Thursday, 26 April 2012

Movies - The Cabin In The Woods review


Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non- Functional.

Dir: Drew Goddard
Stars: Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison
Running Time: 95mins

I'll have my review of The Avengers - or Marvel Avengers Assemble, as Marvel's UK marketing department would rather I called it - up tomorrow, but the other highly acclaimed Joss Whedon movie of 2012 finally arrived in British cinemas just over a week ago. Despite this year looking to be one of the most exciting for blockbusters on record, many are already pegging Cabin In The Woods as a contender for movie of the year. 

This latest example of post-modern horror sees five college students heading up to the eponymous cabin, where untold unpleasantness awaits. There's more to it than that, but though the key 'twist' is revealed (or at least, heavily hinted at) in the opening scene, it's best to stay in the dark if you haven't already looked up every last spoiler on Wikipedia. Whedon promises a revisionist examination of the staid formula driving these movies, and of the psychology behind their ongoing popularity with mainstream audiences. Unfortunately, Cabin slips too often into the habits it condemns in less introspective movies, while its deconstructive ambitions end up dismantling most of the genre's pleasures.
It's no surprise to see Drew Goddard as writer/co-director, despite Joss Whedon doing most of the publicity, because he was also the man behind the Cloverfield script, a movie which promised a similarly post-modern take on a popular genre, only to use its limited symbolic value (reflecting 9/11 via the giant monster movie, but through little more than trite visual echoes) to disguise a deeply generic underlying experience. Cabin, too, professes to have much to say about horror conventions and their outmoded stereotypes, but embraces them just as readily as its predecessors, lacking any fresh spin on clichés seen a thousand times before. Sure, a Moralising Black Dude is unimpressed by his co-workers ogling an attractive teenager, but calling out the trope does not equate to subverting it

Cabin's supposedly satirical bent never goes deeper than replaying such conventions with an acknowledgment of their existence, neglecting to say anything new or use them in unexpected ways. The only clever thing about the movie is how Whedon and Goddard pitch its observations at a level barely deeper than the reviled Scary Movie franchise, pandering to the most self-congratulatory aspects of fandom culture as a cover for the absence of genuine depth. Even the movie's geek credibility is feeble, with its list of references sticking to only the best known examples: Hellraiser, check; Evil Dead, check; J-horror, check. A cameo appearance by someone familiar to all, but as a sci-fi rather than horror icon, is emblematic of how Whedon and Goddard go for lazy crowd pleasing rather than meaningful depth at every opportunity. Jamie Lee Curtis is a less cherished figure by modern fandom, but would have been a choice more appropriate to the movie's supposed theme.

The pseudo-postmodern tone is used as an excuse to create the most conventional horror movie in recent memory. (I suppose that might make it post-postmodern, but only by accident). This is a movie pretending that pointing out the genre's reliance on stock characters - jock, virgin, nerd, slut, nice guy - or their habit of dying in a specific order is somehow revelatory: nothing is done to cast light on why this might be, or attack the convention from a fresh angle. It's immediately evident who the men in white coats, and those 'living downstairs', are supposed to represent, but what new do we learn from any of this symbolism? That the 'virgin' figure survives to the end because of some embedded conservative morality? Hardly a new idea. An alternate reading, about the modern obsession with reality television and its suffering participants, goes so underdeveloped that only the most forgiving viewer could put it down to anything other than coincidence.

The constant announcement of its own clichés prevents Cabin from even succeeding as an enjoyable example of the genre in its own right. We all know how this type of movie progresses, and bar one egregious narrative cheat that at least leads to a mildly amusing final ten minutes (which discards all thematic logic in favour of an out-and-out bloodbath, a rare wise decision), the formula is adhered to rigidly. Because the audience is encouraged to view the action from several steps back, an exercise in analysis rather than sincere emotional involvement, the characters are stripped of all trace of humanity, reduced to nothing more than the stock figures they represent. Yes, two of them are 'engineered' to fit the mould, but still only exist to make a point, rather than as relatable human beings. Internal consistency isn't something Cabin is particularly bothered with: this reality begins and ends within the confines of the running time, which may be part of the point, but doesn't make the experience any more engaging.

As a horror movie, the flat direction and soundtrack tames the feeble attempts at scares (when was the last time a character suddenly stepping into shot made anyone jump?), while the scenario and characters adhere too rigidly to established formula to spring any entertaining surprises, no matter how often the writers wink about it only being done 'ironically'. Everything Cabin claims as genre-shattering deconstruction has already been done more effectively, both as post-modern revisions and credible genre entries, in the Scream and Final Destination franchises, while last year's Kill List was a more surprising and unsettling example of the genre being subverted. Whedon's own history reveals many superior examples of him cleverly twisting genre expectations, most enjoyably Buffy's destruction of an apparently invulnerable demon with a rocket launcher ('That was then... this is now'). In comparison, Cabin's patronising, intellectually void pretentions are more insufferable than insightful. [ 3 ]

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

This is a hell of a fun movie that features twists that got better and better as the film went on. It’s crazy that horror films can be this fun and entertaining just by smart and witty writing. However, it won’t last for too long so we might as well enjoy it while Whedon and Goodard are around. Good review Xander.