Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
The Cabin in the Woods

Title: The Cabin in the Woods

Will You Be Revealing Spoilers? Only if you highlight the one paragraph of spoilery bitching on the next page. And why would you do that?

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three and a half conch shells out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Five college students travel to an isolated cabin for the weekend. It's...unwise to tell you much more than that.

Tagline: "You think you know the story."

Better Tagline: "The only thing scarier is Joss Whedon's fans."

His *Fans?* Come On. The "AJosstles" (as I have dubbed Whedon's devotees) at the screening I attended were so obnoxious they almost made me resent the movie itself for encouraging their existence. It's like going to a Justin Bieber concert, except instead of screaming tweens, you're surrounded by fanboys (and girls) in Firefly shirts and scraggly facial hair wildly applauding and forcing laughter at every cue.


Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: The less said about the plot the better. It's enough to know that five college students -- jock Curt (pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth), brainy Holden (Jesse Williams), pre-med hottie Jules (Anna Hutchison), stoner Marty (Fran Kranz) and shy Dana (Kristen Connolly) -- are taking a break for the weekend at Curt's cousin's remote cabin. It's a standard horror trope that gets turned on its ear in short order.

"Critical" Analysis: Before I get into picking certain nits here, let me say that The Cabin in the Woods is pretty solid. Whedon and co-writer/director Drew Goddard obviously love their horror movies, and -- here's the important part -- also understand there is a healthy amount of humor to be found in the genre. There are clear parallels (and homages) to The Evil Dead and, well, let's just say other '80s horror films. In many ways, The Cabin in the Woods is Whedon's attempt to take back the genre from the Eli Roths and Tom Sixes of the world.

And for the most part he succeeds. Cabin has a few genuinely suspenseful/frightening scenes, as well as several honestly hilarious moments. A good portion of the latter are thanks to Kranz as über-stoner Marty, and veteran actors Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, who are among the best reasons to see the movie.

The premise isn't that original, harkening back to other self-referential films like Scream, (a friend also reminded me of one 1988 horror film in particular that has a strikingly similar plot), but the execution is satisfying, and the last 15 minutes or so are just about enough to make any horror fan worth his/her salt squee in delight.

The problem is, once we know the central conceit, it's difficult to get too invested in any of the main characters. Knowing they have to be eradicated to get to whatever payoff Whedon and Goddard have planned makes it hard to care about any of them. And for all this talk about how "convoluted" the plot is, anyone paying the slightest bit of attention will know what's going on by the time the opening titles are finished.

But it's not so much the "why" as it is the "how," and I personally found the payoff quite satisfying. Still, there were some other problems best addressed by the spoiler text below (highlight to read). You've been warned.


Your spoiler text here Are we supposed to believe an agency with the power to rig several acres of wilderness with electronics and gadgets, not to mention surround the entire place with a *force field*, couldn't come up with a way to seal off the elevator entrance? And was it really the best strategy to have every single...*thing* at their disposal awake and angrily pacing its enclosure? Surely you'd sedate/deactivate anything that wouldn't be needed for the scenario.


As for Whedon wanting to avoid "teenagers doing stupid things," several events are directly set up by the boneheadedness of the protagonists (Danger outside? Let me stand by this window!). Or maybe that was intended as some sort of meta-commentary on his own statement. Oh, that Joss.

So I recommend seeing it, though I suspect the secrecy around the movie might work against it, as typical horror audiences are likely to be thrown off by the movie's later developments. A strong opening weekend will probably keep it from sharing the fate of that other fanboy favorite, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, though it helps that Cabin is mercifully free of video game references and Michael Cera. It's not going to reinvent the horror genre, though, but if we get any sort of attendant backlash against the likes of Hostel and the Saw series, maybe that's good enough.

The Cabin in the Woods is in theaters today. See it...well, you know who *not* to see it with.

And I'm not linking the trailer because it seriously gives too much away. If you're planning on catching Cabin this weekend and you haven't seen the extended trailer yet, don't start now.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar