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AICN HORROR: Ambush Bug reviews CABIN IN THE WOODS and dissects what it might mean for the horror genre!!!

Published at: April 12, 2012, 12:44 p.m. CST by ambush bug

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Greetings, all. Ambush Bug with a special AICN HORROR Review. It’s not often that I separate my reviews from my regular weekly Friday horror column, but it’s not often that a film like CABIN IN THE WOODS comes along. I think special recognition and dissection is important for this film, mainly because not only is it a movie worth seeking out, but one that says a lot about the horror films of today. While I will stay away from specifics to protect those fearful of spoilers, I will try to talk about some of the broader themes at play in CABIN IN THE WOODS. Read on…

Advance Review: In theaters tomorrow!

CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)

Directed by Drew Goddard
Written by Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard
Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, & Amy Acker
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug


CABIN IN THE WOODS is everything folks are gushing about. It is an unabashed horror movie, and proud to be one with multiple scares consisting of fantastically timed jump scares and more complex ones that build in magnitude. In many ways, it is the apex of horror films, taking everything of what has been said and done before and smartly incorporating it all into one expansive story. Horror, in itself, is as much about convention as it is about scaring you, and CABIN IN THE WOODS embraces this fact cleverly and capably. Certain tick marks have to be made on a well worn checklist for most modern audiences to enjoy horror films, and Whedon and Goddard do a great job of making those marks one by one throughout the story. There’s the cabin in the woods, there’s the group of rowdy teens, there are drugs, there is sex, there is an entire Mystery Machine full of Scooby Doo characters Fred the jock, Daphne the tramp, Shaggy the stoner, Scooby the noble nerd, and of course, Velma the virgin. The thing that separates this film from the herd is the fact that all of what we have come to expect are present and accounted for yet this doesn’t produce eye rolling at the adherence to convention; instead it views these archetypes with fresh eyes. All of these roles are smartly crafted and much praise should go to Whedon and Goddard for shedding a refreshing light on these old standbys.

Without revealing too much, I’m sure most of you know that there are behind the scenes machinations at work that our residents of the cabin are unaware of. This is the aspect which both sets this film apart yet also makes me a bit leery of what this film means for the horror genre. In many ways, this is the end all be all horror film. It borrows quite a bit from scores of other films, and much like the archetypes of our young cast, it checks off all of these types of horror films in the same fashion. As self-referential as SCREAM was, CABIN IN THE WOODS does the same in a more complex fashion. Instead of verbally vomiting these rules off one by one as it occurred in Craven/Williamson’s flick which half the time mocked the genre it firmly rested in, CABIN IN THE WOODS creatively implements them. In doing so, this makes the film so much more enjoyable to sit through. It’s the filmic equivalent of explaining a joke as opposed to experiencing it, experiencing it being the much more satisfying option of the two.

For example, when a character suggests that they split up in order to investigate the strange goings on, instead of one of the characters stating “Every character in every horror movie makes the bad decision to split up and it always gets them killed!”, the character simply says “Really!?!?!” Same joke, but funnier because it avoids the tedious explanation and obnoxious wink at the camera. By having these characters go through motions we are very much used to seeing in horror films, yet restrictedly self aware in doing so, Goddard and Whedon makes it ok to see someone go off alone to investigate that bump in the night rather than running in the opposite direction, which would be the more realistic way of handling said situation. Without giving too much away, the filmmakers make every bone-headed move these cabiners make sensible in the context of the story.

But with CABIN IN THE WOODS hitting all of the right notes, does this mean that horror has hit such a level of self-awareness that there is nowhere to go? Surely, the way this film ends there really isn’t a lot of room for a sequel, but much like the tedious and repetitive aftershocks that the horror genre experienced from the annoyingly overly self-aware SCREAM (where every character must acknowledge they are in a horror film), I fear that the same will be a result of this film. And in a genre that has already been sucked dry by sequels, remakes, and films talking down to its audiences, it makes me fearful as to what Whedon and Godard have wrought with this film, which could be seen as the end result of the sum of all horror films.

Ramifications on the horror genre aside, Goddard has constructed a completely satisfying movie experience. The film does fall into its own conventions at times with its extremely good looking cast of campers (even the nerd has six-pack abs), but I’m willing to look past that due to the deft handling of scare scenes, fresh takes on old conventions, and expert construction of just about everything from practical effects to CGI to elaborate set pieces. The climax of this film does toss everything against the wall, but most of it sticks. Though the guest appearance at the end is a bit distracting, it is, like the rest of the film, an ode to horror convention and I didn’t take very much issue with it. As I mentioned above, there is a definite ending to this film, one that might be hard pressed to squeeze a sequel from, but the ending, like much of the rest of the film, is solid and satisfying.

