The Untraditional Tradition: Cabin in the Woods
By Charles On 19 Apr, 2012 At 12:16 AM | Categorized As Movie News, Reviews | With 0 Comments

No GravatarIt’s easy to say that everything’s been done. Because it mostly has been. Be it movies, manga, novels, games- how often do the words “revolutionary” or “genre-defining” actually live up to the hype. So when something truly original or well done actually does come around, it all too often tends to get marginalized, or judged by some inane criteria that does no justice to the work itself.

Case in point: Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s latest film, “Cabin in the Woods.” This is one of those films that has a horrible name (even if it does hearken back to another movie with the same premise from long ago, starring Bruce Campbell) but delivers so much in the way of entertainment, that it definitely should not be skipped. And yet, looking at reviews online reads something like a troll festival (which, by the way, also would make an awesome movie).

“Don’t waste your money on this movie. it was more of a comedy than horror. If you really must watch it wait for the DVD or until it comes on cable.”

“Don’t go see this movie its the worst movie made in history save about 2 hours of your life it doesen’t even make sense even at the end. Just don’t see this movie.”

“Cheesy acting, bad casting, highly predictable and a poor story line that is all over the place. This movie may appeal to the gore/horror fan but just about everyone else will have a reason to hate it. I like quality films that stimulate the mind but this was nothing close.”

Bad reviews? Just another day at the office for these working (soon-to-be) stiffs.

This is just a sampling of what Fandango had to offer. There’s more of it, should you be interested. (And these are all direct quotes.)

One thing I need to mention: “Cabin in the Woods” is not your father’s slasher flick. While it does contain the requisite amount of blood and gore, this film also highlights something that has been missing since Wes Craven decided to lampoon himself back in ’96: humor, and a veritable ton of tropes. This becomes apparent from the first scene, depicting two working stiffs talking about their upcoming weekend plans (and some rivalry with Japan) and continues throughout the 90+ minutes of frontal shots, cheap sex, flowing booze and zombie rednecks. Seriously, every possible trope found within the slasher genre is here and on display. The difference is, this movie, to paraphrase a great thinker, “just don’t give a f***.”

“Cabin In The Woods” is that rare horror film that intentionally doesn’t take itself seriously. At all. Which, in the end, makes the movie more entertaining. Calling it a comedy actually works: a good deal of the scenes are supposed to make you laugh while you jump (something more serious horror flicks fail at miserably). Cliched characters abound here: the Jock, Slut, Geek, Virgin and Fool are all present, but are, at the same time, artificial along with being named. In fact, at times “Cabin in the Woods” actively criticizes the actions of its main players, calling them out for being “too whatever.”

From George Kirk to Thor to a “dumb jock:” the decline of Chris Hemsworth becomes apparent in this green letterman

This open critique of the slasher genre continues up until the “twist” ending, which not only proves that Whedon still has the same talent and knack for grandeur that made “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” a huge success (not to mention the ambition that was Firefly), but also shows that he pays attention to what others in his field do, and finds creative ways to refute/mess with them. Not since Scream sent up a genre Craven essentially created has a movie achieved such a level of intentional shlock. And believe me, it’s worth it just to see what he got right. (Points for the integration of yuurei into the story- how hard IS it to kill 9 year olds?)

Which is why I find some of the internet critiques so annoying. Calling the acting cheesy and the plot predictable essentially proves that the reviewer was missing the point- it’s supposed to be. Same goes for expecting a slasher flick to “stimulate the mind.” Seriously, if you’re aiming for haute cinema, why do you expect to find it in the horror section? You don’t go into Coppola’s “Dracula” expecting Bela Lugosi or Count Orlock, so why the sudden disappointment now?

Does she survive? Do we care?

Now I will admit, I did not expect much from “Cabin in the Woods.” I went because some friends whose opinions I respect both gushed about it via Facebook over the weekend. The trailers, commercials and even poster ads all make the movie out to be a re-imagining of “Evil Dead,” or a serious foray into “traditional horror,” when in actuality the movie is more akin to “Evil Dead II”- ridiculous and unforgiving against itself. It’s not afraid to be over the top, but rather relishes in its display of parody and corn syrup. It doesn’t aim high, because those bars will never be reached, but is perfectly happy to deliver exactly what the audience expects of it, then throws in a few (literal) bones to keep things interesting. In the end, what’s left is equal parts send-up and tribute to a genre that is definitely played out, but still draws the faithful in. “Cabin in the Woods” is the reward for years of slogging through mindless slasher flicks: an honest story we’ve all seen before, full of blood and tropes, that actually goes where a lot of people hope its more “serious” counterparts would.

About - Charles has written for ROG since 2010. An anthropologist and culture lecturer, he has previously been a featured panelist at Anime Boston and Otakon, the first educational guest at Anime USA, and frequently speaks at cons up and down the East Coast. He received his MA in cultural anthropology in 2011, and currently writes on convention culture, sacred culture in media, otaku identity and mythology.

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