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“The Cabin in the Woods”: Is It a Scream?

April 15, 2012

New from LionsGate: A group of youths is cruelly manipulated by nefarious overseers in a kill-or-be-killed contest. No, it’s not The Hunger Games, it’s The Cabin in the Woods, the new meta-horror flick cowritten and directed by geek god Joss Whedon. Unlike Hunger, which has slain both critics and audiences (82% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and more than $500 million at the worldwide box office), Cabin scored with critics (92% on Rotten Tomatoes) but not so much with audiences, opening with a modest $15 million and earning a C from Cinemascore audiences (and a lowly D+ from women). How did Whedon and Co. get lost in the Woods?

Filmed three years ago, Cabin sat on LionsGate’s shelves while they couldn’t decide what to do with it: Give away the parodic “twist” (which is revealed in the first scene) that the nubile college students unwittingly enacting a classic slasher-film scenario are being puppeteered by a bunch of guys—and a few women—in white shirts and lab coats, including Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) and Emmy winner Bradley Whitford (The West Wing)? Or sell it as a straight blood-and-gutsfest, showing only the good-looking youngsters, including a B.T. (Before Thor) Chris Hemsworth, who’ll soon wield the hammer again in Whedon’s The Avengers? They went with Plan B, only hinting at the Machiavellian machinations, which may explain why audiences feel misled by LionsGate’s marketing campaign.

I can almost understand why the studio would want to bury the storytelling hook; as entertaining as the scenes with Whitford and Jenkins are, they keep the movie at arm’s length, commenting on the mayhem rather than putting you in the middle of it. (It’s the opposite of the wildly underrated Silent House, which never gave viewers a millisecond of relief due to its real-time format.) Cabin wants to be self-aware, like Scream, but it provokes very few real screams, either of terror or laughter. It’s too hip for the room, at least if the room is filled with opening-weekend horror devotees who prefer their gore served up without a side of irony.

Though it was cowritten and directed by Cloverfield scribe Drew Goddard, this is unquestionably a product of the Whedonverse. He even casts fan faves Fran Kranz (Dollhouse)—channeling Shaggy as the group’s resident stoner—and Amy Acker (Angel), members of his unofficial repertory company. Its dialogue is often clever, but unlike Whedon’s signature work, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Cabin in the Woods never drives an emotional stake through your heart. You can’t take it seriously, because you know everybody’s just Joss-in’.

Did you get lured into The Cabin in the Woods? Shriek out a comment!

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5 Comments
  1. Ha, didn’t realize these were all inside actors! Careful not to spoil! Nice review.

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