I couldn’t end this review without talking about the performances by the actors. Unlike most horror films utilizing the cabin in the woods motif, most of the cast exhibit a great amount of acting skill. Standout performances include Chris Hemsworth, who adds a bit of depth to the bawdy jock stereotype, and Kristen Connolly, who takes the virginal character that is always present in these types of films and turns it on its ear. Fran Kranz plays himself as the comedic stoner wisenheimer character he perfected in DOLLHOUSE, and his comedy works almost all of the time due to Goddard and Whedon’s clever scripting. For me, though, the highlight of this film was Richard Jenkins & Bradley Whitford, who alternate at being both jaw-droppingly awesome and pants-shittingly funny every second they are on the screen.

CABIN IN THE WOODS is the type of film that horror freaks like me fiend for, yet also makes them cringe a little as it alerts general filmgoers as to how cool the horror genre is, yet it does so on a blockbuster tapestry the horror genre is rarely cast upon. It’s gory but not grossout. It’s scary without being overly disturbing. It’s safe, yet the filmmakers are skilled enough to make the whole thing such an enjoyable loop-di-loop that you can’t help but leave the theater with a smile so big you can taste your ears. Though horror fans love to be off in the corner thinking dark thoughts and flicking off film snobs, it’s bound to give those same fans a warm feeling that CABIN IN THE WOODS was treated with such skill and respect for the genre. In many ways, CABIN IN THE WOODS is validation that all of those low budget horror films which set these conventions in the first place are as cool as we all knew they were and may serve as an awesome gateway drug for those who see horror in a down-snouted manner. It may even prompt those folks to view those amazing films that influenced CABIN IN THE WOODS in a new light.

I can’t help but recommend CABIN IN THE WOODS for horror fans and those beyond that specific predilection and hope that this treatment excites other creative minds to the genre. Yet at the same time, the cynic in me recognizes that CABIN IN THE WOODS could possibly be, like SCREAM before it, a milestone in the genre and fears what that means for what happens next in horror.





See you tomorrow for our regular AICN HORROR column celebrating Friday the 13th!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in October 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released in March 2012.


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Readers Talkback

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  • April 12, 2012, 12:50 p.m. CST

    First

    by sirens

    .

  • April 12, 2012, 12:54 p.m. CST

    Can't see this movie till

    by sirens

    August in Germany..so please leak soon motherfucker.

  • April 12, 2012, 12:57 p.m. CST

    Cue the Whedon-haters...

    by kells

    ....oh, sorry. According to the critics, there is apparently nothing but brilliance here. Good luck.

  • April 12, 2012, 12:58 p.m. CST

    I'm in.

    by The Shropshire Slasher

  • April 12, 2012, 12:59 p.m. CST

    Based on a early draft I own

    by sirens

    this and Prometheus are linked to each other. At the and of the movie we see the derelict coming out of the sky, ready to unleash the bioweapon on us..then suddently a big giant hand of god grabs it at the very last second and crushes it with wrath.

  • April 12, 2012, 1 p.m. CST

    Is America asleep?

    by sirens

    Hello?

  • Sounds like there might be more going on than just gore and scares.

  • April 12, 2012, 1:11 p.m. CST

    sirens

    by chad kuhns

    I'm with on this..it's quite obvious that Chris Hemsworth is in fact the Space Jockey. In all seriousness, I've yet to hear anything even remotely negative about this flick, and the fact that it's flying largely under the radar will make it all the better if it's as great as the reputation it is building suggests it is.

  • April 12, 2012, 1:15 p.m. CST

    Sounds good for what it is.

    by DanielnocharismaCraig

    After all, lets just face the facts and admit the horror genre is dead and has been deceased for a very long time. So I'm certainly not expecting anything jaw dropping.

  • April 12, 2012, 1:20 p.m. CST

    evildeeds

    by sirens

    shall we inform Harry about it? It may save his reputation, if he's he first to report about it.

  • April 12, 2012, 1:21 p.m. CST

    sirens is wrong

    by Ambush Bug

  • As if this film is the end all of all horror films. Please feel free to laugh at yourself in a month or 2 ambush.

  • April 12, 2012, 1:41 p.m. CST

    It's funny that

    by sirens

    everyone is so aware not to spoiler it, when whedon and the other guy blew it right away in an interview..the ending I mean. Just do a little search on the internet and you will find all you need. Personally I find it stupid that all the mystery and all the secrets and so on, and then the two guys take a big shit about it all.

  • April 12, 2012, 1:55 p.m. CST

    CABIN isn't horror

    by sirens

    It's a well made parody of it. Real horror is when you were younger and you saw a movie that practically changed your personality for a few days. It still can happen even if you are grown up. This is a slap in the face of all the true horror film makers out there. Like AVATAR isnt,'t true science fiction, its a compilation of all the good stuff good filmmakers put out there in the past. That includes Cameron himself.

  • April 12, 2012, 2:07 p.m. CST

    I realised

    by sirens

    with my last post I made a review of the film ten times better than ambush bug's "dissection" of the movie, wich basically was as informative as a letter from my ex wife.

