Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

Let's talk about movies... Specifically scary movies. I've been on a horror film run of late and I'm putting it to use during October with a new kind of terror for each review. What is it about a good fright that keeps us coming back for more? Is it the adrenaline rush? The illusion of danger lurking around every corner once you exit the theater? Maybe it's the opportunity to yawn and cuddle up to someone to protect them or the chance to hold someone's hand for comfort. I find horror movies enthralling testaments of the human will to survive when facing certain death... That and a continuation of my ever-elusive hunt for the next big thrill; roller coasters are so over, give me a good slasher flick instead. How about it? Wanna hold my hand?

This week on deck: The Cabin in the Woods

How it came to my attention: I love anything and everything Joss Whedon... Seriously, he could film himself getting a haircut and I would stand in line for the midnight showing (how WILL it end?!?). When Cabin in the Woods was released, I saw it in theaters with friends and was both blown away and perplexed. When it came out on DVD, I knew it was time for me and Cabin to get back together and hash this out once and for all. 

Going into it: The title says it all. I knew without a doubt that there would be a cabin and it would be in the mother-fucking woods.

Coming out of it: Oh my god... Really?!? Really. Really?!? Yeah. That happened.

The Review/Recommendation:

Don't Watch It: This pains me to say... But if I had to pull a trigger, it would be on the "Don't Watch It" gun; though it's close for a few reasons. The Cabin in the Woods had a lot of potential to be a trailblazer in the pantheon of horror films. It had a new twist on an old concept, clever dialogue, and a fantastic blend of humor and bloodshed. So what went wrong? For one, it took almost exactly half the film to shed a drop of hemoglobin. I mean, there's "foreplay" and then there's "prelude to a coma". The pacing of the film felt off to me. It took forever to start, really got going, and then came to a stilted halt before an abrupt ending. Also, the main horror villains (the zombies) were supremely disappointing after being shown all the options we could have had on the betting spread. I felt like a supernatural Oliver Twist peering into the Little Shop of Horrors, begging to pick out better villains. Please, sir, may I have some more... Monsters? We saw killer unicorns, possessed ballerinas, mermen, etc. And though the Buckners were a class act, they just didn't deliver the wallop I was expecting. I appreciate the futile struggle against fate and sheer strength of character it takes to tell gods to "fuck off" as much as the next person... But something in my rational soul rebelled against the final outcome. Disbelief? You're calling to say you're fully suspended and still couldn't wrap yourself around the absolutely absurd ending? Me too, buddy, me too. Ultimately, there were just too many cracks in the bottom of this boat and the ship sank; save yourself the frustration and go watch something else.

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The Recap (will most certainly contain spoilers): The opening sequence is filled with frescos of ritual sacrifice painted in a backdrop of blood. We cut to some office flunkies chatting it up over a coffee machine. Ok, I'm rolling with this. More banality followed by Fred (R.I.P "Angel") aka Amy Acker playing "Lin" cranking up the anxiety level about a possible emergency. Her concerns are summarily dismissed by her colleagues and that seals the deal. Shit will hit the fan at some point so I hope you brought your ponchos, folks. Sidenote: Drew Goddard (the director) is not fucking around. The first time I got scared watching this? The title screen. I'm betting you pee yourself a little bit when that pops up.

Next we bear witness to the quintessential view of suburbia and some nubile young ladies (The blond one is Anna Hutchison playing "Jules" and the redhead is Kristen Connolly playing "Dana") packing for a weekend away at a lake house. One of them has clearly forgotten how to put on pants (hint: one leg at a time). Enter Thor (sadly without cape and armor) aka Chris Hemsworth playing "Curt", a surprisingly erudite jock. And out the window we meet Jesse Williams playing classic good-guy "Holden".

The group packs up their RV and we get our last arrival on scene as resident stoner, "Marty" (played by Fran Krantz (R.I.P "Dollhouse") drives up. I know I'm going to like this guy within the first ten seconds. Just watch how he disguises his bong; it's nothing short of genius. As they roll out, we begin our journey along with them in the age-old horror film starter: some bitches be going camping. And those bitches, true to form, are sexy young college students. I'm already wondering who will be getting naked with whom and who will die first. 

