Apr 16 2012 1:15pm

Talking Spoilers for Cabin in the Woods

Cabin in the Woods spoiler review

Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s maybe-horror film Cabin in the Woods was a bit impossible to review upon its initial release day, at least for outlets who respected Whedon and co’s wishes to keep the surprise intact for moviegoers. (In fact, my spoiler-free review can be easily distilled down to, “No spoilers. If you like Whedon you’ll like this.”)

But now it’s Monday and those of you who wanted to see it have most likely done so. It’s spoiler time.

Personally, I found the pop culture criticism interesting, which weirdly — per some of the comments in my spoiler-free review of the movie — may be because I’m less familiar with the Whedon-verse than some. Being thrown into (what’s eventually revealed to be) the reality-TV-esque world of Richard Jenkins and Brad Whitford put me on notice for the rest of the story, as they manipulated the group of stereotype-with-a-slight-twist horror characters (the fact that they go out of their way to note that The Blonde is not a real blonde was a nifty touch), in their attempts to placate The Ancient Ones with ritualistic sacrifice. I thought it was a fun exercise in looking at not only the traditions of the horror genre, but traditions in general.

Now, that’s me. What do you all think? Have at it in the comments below.

Danny Bowes is a New York City-based film critic and blogger.

Irene Gallo
1. Irene
A two hour Buffy episode and that was just fine by me. I was amazed how quickly they were able to establish a new scoopy gang. I had a noisy audience which, normally, I hate but worked so well with this movie...being another trope of horror films.
Evan Jensen
2. eoghanacht
Overall, I really, really liked this movie. The dialogue was snappy and the premise was Whedon to a T.

The one issue I take with it was while most of the "tropes" were commented on/inverted admirably, I felt like the film didn't really make any honest attempt to subvert the "titillating blonde gets killed" cliche. Aside from "not really blonde", she still dies, and does so while having sex. You can't both comment on it AND pander to a (male) gaze by objectifying the character at the same time. It felt dishonest.

That one scene was the only real downside to this film for me, though.
Sean Fagan
3. sef
I thought it was at-least-okay, but not a whole lot better than that.

There was another movie that was supposed to come out at about the same time: Tucker and Dale vs Evil. Another genre-bender, same genre; I thought it was a lot better.
Scott Abbott
4. Scott
I had low expectations going in - well, as low as they can get for Joss Whedon, which isn't all that low. Loved every minute of it and can't wait to see it again.
Josh Storey
5. Soless
@egohanacht, I definitely see your point about the male gaze when Jules gets it during the sex scene, but I also think the movie undercuts this in several ways: for one, Curt starts off the hanky panky with his best impression of a cunning linguist. So we have the guy looking to please the girl. (Thumbs up for that one.) Also, during the scene, we have Hadley and Sitterson talking about why Jules has to have sex before she can be sacrificed, then that quick little prayer after the deed is done. In a way, they're chastizing the audience for "enjoying" the death, and I, at least, felt shameful afterwards.
Nick S
6. kukkurovaca
@egohanacht @Soless -- I think they did a halfway decent job of being subversive about the blonde/"Whore" by repeatedly, overtly reminding us that the victims were being chemically manipulated. However, I think that the movie could have done a better job exploring/explaining the boundary between chemical manipulation and free will. Chemistry is basically used as a magical "do something slutty/stupid" switch, which seems like a missed opportunity.
Bryant Durrell
7. Bryant
@Soless -- "In a way, they're chastizing the audience for "enjoying" the death, and I, at least, felt shameful afterwards."

Yeah, that's a very Whedonesque way to do it: he tends to cater to the male gaze followed by a bit of contextualization to make us feel guilty. However, that shot could have been framed without the male gaze without losing any story impact. If we don't see Jules' breasts -- maybe just reaction shots in the control room -- we still get the commentary without catering to the male gaze in the process.

I'm ready for Whedon to show he can be subversive without actually indulging in the activity he'd like to subvert.
Jeremy Wall
8. skipjw
"You, Dad. I learned it from watching you!" priceless. Two enthusiastic thumbs up.
Matt London
9. MattLondon
The best line I heard coming out of the theater was "Yeah, I didn't expect it to be about ritual sacrifice to appease The Ancient Ones or whatever. At least that was original."

You can't make a line like that up.
Barbara Gordon
10. bmlg
When the elevator goes down, the part just before Marty and Dana realize they're being shunted around among the monster-cubes, was anyone else reminded of the old fairground dark rides? There's the jerky grinding motion, a lurching stop, and a horrific scene or monster lights up behind glass - or a live guy in a scary costume jumps at you.
I wondered if that was an intentional reference.
Bridget McGovern
11. BMcGovern
@10 The whole movie kind of felt that way to me in terms of pacing--or at least the last third did, given all the fakeout near-endings and the way the narrative kept jumping around. This isn't a complaint by the way--I really enjoyed being kept off balance the whole time...

