Apr 13 2012 4:00pm

To Joss Whedon’s House We Go!: A Non-Spoiler Review of The Cabin In The Woods

There’s been a bit of a to-do online about spoilers in negative reviews of The Cabin In The Woods, which are really pretty awful and miss the point of the movie pretty completely. There’s also been a bit of minor tut-tutting about spoilers in the movie’s trailer itself, but considering the “spoiler-y” bits from the trailer are addressed in the movie’s first shot, they’re not that bad (though I’m still not going to specify what I’m talking about).

Speaking as someone who’s been read the riot act on occasion for saying “too much” in the past, I do think that sometimes people overreact about spoilers, but since, as the poet said, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, just as often people overreact in the opposite way and spoil things out of spite, which is how Rex Reed’s New York Observer review of The Cabin In The Woods comes across (though, of course, speculating on another’s motives is folly, especially when that other is Rex Reed). That’s particularly unfortunate in the specific case of The Cabin In The Woods, because it’s a pretty marvelously constructed genre/meta-genre piece whose entertainment value rests specifically derives from not knowing what’s going to happen next.

So I won’t specifically discuss any of the plot here. Even talking about what you think you know from the trailer is either misleading or reductive. And, at the same time, not. Joss Whedon and longtime collaborator Drew Goddard (they co-wrote, and Goddard directed) know their horror and SF inside and out. Both have also frequently demonstrated — together on Buffy and Angel and separately elsewhere — an ability to create and sustain compelling, sympathetic characters, which is of greater importance to making The Cabin In The Woods the entertaining and frankly exhilarating movie it is. Considering that so much of the movie is a metacinematic critique of genre tropes, it would be easy for it to become excessively dry and cerebral. Considering that character archetypes and even stereotypes are part of that critique, the movie’s characters also have to be archetypal and yet not stereotypical, a tremendously difficult balancing act that Whedon and Goddard pull off, for the most part, spectacularly well here.

The need to avoid spoilers at all costs here is a bit frustrating, because I want to talk about how even the bad guys have the writers’ empathy, and are the easiest characters to whom audiences can connect, as they are us, and part of a broader bit of social commentary about pop culture voyeurism. But saying who those bad guys are is a spoiler, and calling them bad guys is a slight oversimplification. Arrrgh! See how frustrating this is?

Basically, what I’m saying is, if you like SF, horror, and Joss Whedon’s particular brand of both, The Cabin In The Woods is essential. It works on both the intellectual and gut level at the same time and reciprocally, in a neat trick. It begins with a surprise. It ends pretty much the way I’ve always wanted to see a horror picture end. And in between is a lot of skillfully executed horror, all the more for the fact that it’s effective as horror even though we’re all thinking about it being horror and what it means that we’re watching it. If that sounds like a lot to deal with, maybe it is. But it’s worth it if you have any kind of love for genre and genre movies. Go see it quick so we can talk about it with proper nouns.

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

Chris Lough
1. TorChris
I think I've figured it out. This is actually a live-action Berenstein Bears, isn't it? I KNEW IT.
2. Kirshy
So is this in anyway related to Sam Raimi's Evil Dead? Or is it just an ironic copying of the setting and lead up to it? Is Raimi involved in anyway with this movie?
Danny Bowes
3. DannyBowes
@Kirshy -- The similarities are on purpose. More than that I can't say, though.
Neil Sood
4. RanchoUnicorno
Are there any plans for a spoilery review?

I plan on probably seeing it, but not any time soon, and thus withdraw any claim I might have for spoiler protection. Discussion about what makes it so good would certainly be motive to watch it sooner rather than later.
5. seth e.
I'd also welcome a more spoilery review. Part of my problem with Whedon's more recent output is that a lot of it rests on very easy metagenre stuff, the "oh my god the audience are voyeurs!" thing, which was fresh and interesting in the 70's, or even in 1960. Nowadays it's often more of a rationalization, as though it's okay to show women being tortured (for instance) if it's, like, a comment on the form.

It would be great to hear he's not leaning on that old thing again.
Alexandre X. Duchateau Navarrete
6. Lexiel
I've seen the movie yesterday. I usually don't like horror movies, at all. But Joss was reason enough for me to give it a try.

In the spirit of non spoilery, all I have to say is that from the first minute, I was sold.

It was just plain fun.
Scott Silver
7. hihosilver28
Go and watch it now. I had a blast and can see this movie being in my top ten at the end of the year. It's that enjoyable. Since we're keeping it non-spoilery. That is what I have to say.

On another note, I found what it was trying to do with genre tropes similar to Funny Games, but I actually enjoyed myself with this one. Anyone else see Funny Games and have issues with the fourth-wall scene, or was it just me?
Bridget McGovern
8. BMcGovern
@hihosilver28 You know, it never would have occurred to me to draw a connection between this film (which I enjoyed) and Funny Games (which I did not care for, at all), but it's a really interesting point...both films certainly endeavor to make the audience complicit in the events unfolding onscreen.
9. Keithrc
I'm not a fan of gory slasher/torture porn (think SAW) movies at all, but I love me some Joss and I enjoy not-too-gory horror movies (think The Ring). Anyone who's seen Cabin care to speculate whether I'll like it?
Danny Bowes
10. DannyBowes
@Keithrc -- This is definitely not SAW or "torture porn", but it does get a bit violent.

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