Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts and check your heart monitors: I am required by law to preface this review by stating not only will the following contain spoilers, but that as well will be a negative review. I hope your heart can handle it and understand why mine couldn’t.
That’s right; The Cabin in the Woods broke my heart. It teased me with its tantalizing trailer for months. In that time did I get impossible expectations? Was it because everyone whose opinion I value seemed to be talking about how amazing it was? No, I was unphased by their words, my eyes were fixed firmly on every scene is the trailer trying to deduce its mysteries. Its poster beaconed to me with its tagline: “You think you know the story.”
So what did I think before actually seeing the film?
The trailer shows your typical group of American horror movie kids taking a little vacay to a cabin before all hell breaks loose. The difference between this and other films in its mold is that we’re privy to the knowledge that the hell breaking loose is being caused by someone somewhere safe in a control room. But remember, “you think you know the story.”
Okay, I think I do up to a point and I can’t wait to see what happens beyond that point. Well guess what? The movie blows its load in the very first sequence. The opening title montage is overly blatant, so much so I hoped the filmmakers were again only hinting at something larger. Nope. That’s the movie folks.
Don’t give up hope you say! It’s only the beginning; it’s the ride that supposed to be enjoyed.
Let me interject here to say, The Cabin in the Woods is an okay and fun movie, it just never delivers what it promises. From co-writer Joss Whedon himself via totalfilm.com (link):
“It’s basically a very loving hate letter.”
“On some level it was completely a lark […] On another level it’s a serious critique of what we love and what we don’t about horror movies.”
“I love being scared.”
Let me take the second part first. Mr. Whedon, there is absolutely nothing we genre hounds hate about horror movies. Your film as stands demonstrates you don’t even really know what makes for a scary horror movie. The Cabin in the Woods is so busy developing its behind-the-scenes story that no screen time is devoted to building tension and instead relies on a few jump scares to give the illusion that this movie is suppose to be scary.
As for the much-quoted first part, a loving hate letter is exactly what I wanted to experience. Just because you say it is doesn't mean its so.
Might I now submit my list of revisions for the filmmakers to turn this okay film great:
We’re told that the characters were manipulated in various ways to assume the roles of generic horror victims, but we’re never really shown this progression. Want to critique the lack of real characterization in the horror genre then do so by showing how real characters are written and evolve. I believe they teach this in Screenwriting 101.
If your going to go after the entire horror genre, how about using more than just a zombie-formatted strategy of pushing your story forward. The conflict between true self and generic self played out across every horror convention that can be thought up is how this movie was sold to us. I wanted to see more control room buttons pushed. This one releases zombies, that one releases a serial slasher in a mask, another causes someone to give birth to Satan, this one here is for the secret sect of Nazis cannibals that slowly torture their victims, and yet another summons a regular animal that’s 10x its normal size and looking to feast on humans as well.
Next, and as a byproduct of the above, make the movie actually scary. Too much crosscutting between the up and downstairs means there isn’t time to build any tension; the film therefore, as stated before, is forced to rely solely on jump scares which don’t alone make for a good horror movie. Let the cabin story unfold before bringing back the dudes from the first scene.
Lastly, drop the ending as is. You felt like your story needed to go bigger than it was, but in order to get there you had to drop the option of everything posted above. My ending would have sent the last kids down the elevator too, you expect them to meet the controllers and they do, but ultimately its just another horror trope. Use this to prove that the decisions of the director/writer/actors/etc. are what result in bad movies, uncreative movies. The creative force behind a film are responsible for the outcome and this movie was going to state loud and clear that its makers love the genre, but hate how its being executed. That the gig is up, if you try and use any of these tropes again the audience will laugh you out of the theatre because they’re in on the joke.
To the makers of The Cabin in the Woods, consider this my loving hate letter to you.