I don't know if I'll see it again in the theater, but I'm excited to watch it again at some point and try to take in all the references and allusions (to various horror movies as well as to the Whedonverse) that were just flying by the first time around--as soon as I got home last night I jumped on IMDB trivia looking for a quick fix, but there's not much there yet.

In any case, what really made the film work for me was the recognizably Whedonesque humor and odd moments of offbeat earnestness: Dana and Marty apologizing to each other and sharing the joint at the end, for example. An anti-torture porn mashup of
Evil Dead meets The Truman Show is a clever idea--but Evil Dead meets The Truman Show with a dash of The Breakfast Club, dangled over a Lovecraftian abyss? That's just brilliant :)
Josh Storey
12. Soless
@Bryant, I agree there were a number of other ways they could have shot that scene. I wonder, though, if cutting away would have lessened the impact? Maybe yes. Maybe no.

On the one hand, denying us the breast shot could further comment on the convention as we become aware of what we're missing.

On the other hand, depending on how it was shot and edited, it could have come across as simply "dumbing down" the film for a younger rating and therefore felt odd and out of place.

Cabin in the Woods is just as much a love letter to classic horror/slasher movies as it is a critque of them. Now, I'm not calling the scene an homage to excuses any of its flaws, and I think it's right for us to question and critque the director's choice there, but I do want to commend the scene encouraging this kind of discourse, because this is the way conventions change.
13. ViewerBen
Thank the Ancient Ones for a smart horror film! Just some random thoughts:

The speakerphone scene with Mordichai (sp?) was hilarious.

I really enjoyed how they subverted/referenced all the usual horror tropes, from not just American films but foreign ones as well. I know we really only got insight into the Japanese ritual, but I'm curious if the shots we saw of the other countries' attempts were references to specific horror films from those countries.

LOVED the Hellraiser references, if he had been set loose those kids definitely wouldn't have had a chance. When Chris Hemsworth first picked up the "sphere" in the cellar, I was wondering if that's what they were referencing, then when the Pinhead-like monster showed up holding a similar one, I was like "YES!"

All hail Sigourney Weaver!

I was a little disappointed they didn't come up with a better resolution for the "virgin" trope, other than "Meh, she lives or she dies depending on fate."

The only thing in the film I was really disappointed by was the final shot. After all that Lovecraftian build up with the Ancient Ones and rituals and such, I was expecting something a little weirder, not just a giant hand. I was hoping for a giant tentacle with toothy mouths instead of suckers or something, especially after the creativity the filmmakers had shown with all the other monsters. It's a minor quibble, though, for a movie as enjoyable as this.
Ilan Lerman
14. Ilan
Thoroughly enjoyed this film. Whedon fan or not, it resonated with my friends at the cinema as well, not all of whom are as addicted to Buffy/Angel/Firefly as I am. It worked on many levels; as a deconstruction of not just the horror genre, but a commentary on the treadmill of manipulative popcorn formula movies.

I took the Ancient Ones not to be Lovecraftian gods of any kind, but instead the cinema audience themselves. They have to be fed their annual offering of blood-soaked mayhem, delivered in the correct formula, to keep them at bay. The foreign cinema wasn't doing the job, so it was down to the classic American ritual to satiate the audience's bloodlust. Hence the 'gods' having a human-like hand.
15. Becky B.
@sef, I agree with you I liked this movie but I loved Tucker and Dale vs Evil. That movie was just more hilarious throughout :)
16. James WilliamTaylor
Here's the thought that occurred to me near the end - the problem was the "Fool" didn't die before the Virgin. I was expecting the Fool to say he wasn't anybody's fool but he too was still a virgin. Then he kills the government lady at the end, she becomes the sacrifical "Fool" , leaving behind 2 "Virgins". Elder gods ( the Titans ?) placated. World survives. I was vaguely disappointed that this wasn't the "twist" ending.
17. James Dekort
@Ilan I think the ancient gods in all their vagueness were meant to fill many roles. I also viewed them as the audience in the way you did. But they also fulfill the mysterious all controlling force trope that crops up again and again in horror films, for example final destination.

@James Taylor, James I think that the ending with the virgin/fool played out more like how you described it then you think. I have a firm belief that Marty is not the fool and is actually the Virgin. Dana is actually the fool and Whedon is making a comment and play about the sexist achetype of women and them having to fulfill the role of virgin. Dana cannot be the virgin, she states that she has had sex multiple times. Marty however, never reveals anything about having sex and is in fact ambigous about it when confronted by the whore. Furthermore, Marty is constantly the voice of reason throughout the movie. Whereas Dana is constantly doing foolish things. She reads the book, even when told not to. She opens the cabin door when she knows there are monsters out there, she constantly acts the fool. I think it adds a layer of irony and another trope. They thought that they needed to kill Marty, but they didnt. Instead had they killed marty they would have ended the world. This is the horror meta of the bad guy always coming back. even though we resolved the conflict the monster or whatever comes back at the end for one last scare. What do you all think?

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