conceptions about action films, and put them in a contrived surrounding where those tropes where feasible and even advisable. I really dug the whole "let's do impossible film stunts because in this virtual world, they are actually possible" vibe.

Like you mentioned with SHAUN OF THE DEAD, there is nothing wrong with showing people the wires and the seams as long as you do something fun with it.

CoreyApril 20, 2012 10:56 AM

I'm a lazy man so I'll copy/paste my Letterboxd review below:



Seeing as we're not supposed to be spoiler-y on this thing lest we offend the horde, I will use this space mostly to work out my feelings on Joss Whedon.

I'm not a fan. I've seen a lot of Buffy, just a bit of Angel, just a bit of Firefly (apathetic), Serenity (just cause), Dr Horrible (apathetic). I like Alien 4 for Jeunet mostly.

I heard it opined once that theres a couple kinds of male nerds. One is the manboy who likes metal, hard sci fi, robots... he's still a nerd but he likes his swords and his boobs. Then there's the more effeminate wussy nerd who likes cutesy Nintendo stuff, and anime, Death Cab for Cutie, and loves him some Joss Whedon. This is an offensive simplification but if there is any truth to be had here, I'm surely in the former camp.

I feel like Whedon is the Ryan Murphy of nerd culture. Catty, campy, with an obnoxious LA sheen over everything. He's too concerned with switcheroos and obvious callbacks. Even his jocks and sluts are catty. For me his characters run together more than Kevin Smith's can, always speaking in the authors voice, but unlike Smith, reeking of an overabundance of effort, and overacting instead of not acting. And like Murphy, the quality of his writing from episode to episode, project to project, varies VERY widely. I can't connect with his characters, his casting gravitating to plastic people he can toss in whatever clothes supposedly fit the broad character archetype he is aiming for. Their line readings are almost always overrehearsed, the dialogue is decidedly mass appeal but never hit my sweet spot, as I always see the ironically distant wink, and always see how much better they could be if he brought in naturally funny people to elevate them, rather than hope against hope that his models will be funny.

Even his skeevy loser stoner is a model dreamboat he's just shoved into the right clothes, tossing a joint in his mouth and saying "Yep, done!" - This guy - www.lostinthemultiplex.com/images/fran-kranz.jpg - Doesn't he just scream skeevy stoner you guys? Right? People complain about Michael Bay's Maxim model casting, but don't speak up about Whedon. Why? Because his models are sensitive?


And Cabin in the Woods is packed with these jokes, undermining any tension or frightening elements, just barely elevating itself over the usual witless horror movie bullshit. Being a subversive horror movie should not come at the price of the horror no longer being horrific. Scream managed to pull it off, but this fails hard. For all the mystery of what is being concealed in the cabin, it's just another meta-horror-comedy. After 4 Scream films,New Nightmare, Behind the Mask, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, Rubber, Tucker and Dale, countless Simpsons Halloween specials, and more... it's getting tired, and CITW offers nothing new other than attaching it to the increasingly stale Truman Show/reality show format. (In horror specifically apparently this has been done in 2002's My Little Eye and the late 00s show "Persons Unknown", but I have not watched either and can't properly compare)

Through the first 2 acts, CITW doesn't make comedic associations to the tropes through seemingly unrelated events (as in Shaun of the Dead), it just bluntly lets its characters point out the cliches as they happen. Once it has smarmed its way through yet another zombie spoof (with uncreative kills and bad looking zombies), Whedon and Goddard up the ante by turning it into EVERY horror movie. I got some mild amusement here by the sheer excess of it all, but at the same time, through the Whedon filter it still comes across as much more tame than warranted, and is really just Whedon playing out the horror version of South Park's Imaginationland episode. About the only thing I found truly funny were references to Japanese horror, where I suppose he was required to cast outside the American Apparel rolodex.

