Movie Review: The Cabin in the Woods

Horror films don’t fly with me.

There are a few reasons for that. I highlighted some of them during my overview of You’re Next. For those who haven’t gotten to read that, one of the main problems I have with horror films is that they are so predictable. They never seek to amaze me. No, really, I was being serious. They really don’t.

In terms of what to take away from horror films, I don’t think there is such a thing. Keep in mind, I’m not a fan of the genre so this is just my opinion as is all of this. There are some great examples of how the genre can succeed. Two of my personal favorites are Silence of the Lambs and The Shining. They are so creepy and spine-tingling but they still find time to create enticing characters. It’s not a film that illuminates aspects of life like corruption or never trust your friends or something like that. These are two films that are just very well-written and scare the living crap out of you. I just saw The Shining for the first time this summer and oh my gosh, I will never be able to look at Jack Nicholson again without thinking of that movie.

In my opinion, that’s what the genre is so good at. It leaves a particular type of impression, usually an impression no other genre can facilitate. No matter how ruthless you make a character in an action film or drama, it can’t muster the same effect as a horror story can.

With that said, some people take the genre into realms the original creators of the genre never meant for it to go. I watched half of one of the Saw movies once, unwillingly I might add. It was one of the scariest things I ever watched, but it was so screwed up. There was no impression to be made from that film. The only thing it succeeded in doing was making me curl up in the fetal position. There were no characters, just hollow people waiting to be chopped up, burned alive or tortured in nearly every way imaginable. There was no point to it all. It was just unbridled chaos. It was not fun.

You might have noticed I named two older films as my favorites of the genre. There’s a reason for that. Back in 1980 and 1991, when The Shining and Silence of the Lambs were released, respectively, writers and directors still understood the entertainment that was to be had from horror films. It was not to cause panic attacks, crippling helplessness, or display satanic, sadistic and heinous story lines. Directors involved in the genre today seem to think that painting the most gruesome, sickening images they can think of will get them in the good graces of the genre’s most loyal fans. The remainder seem to think a few jump scares and pretty faces will do the trick.

Should horror films scare us? Yes. Should we be forever scarred from them for the rest of our lives? Definitely not. A healthy medium is required here. As with most films, the genre needs to rely on characters. What made The Shining so great? A Stephen King adaptation, Stanley Kubrick directing, and an award-worthy performance from Jack Nicholson. What made Silence of the Lambs so great? It won the Big Five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. Do you know Anthony Hopkins had less than 20 minutes of screen time as Hannibal Lecter? Yet he was so on point, so involved in his role, and so suspiciously evil  that everyone was scared of Hopkins for a while. I’m sure everyone was afraid to be in a room alone with that guy.

I’m not sure I can name a horror movie made in the last five years that I’ve seen that I cared for. Open Grave was lethal. Don’t subject yourself to it or you might dig your own grave. You’re Next was stupid but not intolerable. On the other hand, that’s not saying much. I don’t think I’ve seen any others unless you count last year’s World War Z, which was great by the way. I know based off the trailers and the reviews I read from the WordPress blogging community that not only are the horror movies of today not worth seeing, they’re detrimental to life expectancy.

So when I come upon a treat like The Cabin in the Woods, I know I’ve got to give it the high praise it deserves. Many moons ago, I read reviews from the blogging community and read about the bewildering phenomenon that it was. Apparently it was a ground-breaking story and a big hit for the genre. I also read that it wasn’t overly scary and that it made fun of horror films.

Based off those few tidbits, you can count me in.

So I watched it on Netflix last night and I was really confused at the beginning. I actually re-watched the first eight minutes to make sure I didn’t accidentally skip something. I never go back to the beginning when I start a film for the first time. Never.

That’s what The Cabin in the Woods is. It’s one of those rare exceptions to all the rules. It finds its way to dark humor that is effective rather than corny. It’s got some head-scratching scenes that shock you as the film proceeds because it all starts to make sense.

Because it’s one of those films, I can’t discuss a lot of the things that I would usually discuss in a review. It’s best to go in blind when you watch this. Trust me, you don’t want to know anything about this film when you watch it.

It’s not the acting or special effects that make this film so great. It’s what I discussed earlier that does: the characters and story. Joss Whedon produced it and wrote the script with director Drew Goddard, and Whedon’s ability to change things up and keep it fresh is especially notable here. This does not feel like another wasted canvas used for a shoddy, good-for-nothing story, trick-or-treat scare tactics and under-cooked characters. It carries originality and surprise twists. Dare I say, I care about these characters. Do you know how many times I’ve uttered the phrase, “I care about these characters” when discussing a horror movie? Probably twice.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Guardians of the GalaxyDawn of the Planet of the ApesTransformers: Age of ExtinctionJack ReacherGodzilla)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Tears of the SunEdge of TomorrowThe Amazing Spider-Man 2Young GunsCloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too.(When the Game Stands TallBlack Hawk DownRed Dawn(2012)MaleficentRise of the Planet of the Apes)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (RubberHansel and Gretel: Witch HuntersAnchorman: The Legend of Ron BurgundyThe TransporterSpeed)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (The Expendable 3HomefrontG.I. Joe: RetaliationVantage PointThe Starving Games)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesBilly MadisonA Haunted House300: Rise of an EmpireCowboys and Aliens)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (CenturionPlanet of the ApesStonadosRedemptionPride and Prejudice)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The GreyX-Men: Days of Future PastThor: The Dark WorldThe Sum of All Fears)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (GallowwalkersTucker & Dale vs. EvilSafeWatchmenClash of the Titans)

My score for The Cabin in the Woods: 86.

Sadly, I can’t go into more depth because this film will never be better than the first time you watch it, but The Cabin in the Woods is a revolutionary product not just for film-making, but for the genre. Even if you’re not a fan of horror movies, I think you’ll find Whedon’s influence here worth the watch by itself.

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