  • April 12, 2012, 2:15 p.m. CST

    American horror films are no longer terryfying, horrific!

    by AllThosePowers

  • April 12, 2012, 2:18 p.m. CST

    People today are scared to scare the people today. FACT!

    by sirens

    How about make a move like Poltergeist today and get the little kids to watch it with their Mommies. Hell no, we want cash, no sleepless little kids and complaining parents! Just make fun of horror, and it nobody gets hurt.

  • April 12, 2012, 3:06 p.m. CST

    Think you're overselling...

    by Red Ned Lynch

    ...a little here Ambush. Not sure you're doing the movie any favors by doing so. This is a cool, breezy little horror movie. If successful it will probably breed a year or two of bad imitations, just the way Scream did, in which case too bad. But I liked this movie in much the same way though not quite as much as I liked Trick 'R Treat. I already mentioned somewhere that there is nothing in Cabin in the Woods that is as good as the first fifteen minutes of Scream and nothing in Cabin in the Woods that is not better than the rest of Scream. The horror movie (as distinct from horror literature) is in most cases the cinematic version of the old Passion Plays. Yes, the characters and situations tend to be defined by archtype. Even when bad they often serve perfectly adequately for the function they are designed for. When a particular movie rises above the norm, whether by virtue of superior execution or a somewhat fresh (or forgotten) take on the material it is something to be celebrated but it in no way diminishes the need for the psychological frission provided by even the most pedestrian product. There will always be a new generation of teenagers. Anyway, Ambush, don't fret. Even if Cabin is successful (and I hope it will be because I always root for a good scary movie and this one is) we'll still have all the killer clowns, stumbling zombies, sexy demons and sharp fanged beasties we can ever watch.

  • Scream worked because the horror scenes were as intense as the best stuff out there. The horror scenes in this could have come from any mediocre Michael Bay produced remake tat. You get bored with the 'teens' movie pretty quickly. Thankfully, the other movie works like a charm and there's a LOT of fun to be had when the two combine in the last act. It's not gonna change the face of horror though.

  • April 12, 2012, 7:12 p.m. CST

    I stopped reading your post after you wrote Trick R. Treat.

    by halowiscious

    What a stupid movie.

  • April 12, 2012, 7:35 p.m. CST

    I read your post through to the end...

    by Red Ned Lynch

    ...it was very insightful.

  • April 12, 2012, 11:45 p.m. CST

    Are you a professional critic?

    by kells

    Ohhh...you're, like, one of those people who thinks the freedom of the internet legitimizes your opinion as critically valid even though you have no professional accreditation whatsoever? Never mind.

  • April 13, 2012, 12:50 a.m. CST

    @Kells: Professional Accreditation for Critics?

    by Happyfat73

    You're criticising Ambush Bug because he may not have professional accreditation? Are you serious? Like someone who has graduated from The Critics Academy with a Masters in Criticism?</p> </p> As far as I'm concerned, anyone who can put forth a cogent argument for why they like or dislike a film, with some critical analysis to back up their assertions, then their opinion is probably as worthy as anyone's.</p> </p> P.S. If you want a really good laugh, read Rex Reed's review of Cabin in the Woods (New York Observer). And that guy has a job in traditional media, which by your standards, legitimises his opinion.

  • April 13, 2012, 1:56 a.m. CST

    Sirens:no wonder she divorced you.

    by Poptard_JD

    Talk backers are so miserable. Bug: good review! Just got back from the midnight show and I was indeed tasting my ears!

  • April 15, 2012, 6:26 a.m. CST

    Nowhere to go!

    by AcesUp

    I know I'm posting late, but I just have to say that your question of "does this mean that horror has hit such a level of self-awareness that there is nowhere to go?" was exactly what I thought after my initial viewing of the movie. I left the theatre with a shit eating grin on my face as a result of the pleasure of watching this wonderfully crafted piece of cinema, but also a foreboding question of what now?, as well. It feels almost as if Whedon and Goddard are making fun of horror fans, including themselves. Not in a mean spirited manner, but more in a bombastic "OH, is this what you wanted" manner while mashing the horror pie in our faces. We can't help but be amused at their cleverness, but also feel ashamed that they so thoroughly know what we want from our horror movies. And in doing this, Whedon and Goddard have seemingly made any future horror movies obsolete in laying out all of the conventions of previous horror movies in that wink wink, nod nod manner. Scream did this to a degree, but I feel Cabin does this in a much more subtle and philosophic way. The subtext is deeper, or so it seems to me. I feel that horror movies in the years to come are going to have to be more inventive or are simply going to have to be masterpieces derived from previous work, as in John Carpenter's The Thing, in order to really impress me. I really do hope that they do impress me. Torture porn didn't and doesn't. P.S. I love Hellraiser and would love to see a re-imagining, here's hoping for something good. STAY THE FUCK AWAY MICHAEL BAY.

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