CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: A cabin in the middle of the woods. MICHAEL ARRUDA has just arrived, to find L.L. SOARES sitting in front the fire, reading a collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories)
MA: Nice to see you’re so comfortable. It took me forever to find this place.
LS: I know, I’ve been here for three days now. Did you get lost or something?
MA: This place isn’t on any map or GPS that I know of. How did you get here anyway?
LS: I borrowed THE FLY’s teleportation machine.
MA: That explains why you didn’t need a map. Whoa! You borrowed THE FLY’s teleportation machine?
LS: Clean that wax out of your ears, son, that’s what I said.
MA: That didn’t work out so well for Seth Brundle. There weren’t any flies in there with you, were there?
LS: No. But there was this tarantula, and a scorpion. Is that bad?
MA: Aren’t you worried that you’ve somehow all been jumbled together, and that now you might be sharing some of their DNA?
LS (burps): Not really.
MA: Are you telling me that you—?
LS: Yep. They’re just delicious when you add some of Stubbs’ barbecue sauce. Anyway, do you want me to start the review while you’re getting settled?
MA: Sure. Man, you must have a stomach made of iron.
LS: This week’s movie is THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, and it’s the first movie directed by Drew Goddard, who mainly was a writer before this. He wrote CLOVERFIELD (2008), a movie we both liked a lot.
MA: Yep, CLOVERFIELD was one of my favorite horror movies of the last decade.
LS: CABIN is also written by Joss Whedon, who created shows like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL two shows that Goddard also wrote for. And Whedon will be directing THE AVENGERS movie next month, too!
MA: Goddard co-wrote the screenplay with Whedon. In addition to writing CLOVERFIELD, Goddard also wrote several episodes of the TV show LOST, and I thought there were parts of this movie that reminded me of LOST.
LS: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS starts out kind of strangely, as we see a group of scientists taking a lunch break before they go back to work. These are Hadley (Bradley Whitford) and Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and they seem to be in charge of some strange experiment.
MA: Strange is the operative word here. The movie opens and I’m thinking, what an odd way to get this one started, but it caught my attention, and so I guess it worked!
LS: Then the story shifts to five college kids who decide to take a weekend “off the grid,” kicking back at a secluded cabin in the middle of nowhere, which belongs to one of the kids’ cousin. They include Jules (Anna Hutchison), a sexy, flirty co-ed who just dyed her hair blonde; her roommate Dana (Kristen Connolly), a slightly less outgoing, innocent-seeming redhead; Jules’ boyfriend Curt (Chris Hemsworth—yes, THOR himself), a jock; Curt’s friend Holden (Jesse Williams) who Jules and Curt are trying to fix up with Dana; and fifth wheel, Marty (Fran Kranz) who is smart and a smart aleck and he smokes a lot of weed, and I wasn’t really sure why he was going along with them, but he’s a welcome addition to the group, as far as I’m concerned.
MA: Yeah, he’s the most fun— and refreshing— character in the movie.
LS: They take an RV out to the country, where they come upon your typical, cliché’ redneck gas station owner, Mordecai (Tim De Zarn) who sets the creepy mood, and you just know these kids are in for some trouble.
MA: This is the scene where I almost groaned out loud. I’ve seen so many scenes like this one; it’s almost painful to sit through any more, so when this movie took this scene and did something completely different with it later, it was that much more refreshing.
(There is a knock at the cabin door. MA opens door to find a redneck gas station owner at the door, and behind him his redneck son, behind him another old man, and on and on the line goes.)
REDNECK MAN: This is no place for strangers!
REDNECK SON: My advice to you is to turn around and go back to where you came from.
OLD MAN: Turn back before ye perish!
EVEN OLDER MAN: You’ll be sorrrrry!
SKELETON IN OVERALLS: Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
MA: I think I’m going to throw up. (Slams door in their faces.)
LS: Yeah, I’m sick to death of those guys, too. Get a life! And get some teeth!
Anyway, like I was saying, you know these kids are headed for trouble. The thing is, what kind of trouble is something a little bit different than what we usually see in these kinds of movies. You might go in expecting yet another retread of THE EVIL DEAD or something along the lines of Eli Roth’s CABIN FEVER, but instead, we get something different than we’re expecting. This ties in to the fact that there are two smart, creative guys at the helm of this one, and they’re determined not to give us something we’ve seen before.
