Crash Analysis: CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)

The SCREAM of the decade – or were Whedon and Goddard inspired by something else? 

Five co-eds enter a cabin in the woods…Cabin in the Woods

After the phenomenal “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” series came to sorrowful ends, Joss Whedon went on hiatus. Then he came back with the ultra-ridiculous “Dollhouse”. With that ill-fated move, I feared he had gone the way of George Lucas, M. Night Shyamalan and Chris Carter – undone by the ego-based trappings of creative character.

Thankfully, I was wrong.

CABIN is a fun and bloody romp akin to Wes Craven’s well-crafted SCREAM (1996), where he had poked a bit of fun at the genre and manipulated its hackneyed clichés. Whedon, who co-wrote the work with first time director Drew Goddard, of CLOVERFIELD fame, takes a similar track.

However, going into story details would be a grand misadventure. In lieu of not giving anything away, you’ll only get the basics: Five co-eds take a break from school and visit a cabin in the woods. But these aren’t the stock stereotypes we’ve come to hate due to extensive overuse. The jock has a brain, the other jock has an even bigger brain, the goody-two-shoes isn’t all that good, the shaggy pothead is a philosopher and may hope to become the next Mark Twain, and the dumb blonde isn’t dumb at all.

As I watched the movie, and fell in love with Fran Kranz and his exceptional character portrayal of Marty the court jester pothead – while thrilled to see the ever yummy Amy Acker on the big screen – a thought struck me. I had seen this movie before – sort of.

Many critics and fans alike have over-hyped their love for this “unique” horror film because it’s supposedly new, fresh and turns horror upside down. After all, the movie is damn good, and as horror fans know, finding a great horror in a sea of mediocrity mixed with utter garbage is a rare thing indeed. And although many facets of the movie are intriguing, though not as surprising as you may have been told, the premise for the movie – the foundation for this cabin in the woods – has been done before.

In 2002, a low budget indie horror about a reality show featuring five twenty-somethings sequestered in a cabin made it to theatres in Europe and Brazil. MY LITTLE EYE (UK/USA/France/Canada) didn’t have the witty edge of CABIN or the slick look, but the reality show thread certainly may have proved inspiration for Whedon and Goddard. No, this does not mean they copied the film or even stole the idea, but similarities are clearly evident. After all, the old adage rings true: There’s no such thing as a new idea. So, even if neither had seen MY LITTLE EYE, why wouldn’t someone eventually come up with a similar angle at some point? Happens all the time.

As for the comedic elements, fans of “Buffy” and “Angel” should certainly recognize Whedon’s handiwork. But this is different from the Sam Raimi infusion of extreme silliness that often undermines his horrors, especially DRAG ME TO HELL (2009) where a cool story was completely waylaid by ridiculous amounts of stupidity (though groovy Bruce Campbell made it all work in the first two EVIL DEAD outings). Whedon, however, keeps the comedy to what we might actually experience in our daily lives, which makes this “human humor” of wit and smarminess relatable, especially when these moments usually reveal as much about character as the more dramatic based instances.

But there is something wrong with CABIN. Goddard did a great job directing, the acting is solid (veterans Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford should definitely take their show on the road), and Peter Derning’s cinematography is first rate. The problem rests with the editing and some cartoonish CGI.

Editor Lisa Lassek did a fantastic job and her work is seamless, but in her meetings with the director (and most likely Whedon), she should have recommended moving the story along a bit quicker in the third act to keep up with the pace of the beginning and middle of the film. At times, scenes near the end are longer than they need to be. Furthermore, Special Effects Supervisor Paul Benjamin lacked a bit in quality control. The best CGI are the ones you never notice – like the water on the roof in DEVIL’S ADVOCATE (1997) and just about every background in CLOVERFIELD. Just a bit more work to tighten up some of those visuals in the third act would have proved amazing in the end. And knowing that the film was shot in 2009 with a delayed release as Whedon and Goddard fought the studio against turning this into a 3-D piece of garbage, you think some of those artists would have tweaked their creations at least for personal prided.

(I would love to discuss a red herring character and a major goof, but that will have to wait until half the planet has seen this thing.)

Regardless, the ending to this film is key, and the story could have easily gone in two pertinent directions. The path Whedon and Goddard took was fabulous and tied the film together nicely. However, they hinted at that other probable choice, and they didn’t just do it for kicks. Theatergoers should leave not necessarily ranting about how fantastic this movie is because of its twists, but should focus on that final choice that cuts through the story like the heaviest of axes. This horror needs to be discussed beyond its cool factor and freshness, and the spotlight should shine on its philosophical underpinnings. In fact, I’m still debating what the hell I’d do in that situation…

Though I heard one moviegoer state: “Horror of the year! Hands down!” I should have pointed out that its only April, dude. With PROMETHEUS, CHERNOBYL DIARIES, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 and more on the way for 2012, let’s hope we’ll indulge in a multitude of grand works that add a jolt to a genre often overloaded with overworn themes, characters and storylines – and just plain non-sensical bullshit.

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS will certainly find a home in horror movie hierarchy regardless of its minimal shortcomings. And it’s definitely worth indulging on the big screen. I can’t wait to buy the DVD, which should come with a ton of extras.

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