I’ve always carried an indifferent reaction towards Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods, which pained me because I grew up on Joss Whedon. At that point when I first saw The Cabin in the Woods, I was never sure why exactly did I end up leaving on such a mixed reaction and on a revisit that I hoped would have improved my thoughts, all that happened was not so much of a boost but instead a reinforcement in regards to why I felt that way towards the film. And the sad thing is, this is a movie that I know I want to like especially because I’m in on what it’s intending to do, because it has so many clever ideas at hand. What I don’t like, however, is extremely apparent especially when one looks at how it goes on about with them, leaving behind nothing more than a disappointing mess of wasted ideas.
There’s a sense of cleverness that comes around from the premise of the film, for we have a group of five people taking a trip to the most generic spot that any horror film can pick for its setting, the titular “cabin in the woods.” An obvious ode to the original Evil Dead film, our group also consists of a virgin, a whore, an athlete, a scholar, and a fool – all of whom are more central to the film’s intent, the generic character tropes that anyone can find in the most basic horror movie. And over in this “cabin in the woods,” the gang ends up getting so much more surprises coming their way that they never would have expected, for a specific force may or may not have been watching over our group the whole time. This premise alone could open one to a new idea of how we look at horror films, especially with the clear deconstruction of how they move, but it still feels incomplete.
I understand the film’s intent with tropes to be found in many horror films, for we get glimpses of the forces that define all different sorts of horror movies, but my main issue with The Cabin in the Woods becomes clear when the intent vastly differs from the way the idea is executed. Whereas the ideas that Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard intend to open oneself up to in regards to making fun of the most common of tropes in horror films, the problem lies in how the execution is not nearly half as clever as it believes itself to be. Although we get a clear deconstruction of the formulas that are present in many horror films, there’s a realm which this supposed satire ends up falling into that ultimately ends up sinking the final product down much lower and it arises from the lack of focus in the satire.
When I am to speak of the lack of focus in The Cabin in the Woods, my biggest gripe with the way it is executed is the fact that our gang, is indeed nothing beyond the tropes which they are representing. The lack of focus becomes clear when two movies have been written in the same spot, one of which is a horror comedy that seems interested in where it wants to take its concept and the other movie is just the most basic of horror movies. The fact that our gang is written to be nothing beyond the tropes which they are representative of may be a part of the point that The Cabin in the Woods wished to get across in the first place but instead it also plays a harmful effect to the final product because these characters are so basic to the point that there is no real reason to care about them because their arcs all ring too many familiar notes right on the spot, and it shows the main problem with The Cabin in the Woods and why it doesn’t work nearly half as well as it thinks it does.
However, it is not until after the first hour when The Cabin in the Woods decides to go all out with the many horror movie references and Goddard and Whedon decide to exploit as much of their glory as they possibly can. While this moment, together with the many sequences that take place at headquarters (Richard Jenkins’s over-the-top role as a villainous technician behind the cabin in the woods) exploits some of the film’s most memorable and glorious moments, it is also open to where the biggest problem arises. With the lack of focus coming into play with the satire, The Cabin in the Woods decides to go ahead and shoot itself in the foot by mocking the many tropes in horror movies like it always wanted to, and yet the entire first hour was essentially the movie it was mocking. At this point, I was only all the more confused about what to make of the intention behind the satire because the whole way through, it never really offered all that much to say about them as opposed to just how they work.
Joss Whedon is a writer whom I can enjoy in good doses and knowing what he and Drew Goddard had intended behind The Cabin in the Woods, instead it came off as nothing more than just a film that was interested in rubbing how clever it was inside of your face without actually being clever. Sure, we are watching a film mocking as many tropes as it can in a horror film. But when the gang whom we are supposedly keeping our eye on is nothing beyond these tropes whom we are supposed to be mocking in the first place, the satire fails because we never care for the situation at hand and they never stand out. One can argue on Kristen Connolly’s behalf, but it still can’t change how her character is just as interchangeable as any other horror movie’s protagonist can be. And for the record, that’s not to say I don’t like what The Cabin in the Woods aims for, because as a matter of fact, I do. My only wish was that it was actually being subversive rather than claiming to do so, in a manner that it mistakes its meta nature for intellectualism.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Lionsgate.
Directed by Drew Goddard
Screenplay by Drew Goddard, Joss Whedon
Produced by Joss Whedon
Starring Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford
Release Year: 2012
Running Time: 95 minutes