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Movie Review: Cabin in the Woods

I just got back from this movie and OH MY GOD STILL IN NERD ECSTASY. Full disclosure: I've been waiting for this film since 2009, and it's Whedon & Goddard with Acker and Kranz, and so my expetcations were ridiculously high to begin with, BUT DEAR GODS, THE AMAZING!!!!!

The short review is: I think that The Avengers will be my favorite film of the year but Cabin will be my favorite of the decade if not longer. It is mad, brilliant, subversive as hell, hilarious, heartbreaking, and completely wonderful.

The long review:

Okay, where to begin. Like many of the tropes of horror itself, a lot of things about the film get telegraphed from the start and lull you into a sense of I-know-what's-coming that is then completely upended. So unlike so many other movies, there are more surprises than not. The entire opening credit sequence foreshadows the ending, showing images of sacrifice rituals from Egyptians, Indians, Mayans, etc. This is world culture, yo.

Then we have some white-collar shmoes at work. And then CABIN IN THE WOODS.

The five college kids. (Geek recommendation: Tucker and Dale versus Evil is the complete opposite bookend to this film.) There's the hot chick, the jock, the shy girl, the stoner, and the smart kid. Archetypes? Check? Who's going to bite it first? Place your bets now!

...Hey, the shmoes again. They are...taking their bets...now. Huh.

(Incidentally, that the kids are sociology and political science and economics majors? That matters! --And I wonder if they go to the same school where Zane was studying landscape design...)

Very quickly it becomes clear that there are people operating everything the kids deal with, with bonus snarky commentary. It's like there's only three walls here, I swear. That's pretty entertaining. It's like Hunger Games but with more assholes and less cute kids and Jennifer Lawrence. (Too bad, everything's better with Jennifer Lawrence. Oh hi, Chris Hemsworth, you are my comfort eye-candy aren't you? Yes you are!)

And then the horror starts. Also, the discussions about free will. (I was a little surprised no one talked about power, but maybe that was all subtextual.) A lot of the discussions from Downstairs really reminded me of Dollhouse, and a lot of the issues and in particular the endgame have a lot in common.

Now one of the things I didn't see coming was how the various monsters were--real, rather than engineered, as they seemed to be at first. That fed into the endgame very well.

So here's the thing: This wasn't about scientists doing a weird experiment for kicks. It turns out they are part of a world-wide group that has been charged with protecting the world from the Elder Gods and that by re-enacting the ritual and the sacrifice they are saving the world. So we're not in The Lottery, we're in The Wickerman: every decision, however coerced they were, brought them all there for a moment, to serve a greater purpose.

(By the way, there's a bodycount. A HUGE BODYCOUNT.)

And in the endgame, the survivors, trembling, bloody, and having lost everyone, can decide to save the world through their own sacrifice. And they decide--

--fuck it, a world that depends on the slaughter of innocents isn't worth saving. Whatever replaces humanity has to be better than that.

AND THEN THE ELDER GODS RETURN AND ALL IS FIRE.

Credits roll, the end.

Okay so let me tell you why this is wonderful and mad. It's the logical continuation of all the things that Whedon and Goddard explored in Season 5 of Angel and in Dollhouse: you always become the thing you hate. There's a close call when Dana is willing to sacrifice Marty--her friend, the guy who actually saved her a while back--for humanity. She's sorry, but hey--humanity, right?

Except if you're willing to sacrifice one for the all...what does that really mean? How is that making you not as bad as the machinery that views you as only a cog.

I loved every moment Marty was onscreen, too. Whedon and Goddard clearly saw themselves as the guys in the chairs, the puppeteers, but Marty was clearly their favorite puppet. He's the one with all the great lines, who fully understands what happens, and who often behaves like--the person you'd want to be in this movie. He doesn't mack on the girls, he keeps his calm, he's--surprisingly together up until the end. He's the heart. "Sorry I let that werewolf bite you." He's also willing to let the world end rather than compromise himself to an engine that demands blood. He's the one character with a clear conscience.