During a game of Truth or Dare, the kids find a doorway into a basement. When they go down to explore, they find lots of very strange artifacts, which will somehow decide their fate, depending on which one they choose. Dana picks up a diary of a girl who lived in the cabin back in 1908, and it’s rather disturbing. Meanwhile, outside, some strange figures start shuffling around, holding some vicious-looking weapons.
Beyond that, I don’t want to say too much, except that the kids in the cabin, the creatures stalking them, and the scientists back at the underground lab are closely linked, and that there really is a reason why all this is going on. A very cool reason. And I figured it out by the half-way mark, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of this movie at all.
Not only is the directing and writing very good here, the acting isn’t too bad, either. I really enjoyed the interaction between Jenkins and Whitford as the scientists, who also involve their fellow employees in their activities. These are two good actors who turn in good performances.
MA: I agree. I thought veterans Richard Jenkins (who was in LET ME IN (2010), and received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in THE VISITOR (2007), not too shabby), Bradley Whitford (who most people will recognize from TV’s THE WEST WING) were excellent and lent credibility to the proceedings. They definitely help make the unbelievable seem believable. Credit here also goes to the writing, which gives them plenty of lively lines to deliver.
LS: The kids aren’t too bad, either. Hutchison as Jules is very sexy and Hemsworth is a muscular alpha male as Curt.
MA: Yes, no doubt about it, Hutchison is hot. The scene where she makes out with a stuffed wolf’s head in a game of truth or dare is worth the price of admission all by itself!
And I liked Hemsworth as Curt too. Most jocks in these films are jerks. Hemsworth makes Curt pretty likeable.
LS: I wasn’t as impressed with Jesse Williams as Holden – he was okay, but nothing special. The two best performances here, however, are Kristen Connolly as the “virginal” Dana, who gets tough when she has to, and Kranz (who Whedon fans will recognize as Topher from the short-lived but really good series DOLLHOUSE). He pretty much steals every scene he’s in, and was my favorite character.
MA: I agree with you wholeheartedly here.
LS: Wholeheartedly? That reminds me! (Suddenly there is a bloody heart on LS’ plate next to a bottle of barbecue sauce.) Thanks, I didn’t want it to spoil.
MA: Where did that come from? That’s not yours, is it?
LS: Of course not! Mine isn’t this big. I had it in my pocket for a snack. And right about now, when you’re just about to go into a long rant, is as good a time as any for the munchies.
MA: Long rant? I’ll save those for when I don’t like something! Anyway, as I was saying, the two leads are excellent. Kranz nearly steals the movie as Marty, a character who’s stoned most of the time. Yet, this turns out to help him later in the story. Hmm, a subtle plug for medical marijuana, perhaps? (laughs) Kranz is funny, likeable, and best of all, refreshing. He provides the film with its best moments.
LS: He was great on DOLLHOUSE, too. I’d love to see Kranz become a star because of his performance here.
MA: Kristen Connolly is also excellent as Dana. She enjoys the best of both worlds in this movie, as she’s pretty hot herself, and yet she’s strong, capable, and more than holds her own when the going gets rough. She’s also smart.
LS: Yeah, she is pretty hot, too. Gotta love a redhead. And I liked her character a lot.
MA: Nice job by both these actors. There’s also a surprise cameo appearance at the end that’s been generating some excitement.
LS: Yeah, except I didn’t find it very exciting. The person who shows up isn’t that big a deal, since he/she has been in these kinds of movies before. It certainly wasn’t as big a deal as Bill Murray’s appearance in ZOMBIELAND (2009). I don’t even know why we’re keeping it a secret.
MA: Yeah, I didn’t think it was a big deal, either.
LS: The movie has its fair share of scares and laughs, and knows how to balance the two of them effectively. And the fact that there are some genuine surprises here means that CABIN is a movie you can really enjoy. It’s smarter than the usual Hollywood horror flick, and I enjoyed it a lot. In fact, I give it three and a half knives!
What did you think of it, Michael?
MA: I enjoyed it too, but I didn’t love it.