And in the end of course like other Whedon stuff this localized hellmouth of a cabin is really an OMG WORLD CONSPIRACY with everything at stake that climaxes with a really shitty cameo that is even more offensive if you were one of the dozen people who saw a certain meta-alien-comedy last year.

What's weird through all of this is that sometimes the characters matter, and sometimes they are clearly 2nd banana to genre nerd inside jokes and subversion. Whedon and Goddard can't make up their mind about if we should be caring for any of these people. At one point our main character is brutally assaulted on a video screen while the control room parties away. The character's journey becomes a joke. This kind of stuff is probably the biggest problem with the movie. I don't feel like I was given a fair shake at being invested in anyone. When it comes to character, Cabin in the Woods isn't really about anything. Shaun of the Dead wasn't just about zombie tropes, it was about modern routine, growing up. and taking charge. Cabin in the Woods is about congratulating yourself for noticing already-observed and obvious cliches, and eventually tossing them all into a gimmick battle royale. That's not a game-changer, that's just fantasy football.

So yeah yeah yeah, I'm outside the majority here, again, but come on folks. If this is progressive horror filmmaking, then modern horror really is in the shitter. Everything has to be found footage or a meta commentary on its cliches. I'm sure by Paranormal Activity 6 we'll have our meta-commentary on that too... or did Scream 4 already cover that? I don't know, I skipped that for good reasons. Cabin in the Woods is not offensively bad, it's just so safe, and so typically Whedon, and that's offensive enough for my taste.

WATCH THIS INSTEAD: Community season 2 episode 6 "Epidemiology" (The zombie episode)

sarkoffagusApril 20, 2012 11:07 AM

People often criticize the movies that cater to genre conventions, but as you so rightly said, the self-reflexive movies that try to twist expectations may be easy to make, but don't always turn out so well. I agree, too, that SCREAM is a good example of one that didn't work, and BEHIND THE MASK is an example of one that succeeded. The difference between those two, I think, is smugness: SCREAM has it in spades, and BEHIND THE MASK showcases a humble protagonist who just wants to kill people in the old-fashioned slasher-film way. I do appreciate movies that try something different, but different doesn't always equal good. Thanks for your review; it was a great read.

Charles WebbApril 20, 2012 11:15 AM

The stoner dude was... he was something of a mess.

Kurt HalfyardApril 20, 2012 11:21 AM

The best way to Sea-Change the Horror Film Industry is not to point out its faults or cyclic nature (any fan or filmmaker in the genre is well aware of these, and honestly they apply to almost every genre and subgenre, not just the horror one...), but to make a movie that is so damn good, so damn earth-shaking that it singlehandedly causes a shift in the filmmaking.

In Short: You want the game to change? MAKE THE GORAM GAMECHANGER, MUTHERFRAKKER.

Scream (meta-horror film - although arguably, it was THE NEW NIGHTMARE, also from Craven)
Saw (Torture Porn)
Ringu (J-Horror)
The Blair Witch Project (and the delayed, but very currently-present ubiquity of Found Footage horror films, albeit Cloverfied and [REC] play a big part in this too...)

gasfirefilmsApril 20, 2012 11:27 AM

The reason I always found myself drawn to 'genre' films was the way they would exploit their characters and situations as a platform to comment on the world as the writers/directors saw it. Nowadays, as Charles states, I'm faced with this blossoming and underwhelming trend of directors and writers using those conventions to comment on the conventions themselves... because they have nothing important to say.
It makes me think of all the postings I for different DJ nights when I walk down Queen St. That's all these filmmakers are to me: DJs. Their snappy dialogue and flashy throwbacks is nothing but their pair of over-sized sunglasses and unseasonable scarf. They just want people to pay attention to them. And, just like their hipster counterpart, they have nothing to say; So - instead of saying something meaningful - their conversation consists of, "hey guys, have you seen/heard this movie/band before? No? I've known about them for a while - you should check them out, they're pretty cool."
Knowing about intelligent/soulful movies and music isn't the same as taking a deep, long look inside yourself and making your own.
But apparently it's enough to posture like you have.
As I've told friends whenever anyone asks me about Cabin, I didn't hate it; but I'm sick of turning my brain off in order to enjoy a movie.