And when he finds the cameras in his room! "Oh my God I'm on a reality show! ... Mom and Dad are gonna think I'm such a burnout." That moment is where I really started thinking about The Hunger Games, which I enjoyed, but concluded so unsatisfactorally (the books). You know Katniss would never have opted to destroy the world because she believes in survival, even when it's apparent that absolutely everyone is part of the problem and there is no solution.

That decision to bring back the Elder Gods? It's so nihilist and subversive it's kind of unbelievable. They were clearly thinking of H.P. Lovecraft both in content and design, and that--made it work. How it somehow functioned as an homage rather as copycat, I don't know, it just did. (Incidentally, all the other monsters you see, the madhouse of creatures; towards the end it becomes clear they are REAL monsters held in check by the Downstairs rather than the recreations we assumed them to be. There are things worse than games, and then there are the Elder Gods--again, a lot like Angel and Wolfram & Hart: the bad guys keep the worse things in check, sometimes.)

I'm sure I'll think of more things about this later, but there you go, in a nutshell. Oh, I was also really surprised by how much I liked all the characters. You really expect them to fall into the horror movie stereotypes and they--don't. Even though some are sketched more broadly than others, they really, again, rewrite the expectations for the film.

So. Yeah. LOVE.

Comments

( 5 comments — Add your .02 )
erynwen
Apr. 23rd, 2012 08:55 am (UTC)
One of the movies I really can't wait to watch this year, but like every other time, I still have to wait ('till June -_-) to be able to see it.
szkoda
Apr. 24th, 2012 03:02 am (UTC)
Aha! I was wondering when you'd see this one. We saw this when it opened and Hunger Games this past weekend. I liked both, but Cabin was certainly more interesting. They did seem like the same basic story to me; probably I enjoyed Cabin more because it went into the motives of the society more than Hunger Games did. (Although maybe they do in future book/movies? That seems more interesting than running around in the forest.) Jim thought that they were completely different because Cabin was scary and Hunger Games wasn't. Actually, we had an amusing conversation walking home from the Hunger Games where I thought it odd how they had all of the men like Katniss (sp?). Jim could only see two of these (old-town boyfriend + other district 12 guy) where I thought that the fashion designer liked her as well and that probably people were already writing slash for them and that you had likely written something with the two of them (only with Kirk as Katniss and Bones as the fashion guy). Although not 100% accurate (or was it?) I did use your lj to back up my prediction. :-)
caitri
Apr. 24th, 2012 03:36 am (UTC)
I actually DID begin a Hunger Games/Star Trek AU last year but never finished it! *G* There wasn't a 1:1 correlation; Kirk was a career tribute, Bones was from a crummier district, but Kirk REALLY LIKED HIM in the workout/skills room...hijinks ensue. Also, GRATUITOUS HAPPY ENDING cos I can't deal with otherwise.

Also, Katniss/Cinna: I SAW THAT IN THE MOVIE!!!! It's nowhere in the books though. I don't see anyway to write it that's not a complete AU and such, and well, yeah. Can't make it work.

(Incidentally, I maintain that Chris Pine would make the MOST AMAZING Finnick if they do Catching Fire.)

And yeah, you go into the society much more in books 2 and 3, but even then it's not as developed as it could have been. I do agree that Cabin essentially takes the same bones and makes it BETTER tho!
rubynye
Apr. 25th, 2012 04:04 am (UTC)
AND THEN THE ELDER GODS RETURN AND ALL IS FIRE.


That is seriously the ending?

Damn, I need to see this.
sail_aweigh
May. 1st, 2012 03:46 am (UTC)
I loved this movie! It pulled out all the same hoary tropes of other horror movies and turned them all on their heads. At first I thought it was some kind of psychology experiment and the impact of all the artifacts in the basement didn't really ping until they started reading the Latin in the diary. And then I had to start laughing at the callback to Buffy. I definitely need to go see this again, there was so much good stuff that I know I missed.

I really liked the ending, though. Where the Director gets taken out and fed to the Elder Gods. I think it's what every horror movie goer wants to do to the director of the film they're watching. "Why did they open that door?" The director made them do it. "Why didn't they take the keys to the car with them?" The director made them do it. And then the hand coming up out of the ground at the very end and all I could think was "Carrie's back and she's really pissed this time."
( 5 comments — Add your .02 )

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