The Cabin in the Woods

A widely celebrated horror comedy that never worked for me. It’s too busy being arch and clever for its own good. It has it’s moments, but in the end it’s too nihilistic to be fully enjoyed.

I know everyone seems to love this movie. I know it is widely praised for its self aware sense of humor. I just don’t like it. I first saw it shortly after it came out, and it left such a bad taste in my mouth that I ignored it for the last eight years. I felt it was time to reassess and see if time changed the movie or me.

The story such as it is follows a group of five college students as they journey into the titular cabin in the woods for a rowdy weekend of cavorting. There are five of them, but only three really matter. Dana, Kristen Connolly, is the bookish sweet natured girl. Curt, Chris Hemsworth, is a big, charming, bro. And Marty, Fran Kranz, is the quintessential stoner. He gets the best jokes and the most memorable moments in the movie.

Tied to the college students is a mysterious office setting following Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. They are company men with strong personalities and delightful presence. They are observing the college kids and seam to be pulling the strings as horrible events befall our young heroes.

Both groups are wonderfully acted. Whitford and Jenkins do fantastic work playing cocky, yet beleaguered men doing a rough job with a sense of humor. The way they underplay every scene is truly delightful. Same with the younger cast. Fran Kranz truly steals the show. He is such a perfect stoner. He looks so much like Shaggy that you keep expecting Scooby Doo to come bounding out of the woods looking for a snack. Hemsworth and Connolly embrace their roles and bring real charm to their scenes.

The whole movie hinges on the surprise of how and why these two disparate plot lines are related. The movie seriously loses so much of its impact if you you know the twist. If you haven’t seen it and want to be surprised, stop reading now. If you do, I hope you enjoy it more than I did. Here we go…

Whitford and Jenkins work for a massive company that sets up elaborate human sacrifices to appease ancient gods. If the gods do not receive their five sacrifices, they will rise from their slumber and destroy the earth. The gods it seems have developed a taste for the horror movie theatrics. They like to watch zombies and ghouls of all manner destroy teens. They like to see boobs and blood and guts. What all this really leads to is the film commenting on horror movies. This whole movie only exists to justify and comment on the tropes of the horror movie genre. It jokes about the gratuitous nudity. It jokes about they archetypes seen in every horror movie. It jokes about the violence inflicted on these kids. It is all about commenting on and being cooler than the horror movies that have come before.

This self awareness is fun for a while. A lot of the jokes are great. It is fun that this movie has a little more going on than just the horror. However, that self awareness soon turns to self satisfaction and the movie becomes a smug take down of the genre that forgets to be a movie in its own right. Moments that could build to a real scare or become a genuine character moment are undercut by the jokes and the scripts knowing winks about the horror genre. Do you like these characters? It doesn’t matter. Here are some more tropes for you to acknowledge.

The college kids are attacked by a family of hillbilly zombies. The zombies are pretty generic, and there’s no suspense and payoff. They simply attack and brutalize the kids. Is someone standing in front of a window? You bet a zombie is going to burst through that window. Is there a moment of calm? Guess what a zombie is about to attack. The movie cuts out all the build up and anticipation that makes horror movies work. It just wants to get to the violence. And that violence isn’t scary or even that interesting. It’s just constant brutality against characters we’ve genuinely come to like. It just feels mean spirited and nasty.

The big moment everyone points to with this movie is the segment late in the film in which the company’s stock of monsters they have used in the past for the sacrifices are set loose. These include some wonderful creature designs. There’s a disgusting merman. There’s an imposing figure with a saw blade in his head. There is a giant cobra. These are set loose and allowed to tear a bunch of faceless people apart. They are gored, eviscerated, and disemboweled in every way imaginable. The designs of the monsters themselves are fun, but the violence they inflict is pretty brief and lacking real impact because of it.

I’m about to get into the end, so seriously… turn back now if you don’t want to get into it.

In the end, it is left to Dana and Marty. They are the last two left. If Marty lives past dawn, the gods with rise and destroy the earth. In the end, Dana and Marty decide to let the world die because it’s not worth saving. The movies thesis statement is, “humanity isn’t worth saving, let it all burn” That’s just not a message I want to watch. It’s not a message I agree with even in 2020. I can’t get behind that level of nihilism and hopelessness. The movie introduces us to a bunch of characters that I really ended up liking. Curt is more than just a jock. Marty is more than just a stoner. Whitford and Jenkins are a delightful duo who do a terrible job but are doing it for a good reason, and they definitely don’t deserve the horrors inflicted upon them. But the movie says they do. The movie says that they all might as well get destroyed in fire and blood by the old gods. The system is rigged against you. There is no way out of the system. You cannot win. Everyone might as well die. As far as themes go, I can’t appreciate that one.

With too much self congratulations, too much unpleasant violence, and an overall message that just ruins my day the movie just does not work for me. I can’t say it’s my cup of tea. C+

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