Kurt HalfyardApril 20, 2012 11:38 AM

Actually, Corey, the scene of the 'final girl' being casually ignored on the Big-Screen Monitors while the command centre staff parties is probably the most deliciously nihilistic scene in the film, I might say that it is indeed bonafide soul-sucking horror - the indifference towards the cattle-car ethics of the whole system - I love that scene, and it is probably my favourite bit in a film that otherwise left me cold. I liked it a lot more than the fan-favourite - 'PURGE' geekgasm sequence, or the overtly talky, explain everything by way of clever cameo to the audience (ostensibly the 'climax.' of the film).

RoachgoddApril 20, 2012 12:20 PM

I should start by saying that I do not think the film was hugely profound. However, I think it was fairly smart, and you're not doing it enough credit. The Cabin in the Woods is definitely doing more than just saying "see, we know horror movies and how they work."

I think the best and smartest part about it is the way the victims shift in and out of the stereotypes. There are these great throwaway moments when the manipulation isn't working and you see the potential for a movie free of the usual slasher stereotypes - for example, when Hemsworth (who is great in this) is getting everyone back to the cabin and he just clotheslines the redneck zombie girl - it's exactly what a massive dude would do to a "scary" but in actuality nonthreatening opponent. While watching it, I took it as a rebuke to sloppy horror filmmaking. Cabin could become a bridge to better horror films of the American slasher mold, with the way that it explicitly satirizes the stupidity of many of the conventions while showing how a horror movie can still be entertaining when the protagonists aren't lobotomized. While not an entirely new idea, I don't know that I've seen it done better than here.

The second part where it is doing more than merely pointing out genre conventions is in the blood sacrifice element. The choice of blood sacrifice is not a McGuffin - it's commentary on why we like horror films in the first place. While I do not think the movie says anything new on the grand scale of the theme, I don't think it's just "fiction about fiction" - it's saying that there's something fundamentally awry in human beings that we enjoy seeing other people brutally killed (punished? if they are) on screen, even if we no longer have human sacrifice at temples. The end of the movie even suggests that perhaps it's better to let the human race go extinct rather than commit murder, which is not just a statement on our questionable, bloodthirsty nature but also an anti-consequentialist position at a time when most survival movies/books are leaning in the opposite direction. And while I don't think it's doing anything terribly profound or innovative here, it deserves a lot more credit than your saying it's merely self-aware.

I enjoyed the movie most for the humor, the cleverness and the great monster designs at the end, rather than for any profound statement on the nature of the horror film industry. But a lot of that creativity comes from the solid foundation of the ideas behind it all.

Charles WebbApril 20, 2012 1:22 PM

I'll happily admit that the "blood sacrifice" angle was an interesting point of discussion that the movie made, but I don't agree that it really had the radical conclusion which you propose re: "let's just chuck it all if we're all about the kill." It doesn't really come from any place from within the two characters left standing in the end (more on these ciphers in a minute) and the ending feel less like an indictment of horror and more like an excuse to get a Great Old One on screen.

As for getting the characters in and out of the stereotypes, more often than not Cabin used the "throwaway" approach, never really allowing its primary cast to get beyond their types. I can think of two moments, maybe three (the awkward opening bit where Hemsworth shares the sociology book, stoner guy asking why the blonde was acting hyper sexual). Without any kind of point of entry for the characters, they felt like dull, trite pieces being moved around on a board. They weren't lobotomized, just automated.

Still, thanks so much for taking the time to read and respond.
Helu0302April 20, 2012 5:06 PM

Don't want to say too much as I adored the film, and will, as I usually do, just end up rambling instead of making any valid points.
But I will say, as a huge Whedon fan myself, I'm not sure I would recommend this film to anyone who isn't a fan of how Whedon writes. I have seen exceptions, but that's always the case, but for the most part I think that's a huge problem many people actually end up with, when coming away form the film.
The film isn't any scarier than a typical Buffy episode (which was the one place it dissapointed me.)
That said, I am quite curious how Whedon's writing is going to affect The Avengers... or if he was reigned in by the studio process...

