For a movie touted as a game changer, Cabin in the Woods is more than happy to play by the rules.
I don’t know what exactly happened to change things, but for the past few years I’ve always intended to get to the movies more and see things ASAP but it just never really worked out. This year I’ve kind of attacked that goal with a passion and it seems to be a good year for it, with “must-see” movies like this coming out each week now for the foreseeable future. It’s likely that if I’d waited more than a few weeks to see this one, I would’ve approached it with far more apprehension and cynicism than I did today. I’m pretty good at avoiding spoilers and I managed to do so in this case – aside from the poster featuring said cabin revolving in layers like a giant impossible rubik’s cube and the buzz all over about spoilers in itself really threatening to spoil the experience (recalling the episode of The IT Crowd, “Moss and the German” – Roy’s “don’t tell me there’s a twist, I’ll be guessing what it is all the way through!”), I had very little idea what was coming as the movie began. I have to be honest: I don’t know what difference it really would’ve made if I had known everything. The spoilability of this movie has been grossly overstated, possibly to its detriment. But I’ll try my best here not to say too much.
Cabin in the Woods is a movie unmistakably made by people who love horror movies and want desperately to do something new with the genre. Comparisons to Scream are inevitable and its reference points unending (I wrote down a bunch of titles but decided not to list any of them here because they’re all a bit of a giveaway). From the off, and for a good chunk of its running time, it plays with one of horror’s most worn out situations, succinctly put by the very title, The Cabin in the Woods. It retreads this trope so well, in fact, that it kind of gets boring. There’s an intercut mysterious subplot (which contains some very subtle and well played exposition that pays off at the end) but I have to admit, I spent most of the first hour thinking, “really? this is it?”
But Cabin in the Woods is not about the setup. Cabin in the Woods is about the pay off: the less about which you know, the better.
One poster in the UK has a gigantic quote on it calling it a “game changer”, a phrase I hate almost as much as the word “canon”. Unless you actually take the last shot of Cabin in the Woods to signify this as the last word in the horror genre as we know it, ushering in a whole new era (spoiler: it isn’t), there’s no sense in which this film is a game changer. Trust me, for all its creators’ knowledge of the game (which isn’t all that impressive – we’ve all known all of this since Scream whether we saw it or not – it’s mostly basic storytelling anyway), it is more than happy to play by the rules. Until the genuinely “well I haven’t seen that before” finale (you’ll know it when you see it), this movie is really no better than the genre clichés it purports to being “above”. Some will argue that this is partly the point, but I mostly found it lacking.
So on the one hand the more you like horror movies – the more you really like horror movies – and the more you know horror movies, the more you are likely to enjoy Cabin in the Woods. On the other, the more you really like and know horror movies, the more likely you are to have seen everything it does (except that one shot – where the elevators open, that’s all I’ll say) done better. If I was 17, the age I was when I first saw Scream, and had as limited (though ample) experience of the past 10 years of horror as I had then of 70s and 80s horror, I’d likely be gushing over this as much as I did then over Scream, and I imagine that’s the audience which will embrace the “game change” moniker and love this movie the most. And because it does that one shot so well, I’m frankly able to let that slide.
The one thing I do hope the final shot signifies is that Whedon and Goddard have no intention of turning Cabin in the Woods into a franchise – it’d be easy, yes, just run through all the other possibilities – but dull as dishwater now we’ve seen the elevators open. (Addendum: immediately after I posted this I saw the word “prequel” on Twitter. I didn’t think of that. Gagh.)