LS: Of course you didn’t. (starts eating the heart)
MA: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is definitely different. As advertised, it offers a refreshing take on the usual tale of young people trapped in a haunted cabin in the middle of nowhere. For that, I commend the filmmakers, and I really did like this movie.
It’s just that, I’m not sure that I bought it all. What was going on behind the scenes, in those scenes with Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, bordered a bit too much on fantasy for my tastes. Now, I know you won’t like this comparison, but some of the stuff was reminiscent of MEN IN BLACK, only better. MEN IN BLACK was science fiction and it was pure comedic fluff, while THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is horror and never strays down the road to goofiness. That being said, I still had a hard time accepting some of the things that happen in this movie once the explanations start rolling in.
LS: MEN IN BLACK? Did you really need to go there?
MA: Sorry, but I think I did.
(There is a knock on the door, and when MA opens it, there is a brutish BIG ZOMBIE standing in the doorway)
BIG ZOMBIE (to LS): You gonna eat that heart?
LS (talks with his mouth full): Way ahead of you. And I’m not sharing!
BIG ZOMBIE: Dammit!
(BIG ZOMBIE growls and skulks away)
MA: I actually bought into THE HUNGER GAMES more. That was a movie that I thought I was not going to believe, but that one, with its combination of strong acting, writing, and directing, convinced me that those deadly games were in fact real. THE HUNGER GAMES had more of an edge, I think, than THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, which as much as I liked it, would have been better served had it had a jagged edge of its own.
But I really enjoyed THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a really creative flick, and it would be difficult not to like this movie.
I said earlier it reminded me a bit of LOST, in that you have a group of characters stuck in a situation that they at first think they know about and have a handle on, but soon they realize there is so much more going on, and it’s way more complicated than what they first thought. At one point, one of the characters remarks that they’re like puppets, manipulated by outside forces, which reminded me of the survivors on LOST when they were dealing with “the Others” early in that show.
LS: Yes, I see what you mean about the LOST comparison, although I thought the ending of THE CABIN IN THE WOODS was more satisfying than the ending of LOST.
MA: And like CLOVERFIELD, which was also written by Drew Goddard, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS has well-written characters and fun, lively dialogue.
I thought the special effects were also very good. I liked the monsters and creatures in this one and thought they looked genuinely scary for the most part. They were credible.
LS: I wish we’d gotten to see more of them!
MA: Not so credible is the plot. Ultimately, did I really buy all that was happening? And the answer to that question is no, I didn’t. Because while the film never breaks out into a full-fledged spoof/comedy— it does get the humor right, and it’s smart in that the dark elements of the movie remain dark— it’s difficult to take the proceedings all that seriously once you learn the secret of what’s ultimately going on.
I liked THE CABIN IN THE WOODS for what it was— a wild, over the top, creative horror movie, but had it somehow been more believable, I would have loved it.
I give it three knives.
LS: Yeah, I liked this one a bit more than you did. But at least we can agree that it’s a lot of fun and that the folks out there should check this movie out.
MA: Yes, it’s definitely worth checking out!
(There’s another knock at the door)
MA: I wonder who it is now.
(Outside the door, lots of REDNECKS and ZOMBIES are playing outside on the front lawn)
LS: What’s going on here?
REDNECK MAN: What does it look like?
REDNECK SON: We’re havin’ a picnic.
OLD MAN: Yeah, and we brought all the fixins’
EVEN OLDER MAN: We even brought the grill!
SKELETON IN OVERALLS: I can’t wait to eat. I’m starvin’ right to death.
REDNECK MAN: Yep, my great great grandpa needs to put some meat on those bones.
MA: That’s all well and good, but it looks like you’ve forgotten the most important part. The food! There’s no meat on the grill.
LS: Yeah, what are we supposed to be eating?
REDNECK MAN: Well, you’re not going to be eatin’ anything.
BIG ZOMBIE: We’re gonna be eatin’ you!
(CLOSE-UP of a LITTLE BOY ZOMBIE licking his lips)
MA (to camera): Gotta go!
(MA and LS run away in fast motion as the ZOMBIES and REDNECKS look on in bewilderment)
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives THE CABIN IN THE WOODS ~ three knives!
LL Soares gives THE CABIN IN THE WOODS ~three and a half knives.