Charles WebbApril 20, 2012 5:14 PM

I quite loved Buffy and Angel (the latter more than the former given its more satisfying ending). I was tempted to bring both up in the initial post regarding Whedon's clever handling of convention in both those series via monomyth narratives and noir/horror-fantasy respectively.

In both cases, the shows saw their casts realizing that they were often trapped in cliches and frequently chafing at them (to comic-tragic effect). While Buffy may have overplayed things a bit with the Andrew character (the pop culture cartoon that walks), the show used tropes as a way of telling stories and not simply as a way of exposing/underlining tropes.
TJApril 21, 2012 8:16 AM

The one film that really HAS something to say about "our" need for horror stories and does it in a successful, intelligent and very elegant way is CANDYMAN

StephenApril 21, 2012 8:56 AM

Ironically, I see this movie as a comment on THIS type of review and genre critics and fans. We are the ancient ones, see, and the team under ground is the filmmakers/writers who are constantly trying to figure out what we want. If you look at it this way, it is really quite fascinating.

icn1983April 21, 2012 7:16 PM

Nope. I loved it and I'm not even a die-hard Whedon-ite. It was campy, fun, and is tied with "The Raid" for my favorite film of the year. Agree to disagree.

Charles WebbApril 22, 2012 2:08 PM

Yes, this times a million.

Also, I think by mentioning CANDYMAN, we've unwittingly summoned an unwanted remake. Maybe involving the Internet somehow.
RoachgoddApril 23, 2012 4:14 PM

"I don't agree that it really had the radical conclusion which you propose re:"let's just chuck it all if we're all about the kill." It doesn't really come from any place from within the two characters left standing in the end (more on these ciphers in a minute) and the ending feel less like an indictment of horror and more like an excuse to get a Great Old One on screen."

The plot and dialogue, I think, strongly point to it - take the moral choice each has to make (to shoot the stoner, and to stop the werewolf), or one of the last lines of dialogue in the film - (paraphrasing from memory) "Maybe it's time for someone else to take over [the planet]."

I think the issue - as you brought up and I'll reiterate later - is not that it isn't there but that it doesn't feel like it's there because the characters are mostly ciphers. The lead girl is the worst of the bunch, too - in a movie full of clever dialogue, they didn't give her a single memorable line. So when we're left to take the moral of the story from her actions, it's hard to care even if the plot and dialogue point to it.

"As for getting the characters in and out of the stereotypes, more often than not Cabin used the "throwaway" approach, never really allowing its primary cast to get beyond their types. I can think of two moments, maybe three (the awkward opening bit where Hemsworth shares the sociology book, stoner guy asking why the blonde was acting hyper sexual)."

Those are the obvious points, but I mentioned a more subtle one in my post (the clotheslining). I think there are lot more than those moments; they're just not deliberately signposted (because it would quickly become tiresome, for one). There were very few moments, on the other hand, when I wanted to yell at the characters for being stupid, except when there was clear manipulation. (Of course, another reason I never wanted to yell at them was that I wasn't fearful for them - Kurt Halfyard has a good point that a better way to fix the horror industry is to make a better horror film - but I think there can be multiple ways, CitW's included.)

But for an additional reason it's easily missable - I agree with you that the characters were not fully developed or complex enough (it's a constant issue for me with Whedon, even when he has the time to do more, on tv series), and that may be where our disagreements come from. I think all of what I said is present, but it's not effectively present. I know the world ended, but I didn't really care.

RoachgoddApril 23, 2012 4:15 PM

Blurg I have to remember to double up my carriage returns for this site.


