The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Our finally-finished-almost-a-year-later review of the finally-released-three-years-after-completion 2009 horror film from director/co-writer Drew Goddard and producer/co-writer Joss Whedon, the team behind some of my favorite episodes of Buffy and its spin-off, Angel. (Sadly, Drew didn’t join Team Buffyverse until shortly before the end of the former and the cancellation of the latter. But I don’t hold that, or Cloverfield, against him.)


15 thoughts on “The Cabin in the Woods (2012)”

  1. Cabin in the Woods was a fantastic film. Hopefully, Joss will do more work in the horror genre after he tires of Avengers. I do wish you had gone more into the landscape changes of the horror genre between 2009 and 2012 though.

    1. I wish I’d gone into that, too. Pulled the camera back, as it were…but doing so would’ve made things at least ten minutes longer. Best to save those rants for another time, or at least stagger them out. You heard the Indestructible Cheerleader (I know, I know…but Hayden Panettiere will always be Claire Bennet to me): there’s a long list of opportunities for me to talk about the Rise and Fall of the American Horror Film in This Benighted 21st Century. Though I’ll gladly spoil myself by saying 2012 was, actually, not that bad a year, from a purely numerical standpoint. Certainly better than 2008, the year that probably inspired Cabin‘s initial conception.

      As far as my inner horror fan’s concerned, 2008 was an evil, evil year. But at the time my inner comic book fan’s jubilant celebrations (“An Iron Man movie and a Batman movie in the same summer, neither of which sucked?!?! I must be dreaming.”) drowned out my inner horror fan’s cries for help. Just look at the top ten highest grossing horror films from that year (not the best metric, I know, but better than nothing). You’ll find:

      -1 sequel, right at the top (Saw 5, the last of them to hit #1 at the box office before Paranormal Activity seized their throne)
      -1 Adaption of a 2003 novel from the author of A Simple Plan (The Ruins, which played like more Torture Porn thanks to the intervening five Saw films, and their influence.)
      -1 Spanish haunted house movie no one saw…not even me. (The Orphanage – its English-language remake is still “in development” at the time of this writing.)
      -6 Remakes (The biggest being Will Smith’s I Am Legend which barely counts, since it has little to do with its source and came out in 2007’s pre-Christmas season…but there it is. Then there’s Prom Night, which is Prom Night. The remaining four – Quarantine, Mirrors, One Missed Call, and Shutter – are all remakes of non-English horror movies, none more than 5 years old at the time, and made specifically because Hollywood thinks we’re too stupid to go see a movie with subtitles.)
      -And last, though not least because it should’ve been first, we have Let the Right One In. Which got its own English-language remake in 2010, to the surprise of absolutely no one.

      2012 had 3 sequels in the top ten (Paranormal Activity 4, Silent Hill 2, The Collection), and the whole list is warped by the presence of Prometheus (so that’s one kinda-sorta-prequel-but-not-really), but English-language bastardizations are nowhere to be found and you have to go all the way down to the 20s before you find a Nostalgia Remake (Silent Night). I suppose that’s something. If we could somehow limit ourselves to a maximum two Exorcist rip-offs per year, we might actually start getting somewhere.

  2. I approached this as not a horror fan (though I’m vaguely familiar with the genre), and not a Whedon fan – but I ended up in much the same place as you. The snarky kids are wearing when they’re the only focus of attention, but the control room scenes break things up enough that they didn’t grate on me the way they did in Buffy. The characters are underdeveloped, but the setup makes their underdevelopment part of the point.

    Sure, it’s not perfect. But it comes a lot closer than, well, pretty much any other film I saw last year.

    I find it faintly bizarre that, once this film had come out, anyone could contemplate churning out yet another generic horror remake. But of course they do and they are.

    1. And they’ll continue to do so. And I’ll continue to see them; separate the time-killing distractions from the complete wastes of everyone’s time. At least they pushed the Carrie remake back to October, giving me that much more time to work on any potential Carrie-athons I may or may not be planning. Actually, a lot of the remakes I was dreading have gotten shoved into 2014, including my new favorite source of rage, RoboCop. Perhaps the abysmal failures of Total Recall and Red Dawn have taught someone, somewhere, a lesson.

      Then again, those were primarily action movies (obvious SF elements of both notwithstanding), and horror movies are easier to remake. Most re-makeable action movies (which now means 80s action movies) were star vehicles and most of those stars are still alive, more than willing to return for one last go round…or seven. Horror movies are a name and a monster costume to most of Hollywood’s decision makers. Been that way since at least the 1930s (as my pile of Universal Monster Movies will attest), and it’ll remain true as long as people value comforting familiarity above…well, everything else.

      1. While all of that is true, I’m still looking forward to the Evil Dead remake. The red band trailer makes it look like it has balls, and I can’t believe they brought back the rape tree!

        1. Well it wouldn’t very well be an Evil Dead remake without an angry molesting tree, now would it? Balls are easy to come by. 49% of the population’s got ’em. I’m more interested in whether or not it has any brains. But we’ll put a pin in that to explore sometime around…let’s say, April 17th.

