The Cabin in the Woods

17 Nov

Ok, for the shallow part of the review I can say that I would recommend The Cabin in the Woods to any horror fan.  Also it’s nice to see Sigourney Weaver in this because I love her.  The thing that this movie does the best is that it is exactly the right length–and that’s no small feat–so many movies overstay their welcome, and I could see it being tempting here.  The visuals are spot on, and the pacing moves at a steady click throughout.   Looking for a fun movie for a Friday night?  This is perfect.

That is the end of the shallow review, and you should be warned of spoilers from here on out.

So now for the deeper thinking.  There’s a big difference between clever and smart.  When you’re watching a smart movie and think about it later, more ideas come up, the movie rewards scrutiny, and, in general, the more you think about it, the better it gets.  Clever is not that way.  Clever falls apart under scrutiny, and if you think hard about a clever movie it generally becomes less enjoyable.  This is why magic tricks really only work once, for instance.

I think Cabin in the Woods is much more clever than smart.  This movie has a bunch of layers.  The first layer is a purposely generic slasher film, where a group of kids go to a cabin and trigger a zombie hillbilly attack.  The second layer is the group of scientists in a building under the cabin that monitor and control every aspect of what happens to the kids.  The third layer are the gods who require a sacrifice to be sated or they will come up and destroy the world.  The fourth layer is all the meta stuff, the shout-outs to other horror films, the knowing wink-wink nudge nudges about the genre as a whole, and mentioning the idea that horror films allow us to keep the real monsters at bay by sublimating it on a screen.

The movie clicks back and forth through all the layers better than anything I’ve ever seen–there isn’t any moment where I feel like I’m having to keep track of multiple plot threads in my head to keep up with the movie.  This is a good thing–because Inception is another clever movie that doesn’t do that very well at all, namely because the different layers all look the same.   Also, I think the creators are plenty intelligent, they know TV Tropes, they’ve seen their movies, I trust that just about everything in this movie has been chosen on purpose to be included (and believe me, it’s a rare movie that makes me feel like that.)

However, the movie is just not that smart.  What exactly is it saying about horror movies?  It’s clearly trying to say something.   If we have a bunch of white-coats heartlessly watching people suffer and die, and even celebrate when they do so, so the real monsters don’t come out, are we supposed to believe that’s a good thing?  Is it better than the monsters?  Or are they doing this because they’re too cowardly to even look at the real monsters and deal with them?

What this brings to mind is the Victorian idea that we each have an animalistic, primitive side and a civilized, advanced side.  In this belief system, we need society to constantly enforce us to follow the civilized route, because once the primitive side comes out all of society will crumble.  What followed was a dividing of human behaviors into categories that were civilized vs. primitive, eventually leading into the bowdlerization of culture in general, and silliness about chicken breasts and the crotches of trees and fig leafs on sculpture and all that.  I know this is a vast generalization–but I’m making a general point here–a lot of people became neurotic, and then in comes Freud saying that all these primitive urges needed to be let out safely, that there needs to be a steam valve, and people will be better adjusted.  I think Freud was right–for the victorians, who were probably the most repressed people ever, but I don’t think that people are repressed now like they are then.  I think the psychological defense people use right now is projection, not repression.

Which is why we have a whole internet’s worth of material to have lives that are not lives, to be on-line warriors and real-life office clerks or whatever.  Projection allows us to make pretend steps towards the things that make us unhappy while risking nothing.  Do I think it’s a bad thing?  No not in itself.  As a coping mechanism though it creates the possibility of having a virtual world that is much nicer than the real world because nobody’s focusing on the right thing.

Also what follows is a very carefully constructed delusion that has all sorts of booby traps to keep the projected world intact.  Ever notice how on the internet allows people to believe whatever they want about anything?  How there’s so much information out there, we can cherry-pick the info that we like to make whatever case we want?

It seems that I strayed from the topic, but what I wanted the movie to do, that it didn’t, was to take all this meta stuff and bring it to some conclusion.  It doesn’t.  It sends out a million signals that it knows what it’s doing, it mentions horror movies by the score, and ends up just being post-modern, self-referential stuff.  And that’s my biggest disappointment.  Post-modernism is not enough anymore.  Ironically commenting on a genre isn’t really doing that much–it reminds me of the cocktail lady who is extremely sarcastic but likes to be thought of as witty.

Perhaps I’m being too mean to this film.  After a bunch of movies that call themselves smart–Prometheus, Inception ect–that I really find to be empty, I  had better hopes for this one.  And while it holds up better than most, I still feel like it’s mostly smoke and mirrors, and nothing of substance is there.


One Response to “The Cabin in the Woods”

  1. CMrok93 November 18, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    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.

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