The Cabin in the Woods: A review
I ignored the lone “worst movie I ever saw”– naysayer–there was only one. Now that I’ve seen it, make that two. This movie, written by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon and directed by Drew Goddard, looks like it was a lot of fun to write. I can see all concerned cracking each other up at the hilarity. I would have loved to sit in on the sessions that put together this script, a combination of office comedy and slasher-college-students-go-camping sadism. The office segments, centered in a high tech control room with lots of screens and tons of controls are smart and very funny. A couple of middle-aged men in white shirts and ties combat the boredom by shooting down slasher-movie conventions as they comment on the progress of the college students, whose story unfolds on one of a series of screens via hidden cameras. Different departments participate in a betting pool to see who dies and how.
We’re told that steps (spiked hair dye, pheromone mists, etc.) have been taken to ensure the students follow the intended course. Like the office, we’re meant to watch as the students struggle to survive. And like the betting pool, other than what we paid for the ticket, we have no investment. We spend the entire movie guessing the point of it all. Why is this happening? We’re given clues that point to a blood sacrifice.
By the time we learn that it’s either the college students’ deaths or the “end of the world” we’re still detached.
When one of the students begins to outsmart the puppeteers, there’s frantic damage control. We, the audience, continue to observe but not invest because the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit together.
If you don’t care, you have time to be logical and the story collapses. Other than a mild curiosity, we don’t care about what happens to any of the characters. For example, early in the story, one of the office techs complains that his wife’s plans to get pregnant include child-proofing the entire house. Then he and the rest of the office complex bet on which group of young people dies a grisly death. Jarring but not quite believable because so little attention is paid to character–it’s all jokes and office politics; there’s no anchor–no place to establish a point of view.
Absurdism ala Mel Brooks this isn’t. Brooks parodies genre, establishing a setting and a narrative and commenting on the conventions. He doesn’t splice two genres together. When you’re guessing at the setting and confused about who or what to root for, you, like the office workers, are indifferent. The Coen Brothers make you laugh at the violence resulting from human folly, but you’re also horrified because they find the humanity as well as the absurdity.
There’s no humanity in this office. I thought perhaps they weren’t human–maybe the office was set in hell. It would have made more sense.
Clever performances and jokes can’t make up for the cynicism and indifference of the script. At the end, like the surviving college students, you shrug at “the end of the world.” To be scared, you have to care. Cabin in the Woods has a crisp outer layer of office humor with a sweet gooey center of college-students-sex-and-death. And like a fried Twinkie, it’s hard to swallow and just as indigestible.