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Review: Cabin in the Woods gets mired in its own commentary

by Eric Twardzik / Beacon Staff • April 19, 2012

The trailer for The Cabin in the the Woods seems to set up the same movie that’s been advertised ad nauseum to audiences awaiting the feature presentation. A group of attractive teenagers embark on what should be the perfect vacation, which suddenly turns into a montage of said attractive teengagers screaming and being mutilated by unseen forces, coming soon to a theater near you!

But there is something different in The Cabin in the Woods’ trailer. Amid the generic footage of attractive teenage butchery are the words “You think you know the story,” and “You think you know the place,” and shots of a 24-style war room. What’s going on here?

The Cabin in the Woods has quite a few tricks up its sleeve that deviate from what’s become a formula film genre. However, to give us those tricks the film has to wallow too long in the very formula it’s trying to break out of, and the resulting twists never rise above gimmickry.

The film is directed by Drew Goddard, whose reputation was cut mainly as a screenwriter for Lost, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and is co-written by Goddard and his frequent collaborator Joss Whedon. With this crowd, it should be inevitable that the film breaks genre.

After the stock characters settle into the weekend cabin, it’s revealed that an army of tie-clad office drones are watching their every move from a mysterious complex, orchestrating events from behind the scenes to ensure that a generic horror movie fate awaits them. They flip a switch to pump pheromones into a forest, so that a nubile blonde and her jock boyfriend get in the mood — a suicidal move, as any horror fan knows. The majority of the film pits the teenagers against zombie slashers set on them by their mysterious watchers, but what the viewer really wants to see is for the characters to escape from this typical horror flick and confront their behind-the-scenes torturers.

While this playful, meta twist on the story is interesting and opens up the state of the genre to discussion, it never satisfies. The time we spend with the characters fighting zombies in their cliché scenario grows tiresome and feels pointless, like a joke continuing far past its punchline. Yes, they’re stuck in a pedestrian horror flick, and the forces manipulating everything are a sly representation of the industry. We get it.

What we want to see  the liberation of the horror genre, the characters taking on the manipulators  happens far too late in the film. And when it does, it occurs as a whimper rather than a bang. A very bloody whimper, perhaps, but one that could end any horror film rather than a genuinely interesting, genre twisting confrontation.

Die-hard fans of horror, Joss Whedon acolytes and Lost fans will eagerly lap up The Cabin in the Woods, but for the average movie-goer it remains a film that cleverly played with genre, only to be mired in the very conventions it tries to break from.