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April 17, 2012

Review: Cabin In The Woods -- 3 Stars

If you check other people's reviews, most are scrupulous about saying very little about the plot of the film, as it's a Puzzle movie, and the solution to the puzzle is pretty fun.

If you're worried that ads for the film have already given it all away -- that scene of high-tech troopers stomping about -- no, don't sweat it; the technological aspect is telegraphed from, literally, the opening scene. Pre-title. (In a fun bit of grindhouse aesthetic, the film's title comes up in block red letters as if it's the scariest thing in the world, even though the scene it's appended to is a funny modern office sequence.)

The actual twists are not spoiled by the ads.

Speaking vaguely as possible...

Much of it actually a pretty silly and funny comedy. It's a very meta horror film, about the rules of horror (and why they must be so), even more so than Scream (which told us the rules of horror but not Why They Must Be So). Even if you're not a horror fan, though, you know the basic set up of a horror film well enough to get the jokes and plot-points here.

The laughs here are bigger and better-earned than in most actual comedies.

I would say it's more funny and clever than actually scary. The scares are really just pop-ups and graphic violence, not that feeling of dread and tension you feel in a genuine horror movie.

The characters -- the standard five young people off for a weekend debauch in an isolated Cabin In the Woods -- are actually reasonably likable. And, the film makes a point of noting, intelligent.

That point -- that they're smart -- is not just thrown in gratuitously; much of the film's plot and commentary on horror relies on establishing them not just as smart but actually very smart.

It's novel but not mind-blowingly so. The elements in play here are well-known to most geeks; horror fans, especially of the geekier sort, will recognize all the basics of everything seen here and discussed here. The novelty comes in how they are assembled, and to what effect -- that is at least new. No one's ever used these elements in this way before.

I'm speaking abstractly. I don't want to give anything away. It's a bit like a Doctor Who where the beginning is all about setting up a "What the Hell is going on here?" bizarre-situation cliffhanger, and then, with the characters, discovering more detail, until the solution for The Strangeness is revealed.

It's rare that I can't figure out What The Hell Is Going On Here pretty early in a movie. I didn't figure out this one until pretty late. They did a good job of giving you enough hints that the solution was On The Tip of My Tongue for longer than I actually had it in hand -- it was just sort of outside my grasp, tantalizingly.

The solution is both logical and wildly implausible. There's an old observation that if if you concede to someone a single false premise they can prove anything, with perfect logical form; all silliness can be established, logically, if that one false premise is conceded.

This film's One False Premise is a big, fun one (again, a bit like Doctor Who), and, given a willingness to concede it to the filmmakers (as I was, as they were entertaining me), they can spin a lot of perfectly logical, but perfectly ridiculous, conclusions from it.

I call this type of a movie a Funhouse Movie, where at no point are they genuinely attempting to depict reality; it's all sensation and fun. Done poorly, such a film seems trivial and trite (and often boring as hell, as absent the sense of realism and dramatic investment, who the hell cares?)

But done right, they can be a fun ride. Ever-so-slightly intellectualized so that you might mistake the Funhouse for something Deep (if only for a moment)- just enough pretense of being smart, when really it's just clever.

Definitely worth a trip to the theater, if the ads enticed you at all.

Spoiler Caution! If you've seen the film, please please do not even hint at the solution (a hint would be noting, as I was tempted to do, the various sources the film draws on for inspiration).

That's 90% of the fun. Don't ruin it for anyone. Be very very vague.

Thor: I did not recognize Chris Hemsworth (is that his name?), aka Thor, until about halfway through. He comes off as a college student here (which is what he's supposed to be), and not a Mjolnir-Bearer at all.

But he's the closest thing the movie has to a star, so I should note he's one of the "teenagers."


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posted by Ace at 01:36 PM

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