Film Reviews

"Cabin in the Woods" Can't See the Forest Through the Trees

A horror comedy with a structural twist intended to emit an air of being something more, Cabin in the Woods has an off-putting vibe of cocky self-confidence, a "Don't you get it?" conviction that it's something special. As with people, it's not a charming quality in a movie.

The basic setup is a group of five college kids who go up to a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend of high jinks. They are a near-perfect collection of stereotypes/archetypes of their genre — the jock, the party girl, the nice girl, the joker-stoner, and the black guy — each there to subvert/upend expectations. Amid their initial bit of partying and carrying on, they find an assortment of spooky knickknacks and creepy paraphernalia in the cellar that triggers the larger plan, and they soon find themselves under attack, first from a "zombie redneck torture family" and then all further manner of nightmare creatures.

The poster for the film is a small cabin twisted into sections in the manner of a Rubik's Cube, correctly implying that the story is set someplace more than just a simple secluded retreat and that there are most definitely people working the gears and levers to make things happen. Through it all, the film attempts to honor, send up, and advance genre conventions simultaneously.

Sometimes it works. But too often, Cabin wants it both ways, trying to make the audience have a genuine reaction while at the same time never letting go of the self-conscious acknowledgment of the way it is leading the audience to that response. Cabin doesn't seem to care much about its characters' lives. At one point, a girl is brutally attacked in the background of a scene as others distractedly party away. It's meant as a disconcerting joke, yet the way in which the scene blithely plays out is also emblematic of the film's larger people problem. With the film more invested in clever storytelling and genre-nerd inside jokes than in human emotion and motivations, viewers can't be expected to care much either.

More than anything else, Cabin feels like the endgame of so-called fanboy culture in the way in which it is first and foremost about itself, interested only in a fundamental adherence to rules of its own devising and fenced-off from the world at large. Even the way in which the story dares the anger of the spoiler-sensitive feels like a bit of cute game-playing (which, admittedly, we're buying into).

The Cabin in the Woods does pull off some neat tricks of narrative realignment; other screenwriters will be impressed. But a film created simply for the sake of regarding its own genre smarts is a hollow vessel. Without a human, emotional component, there actually isn't much to spoil.

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Mark Olsen