Secret agent man on the roof doesn't want us to forget that there's a plan in motion. Big brother is watching and Marty plays the part of the wise fool. Listen to what he says, it might be more relevant than you think. Back at the Fortress of Doom, Agent Sitterson (played by Richard Jenkins) and Agent Hadley (played by Bradley Whitford) accompanied by lackey-with-a-conscience Truman (played by Brian White) enter the Situation Room to keep tabs on the Scooby Gang.

Gotta love the homage to tradition Whedon is throwing at us right now. Of course the group needs to gas up. Of course it's at a deserted gas station and of course there are nasty-looking grappling hooks displayed in the store... all of this underscored by omninous music. Be still my heart! Was that a "hello" called out to the deserted station? The first legit scare happens here; the misogynistic station owner appears out of nowhere, Holden shits six bricks, and Oldy McCreepypants spouts off the usual bullshit meant to hook all those slow starters out there who haven't yet figured out that this is a scary movie. Bad Things Will Happen. We get it, "Mordecai" (aka "The Harbinger" played by Tim De Zarn). Kudos to Morty, though; he's got my hackles up and suspicious-shit-detecting antennae frantically waving around.  

The RV drives through a mountain tunnel and an eagle flying nearby gets bug-zapped on a hexagonal force field. We are officially NOT in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. The gang settles in to Casa Del Death and the usual red flags arise (creepy paintings, two-way mirrors, etc.). We are still firmly in the pre-flight checklist though: the most terrifying thing happening right now is the incredibly awkward conversation between Holden and Dana. Dear god let there be blood spilled soon. Sidenote: If you know it's a two-way mirror...WHY THE HELL DO YOU KEEP GETTING NAKED IN FRONT OF IT?!?

The Situation room is livening up as the grim reapers prep for takeoff. Mordecai calls Mission Control and gives us some quality crazy. I'm especially digging the departure from the norm with the speakerphone bit (seriously dying with laughter right now). It gets interesting when we enter the explanatory phase of the scene. There's betting going on about the outcome of events and lackey Truman provides a convenient foil for us to get some hard details about what's going on. The juxtaposition between mission control and ground zero is engaging enough to keeping this thing limping along. Cabin is at the tipping point, about to plunge into action.

We cut to a game of Truth or Dare and the "Most Committed Participant" award (in the history of Truth or Dare) needs to go to Jules. What she did with that poor stuffed animal head was like a train wreck; I couldn't look away even though I really, really wanted to. The cellar door inexplicably flies open; Dana is dared to go into the cellar and the rest eventually follow her into what rapidly becomes a russian roulette of mystical shit. The score here suggests that each item the gang has individually picked up can be activated somehow and it's just a matter of time before the musical chairs of doom pick a winner. My first impulse upon spying a journal of pain-worshipping cannibalistic hillbillies wouldn't be to read the creepy latin incantation aloud... But the odds are stacked against the kids regardless, so I'll stop wishing them common sense and start listening for screams.

Zombie Redneck Torture Family wins the office death pool for the Maintenance Department (and Ronald the Intern). Really? Zombies? Death by bubble bath would be more original, especially after seeing the smorgasbord of choices in the betting pool. I'm a little disappointed that the re-animated rabbit was the one pulled out of the hat. We pop back over to the cabin and see Jules is, yet again, waving her milkshake around to bring all the boys to the yard. It's almost a relief when she and Curt head outside to write poetry and volunteer at a soup kitchen... Or they could be going outside to fuck like bunnies; the odds are 50/50. Anyhow, the first rule of horror is: whoever leaves the group first, dies first. Dana makes a feeble attempt to stop the couple and then throws us what is rapidly becoming her trademark look: the pensive stare off into the distance accompanied by a furrowed brow. I might just club her over the head myself and get it over with. At this point, with the amount of screen time and focus she's getting, it's pretty obvious that if anyone is making it out of this alive it's going to be Dana.