  3. Sir,
    while this film was quite a ride(no pun intended-I realized about a nanosecond before Hemsworth’s demise what would happen,and I roared when it did;it was also much fun watching Miss Weaver bring Ripley to a conclusion that involved punching someone in the face),for my satirical dollar I prefer “Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil”. Perhaps living in the Deep South (O what a Horror) shades things for me,but T&D almost gave me hope.It’s the first time I haven’t hated a Southern Drawl in a couple decades….

    1. A decent Southern accent would be enough to get me watching for sheer novelty alone. Despite never having seen Tucker and Dale at the time of this writing, I have seen several of my contemporaries compare it, favorably and otherwise, to Cabin in the Woods. Behind the Mask is often mentioned in the same breath and praised for getting many of the same things right. Obviously, I’m going to have to go on some manner of satirical horror movie kick as soon as I foil my Evil Self’s plan to drive me mad with all these New Releases.

  4. I love Cabin in the Woods and I think it encapsulates everything I love about Joss Whedon’s style, which is that he manages nice “Reconstructions” of things he deconstructs, if I may use popular buzzwords. He carefully deconstructs all of the cliche, silly, and dumb plot points of your generic horror film only to explain–yes, in fact, these things are scary. Most movies which attempt to parody these things just say, “haha, isn’t that dumb.” The key to CITW success is that it says, “not, necessarily.”

    The character’s likability is a big factor to the success, as you mentioned, and I think all horror movies should follow this formula. It’s the rare movie I’d actually like a sequel too. Even though, of course, one is impossible.

    I will say I believe you’re dead wrong about the Old Ones being Warner Brothers versus the audience. The creators of the generic dumbed-down schlock are definitely the producers in the labs. They produce this because the audience WANTS dumbed down crap versus intelligently written stuff. Let’s face it, most slasher movies aren’t exactly produced as mega blockbusters.

    My .02.

    1. Whenever anyone mentions the possibility of following this up, I think back to that mantra on the first Scary Movie‘s theatrical poster: “No mercy. No shame. No sequel.” If I were in charge of Cabin‘s marketing I… would’ve preserved the original poster campaign from 2009 (“If you hear a strange sound outside….have sex.” “If an old man warns you not to go there…make fun of him.”). But my second choice would be to emblazon the Rubix Cube design with, “No dudebros. No dumb broads. No goddamned, motherfucking, ass-kissing, bottom-line-inflating, producer-pandering, cheap-jack, bullshitty sequels!”

      In a similar vein, as a life-long horror movie audience member, I don’t ever recall asking for dumbed-down schlock. That may have been what people heard when I asked for things like “more Frankenstein, damnit!” but I can’t control how much wax others have in their ears. Nor did I ever ask for “mega blockbusters,” save in the vein of, say, Army of Darkness…which always got shelved in the Action section anyway. In fact, as time’s gone by and one disappointment after another has broken my spirit down to a crusty nub, I’ve stopped asking for much of anything beyond “a good story, well told.” Because, really, who wants a shit story, told poorly? Besides idiots?

      Basically, I revolt at the notion that we, the audience, are the Elder Gods because what power we have in the horror movie fan relationship is largely illusionary. There’s the power of our (usually empty) wallets and the power to bitch about things on the internet. Great: the rhetorical equivalent of haranguing a New York City street from a throne of trash in some maze-like network of back-alleys. I feel as empowered as any citizen of Rat City. Seriously, I could shout myself horse and, in raw terms, my power would never equal the studio’s ability to lead gullible fools, pied-piper style, to the next depressingly mediocre thing through sheer Force of Advertizing Omnipresence. That’s why boycotts have gone the way of the numeric pager: they just don’t work in a world where the average person sees 5000 ads a day and the next one they see could be yours…if the price is right. For all our efforts, Prometheus is still the highest grossing Horror movie its year, and I still have to explain – to my dentist, no less – that, no, she isn’t crazy: the similarities to Alien are not only intentionally, but one is supposed to follow the other. “But that makes even less sense!” she said to me as we waited for the Novocaine to kick in. “As usual, Doc,” I said, “You’ve hit the nerve exactly.”

  5. [In a similar vein, as a life-long horror movie audience member, I don’t ever recall asking for dumbed-down schlock.]

    I, too, am a life-long horror aficanado. In fact, it was my search for articulate reviews of movies which do not deserve them (see FTT and ANOES’ later works) which lead me to this site. As much as I see your point, I’d argue that Whedon is stating that as long as audiences keeping buying tickets to it. I see Cabin in the Woods as a reaction to the horror fan not asking for a better class of horror. A condemnation of the movies (at the time) and before which were yet another endless parade of young victims going to their doom at the hands of Hostels or Jigsaw or whatnot.

    The thing is, I think Joss is wrong even if I disagree with his target. There’s nothing wrong with dumbed down mass-marketed shlock IMHO. I don’t mind masses-pleasing fast food and I don’t mind it in my movies. One can retell the same story a million times as long as it’s a good story and I feel the same way about horror movies. No, we have no power over the movie-makers anymore than the rats in rat city but I always felt the movie-makers don’t really CARE about what they produce at the higher level so long as it’s being eaten up.

    All they notice is the rats like cheese, so cheese they produce…in abundance.

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