DarrellApril 23, 2012 4:54 PM

I am a 50 year old fan boy artist I've enjoyed horror since i can remember. so much of the genre gets rehashes over and over again. i loved cabin in the woods fresh take on a whole wore out idea... yes it wasn't perfect but i totally enjoyed my $9.50 i spent to see it. i think a sequel is not need but I'll check it out if they do.
Darrell :D

CharlesApril 23, 2012 4:57 PM

Thanks for reading, Darrell!

CharlesApril 23, 2012 5:02 PM

I think you hit the nail on the head with one of the many problems with the movie for me, and that's its failure to communicate (this on top of the shoddy non-Jenkins/Whitmore character work). The "morality" at the end of the movie kind of comes out of nowhere and hinges on us wanting to side with the survival of Shaggy from Scooby Doo and Ginger the Girl Who Lost Her Personality.

As for the "clothesline" moment, it was funny, but I'm not sure I buy that it was characters acting outside of the constraints of the horror movie mold, but was instead just a gag more than anything else (which is to say, it didn't show awareness of the genre, just a funny moment of a zombie taking one to the throat).

JimApril 27, 2012 1:29 PM

I love this film. I think it's been made with great care and the things it has to say about horror and audiences today rumble under the surface (literally!). The character of Marty is the cog of everything interesting that happens. He breaks his expected horror acrhetype of clown/stoner very early in the film as he stands up to creepy gas station guy before jock. Marty isn't a coward then, and as they are being puppeted by the 'directors' it's only Marty who never fully becomes what the Gods (us) demand. Is it the weed that makes him more aware of what's happening? Or is he like many of us? Just acting on how horror can be so predictable. It's a great critique of a sometimes lazy genre. But it's only lazy because the audience allows it. Watch it again.

VincentApril 29, 2012 9:29 PM

I liked the concept, but the film was ultimately designed to satisfy nobody. It doesn't stay a horror long enough to deserve being called a horror, and as a comedy, it's only decent if you get the gags before it really starts phoning things in.

I have to agree with the poster that said that the best scene in the film is when they're celebrating as the "Survivor Girl" is getting killed on the giant screens behind them.

Honestly, this movie was more like a 90+ minute game of "Can You Spot The Reference?" And after you did catch as many references as humanly possible, you truly realize how lazy this script was, despite a few clever moments.

https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkGD3qDRXge94ISYpHUzqvW7_s_zw6dFbIApril 30, 2012 1:38 AM

I love love loved it.
I enjoy reading why people didn't like it, although i rarely get what they mean, perhaps I'm dumb like a few here suggested.
but fur rillz,
I don't understand how someone could say this isn't a horror movie. having a zombie throw a bear trap at you is pretty dang horrific even if you are laughing most the time. Horror movies for me are about horrifying images, regardless of the music or the pacing, yea that stuff helps scare you and creep you out, keeps you looking under your bed at night. but watching people dying, getting pulled apart by monsters will always be HORRIFYING. If i was getting killed by something and chariots of fire was playing somewhere in the background, I wouldn't care less because IM FREAKIN GETTING KILLED BY SOMETHING!!!
And the end of the movie fit perfectly.... they kneeeeew people would hate it, and you see that hate acted out in the final moments of the film.
And i liked all the characters! I didn't want anyone to die, except maybe Mordechi.
AND when i get it on dvd im going to rip it to my computer and edit out all the surveillance scenes to see if it feels more like a slasher movie audiences are used too.
AAAAAND this movie gets points for having balls and not being lazy, it may have given me a husband bulge by the time it was over.
AAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNDDDDDD its inspiring me to write my own horror movie, one that doesn't just challenge screenwriters/filmmakers to tell stories that are worth telling but to tell stories that lift a mirror up to themselves, to face their own fears, fears that they might not want anyone to know exist, but you probably don't want to hear about that so i will stop.
Basically this movie gets an A plus plus.
Because i was entertained the whole time!
Because i couldn't stop thinking about it when it was over!
Because i was inspired!
what more could you ask for?