The wise fool, Marty, speaks more truthiness but no one takes him seriously. The lesson I'm learning here is to pay more attention to what my stoner friends say to me. Then again, I recall a conversation I had with one where he told me that he wanted to hug french fries with his mouth because it was the closest he'd ever get to heaven... Yeah. Marty might just be the exception rather than the rule. The ball is rolling downhill now and picking up speed. Barbie and Ken "meat" the Buckners in the woods and Jules gets bear-trapped in the back and dragged off by Papa Pain. Note to self: Ewww (that looks like it's gonna sting in a minute). Better go get the Neosporin and semi-automatic. I think Goldilocks might have caught a smidgen of tetanus, and deadness, from that rusty axe.

Back at the Death Star the apocalyptic nerd herd say a little prayer for our dearly departed nymph then pull Creepy Lever Number One which releases a cascading stream of blood that slowly fills the outline of a stone wall carving. We're solidly into cruising altitude now. Marty drops another conversational gem as he walks out the door prompted by the puppetmasters to take a walk. You can go ahead and write "nighttime walks in the woods" onto the list of things horror movies have taught me not to do; along with: saying "Bloody Mary" into the mirror of a darkened bathroom, checking on "that weird noise"  in the other room, and camping on old indian burial grounds (that one is just common sense).

Heads up! Curt is still alive and he runs headlong into Marty before they panic-sprint over the little zombie girl on their way back to the cabin. The gang rallies and battens down the hatches but someone's come a-knocking! Turns out Daddy's home and he brought takeout. I don't care if you're a professional baseball player hardwired to catch anything thrown at you, if somebody chucks a severed head in your direction... Duck. It'll cost you less in therapy bills later. I swear, though, kids are so sensitive these days; just one zombie arm through the wall and they scatter like roaches when the light flips on. Ah! Why is Marty standing with his back facing a window?!? Come on, champ; clear the THC fog outta your noggin and start think-... Well, there he goes getting snatched outside. Super-bong comes in handy briefly as a zombie deterrent but Marty gets pulled into a ditch and a sea-world-worthy spray of blood flies out. Cue Lever Number Two being pulled back at Mission Control.

Dana gets a visit from Papa Buckner, Holden shatters the two-way mirror, and Dana hops in to his room to be a whole 10 feet farther from danger. Good call. They discover a way out of the room and into the basement... Though I would hesitate to say "discover" since everything down to the smallest detail has been arranged by the puppeteers. You never see the bear trap coming. Like a twisted version of big-game fly fishing, Holden gets snagged and dragged towards the room above. I'm slightly impressed by Lady Whinypants at the moment (she has such polite manners): Tire Iron, meet Zombie Brain, Zombie Brain, meet Impromptu Skewer. Hands down the grossest game of pin the knife on the dead guy, ever.

Dana, Holden and Curt make it back to the RV and we're given a glimmer of hope that they might all make it out alive. They drive towards the tunnel and the Fortress of Doom is hopping like a beehive that's just gotten whacked. Apparently an electrical glitch derailed a scheduled cave-in and the pass is still clear. The Ancients are rising and Mission Control collapses the tunnel just in time. The brain trust comes up with an idea to jump the dirt bike that's been strapped to the back of the RV over the ravine to safety. I like Curt. I'll say nice things in his eulogy because he is going the way of the eagle, friends. I will say, though, that Curt's body bouncing off of the force field really illustrates how far down the crevasse goes... And Lever Number Three gets pulled.

It just got Real O'Clock ya'll! Holden takes a scythe to the neck while driving back toward the Cabin. Anyone else wondering what the hell the zombie was doing in the back of the RV all that time? Playing 'Words With Friends'? Sewing an errant toe back on? Joining hair club for men? No matter, it's out of the frying pan and off a cliff for Dana. There can be only one Highlander and I guess she's it. I'm adding 'swimming anywhere I can't see the bottom' to the list of things I'll never do again. We find out Dana's death is optional in the scenario but she must suffer no matter what. 

