What are you doing? Why aren't you watching Cabin in the Woods?
That's fine. I'll wait.
Done? Good. Now. That was awesome, right?!
Dubbed a "loving hate letter" to horror movies by co-creator Joss Whedon, Cabin in the Woods is determined to comment on the manufactured predictability of every genre trope within the limited and coddled American imagination. Studios do indeed have a lot to answer for as the improbable creature born of their hubris and loosed by their folly, the PG-13 horror movie, stalks the cinematic wilds. Yet Cabin was intended more as a piss take than a true satire, designed to be a reverential, Last Action Hero-type roll call that sums up the genre so that future writers and directors can dispense with the familiar and move forward with innovation.
It is thus something of an ironic tweest that every viewer and reviewer will call the film "original", since Cabin's raison d'etre is to give a shout-out to every horror franchise of the 1980s. More specifically, the central plot device itself is a deft blend of several minor and forgotten movies, most prominently Cube and New Nightmare. Whedon is, of course, the 3M of convention - he doesn't so much invent as re-invent to make tired premises fun again. And this movie is damned fun.
Frankly, you might correctly expect that Cabin is more comedy than horror. Any regular watcher of slasher fare is so inured to the sight of blood that something else typically has to stand out to make a film memorable; these days, the success (or at least cult admiration) of this type of offering is measured in laughs. And the comedy starts immediately, as the estimable Bradley Whitford proves he is being wasted by not having a regular gig. Yet the gore is very light...at first. It honestly seems as though they're making a point to dial back the violence as a nod to the off-screen offings in the junior-high horror glut...at first. Giggling like a killer clown at a birthday party for paraplegics will keep you distracted for the first forty-five minutes, but you'll be raising your eyebrow at the R rating up until the explosive third act. But I like that even then it still doesn't devolve into torture porn - they keep it classy, even after all restraint is dragged screaming into the woods.
Best movie ever? Whoa, there, champ – let's not get ahead of ourselves.
As enjoyable as this movie was, I don't really see it in the pantheon of "classic" movies. For a film to truly be classic, it has to be one of three things:
Quotable – This may sound a bit like man-child prattle, but consider the point. Legions of neckbeards throwing movie lines at each other in coffeehouses is part of what keeps a film evergreen. It maintains a presence in the public's mind because, when you quote, you remember not only the line but the comparable context and the swagger of the guy who said it. In a sense, people are watching the movie over and over again forever (or at least for as long as the joke is funny). Good lines will also get perpetuated in webcomics, stand-up acts, future movies, and any other thrifty media outlet that can retail used product. Cabin was funny and cool because of the wacky circumstances, but it didn't have a lot of takeaway dialogue...outside of “husband bulge”. We'll keep that.
Replayable – Again, great film, not taking anything away from it. But I'm probably not going to watch it again. There aren't a whole lot of gotta-show-your-friends “anchor scenes”, discrete bites of film that stand alone even when taken out of context. When Clint Eastwood growls at some unlucky punk about his hoodies and his hippety-hop music, we have everything we need right in front of us: some young jackass, a pissed off guy with a gun, and a logline that buoys the tension. You could watch that classic scene all by itself and get something out of it. Having anchor scenes means you can watch and rewatch digestible morsels even if you don't have time to see the whole thing again, keeping the geist of the film in the spare neurotransmitters that should be used for math or something. However, most of the fun in Cabin arises from its juxtaposition; the “Office Space” and the “Evil Dead” are fine by themselves, but the punch comes from the constant flow of playing them off of each other, knowing that behind the unspeakable horrors is some guy with his chin on his hand and vice versa. You might pause and watch the elevator scene when flipping past it on HBO, but for the most part no individual scenes have real value without being informed by the others.
Epic...able – Frankly, when a movie is considered classic and hasn't pulled off one of the above two qualities, it has done one thing right. It blew your mind, man. Some third act tweest (“It's people!”) that you somehow never saw coming (“You blew it all up!”) reminded you not to take storytelling for granted (“Welcome...to the real world.”). Even if the rest of the movie was forgettable, that one moment of shock lodges in your mind and leaves an indelible impression that can't be wiped out. Cabin has a plot that would have been a hell of a reveal if it hadn't been the opening scene. I won't argue with how they handled it, I think the admixture keeps everything light and fun (and keeps the first forty-five minutes from being excruciating). But there are no a-ha moments – again, once you know the schtick, it gets as predictable as any of the millions of admittedly worse horror films that it apes.
Cabin in the Woods is pure popcorn goodness, buttery and sweet and salty and this is a bad analogy. Horror lovers will enjoy name-checking every one-off reference, and those who don't love horror movies but still love awesome things won't find anything here they can't squirm through. It is all things to all people, mana from a benevolent creator who wants to spread his vision to all who will see.
Cabin in the Woods, rated R. Directed by Drew Goddard. Starring Chris Hemsworth's fulfillment of his studio contract, some chick who looks good in her underwear, someother chick who gets naked although she's not the first chick, Fake Jaime Kennedy, Bradley "Bruce Campbell of the Future" Whitford, and Sigourney Weaver's mortgage. 95 minutes. Showing at Northgate Carmike (1155, 225, 455, 720, 940, 1200); Carmike Wynnsong (1150, 210, 435, 705, 935); Carmike Battlefield (1215, 240, 505, 730, 955); other outlets have not published showings as of press time.