The Evil League of Evil is poppin' off  like the nerdiest Bourbon Street Mardi Gras you've ever seen. That glitch in the electrical system from before has come back to rain on their parade (something is rotten in the State of Denmark and the big red phone starts ringing). It's a movie/television staple: if there's a big red phone; it will inevitably ring and always with bad news. Red is not the color of glad tidings. There's a Marty-shaped wrench in the works, everybody! Proof positive that if you don't see someone die on screen, they might not actually be dead. Like a stoned phoenix rising from the ashes, Marty steps in and saves Dana from the WWE-style ass kicking she was getting. Marty's street cred just shot through the roof. They both hop in the grave where the Buckner family came from and then climb into the elevator that sent the undead hicks up to play. Marty bypasses all sorts of technology and they end up on the most fucked up episode of 'Cribs', EVER. As the pair progresses even closer to Raccoon City, Dana has an epiphany and realizes they chose their own doom by raising the horrors that are trying to kill them. They have a sweet moment where they hug it out. Why has no one tried to sex up Marty this whole time? Tragic. 

It doesn't take long for HQ to track them down and re-route their elevator to a lower level lobby. Marty, Dana, and a disembodied zombie arm fight off a guard and we hear "The Director" over the speaker system; voiced and played by Sigourney Weaver. She goes Super-Villain 101 and regurgitates the concept we've all been processing for the last hour and a half : You have to die so the world can live. Marty and Dana decide to fuck shit up instead and lock themselves in the control room adjacent the lobby where they press the big red button that says "purge". Here's a thought... Maybe don't put the big button of doom smack in the middle of the console where anybody could push it. The blood and guts quotient ratchets up tenfold in no time. There's a veritable Jackson Pollock of gore happening in the lobby that is nothing short of impressive. Absolute pandemonium is running rampant throughout the facility, with monsters and death everywhere. I have to give the security guards respect because though they were only ever going to die (if we don't know your name, consider yourself cannon fodder), they don't turn tail and run as many of us would when confronted with killer unicorns, poltergeists, and zombies, etc.

Back at Mission Control we say good-bye to Truman; rest in peace, buddy (well... pieces). Agent Hadley finally lays eyes on a merman; and it's the last thing he ever does. They're right, it really would have been a bitch to clean up. Scientist Lin gets snatched up like the last Pringle in the can and (in what is possibly the most surprising kill of the film) Dana stabs Agent Sitterson. I don't know if I'm experiencing the cinematic equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome... But I might actually be more upset that Mission Control died than the Scooby Gang. Dana and Marty wander ever farther into the depths of the complex and eventually find their way to the Tribute Room where all the carvings we've seen throughout the film are housed. The Director appears and explains the last bits of the puzzle, though most has already been revealed. There must be at least five tributes to the gods; they must be young and specifically a whore (who has to die first), an athlete, a scholar, a fool and a virgin. All must suffer and die at the hands of whatever horror they raise; leaving the virgin to live or die as fate decides (or the ancient gods who once ruled the earth will rise again and destroy the world).

There are eight minutes left until the sun rises and time to complete the ritual runs out; The Director appeals to Marty to allow his death. And in another surprise move, Dana prepares to shoot Marty but becomes a lycanthropic snackable while Marty and The Director wrestle to decide the fate of the world. The littlest Buckner somehow makes her way to the Tribute Room and gives The Director an unexpected lobotomy before both of them are dealt with by Marty. Here is where the action comes to a grinding halt. Marty and Dana both apologize for trying to kill each other and they amicably share a joint whilst reflecting upon the state of humanity and the end of the world... ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!? Did I miss something where we unexpectedly got transported to Oregon? Because I went to college there, and you couldn't spit without hitting somebody having this exact same conversation... Only, you know, without the FATE OF THE WORLD hanging in the balance. Dana and Marty hold hands as they go gently into that good night. Unbelievable! With eight minutes until the end of the world I'd be trying to round as many bases as possible with the last person I'd ever see action from. The Tribute Room quakes and begins to crumble as an evil fist of doom erupts from below and out of the earth, dwarfing the cabin before crushing it and crashing down to cut the screen to black. Credits Roll.  

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