On the advice of a friend who described The Cabin in the Woods as the next cinematic “happening” in horror and mayhem, I bit the bullet and suffered through a creepfest so stupid it makes trashy slash-and-burn epics like Humans Versus Zombies and I Spit on Your Grave seem like Molière and Proust. Some films have to seek their own audience like oil seeks its own level in water. Others arrive with a preordained sort of word-of-mouth anticipation that cannot be explained. This is one of them.
A testament to the wonders of writing under the guidance of crystal meth, this nightmare spoof of everything from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the Scream franchise totally defies logic, and pretty much eludes description. Five college kids take a motor van to a country weekend cabin. Stopping at a crumbling shack on a deserted road to buy gas, they encounter a cretin with rotting teeth and one eye who insults the women and spits tobacco juice at the men like a cross between Yosemite Sam and the winner of a talent show for troglodytes. Just behind the bloodstained glass window stands a barrel of meat hooks. Oh, I get it. It’s a send-up constructed from old movies and the clichés in Tales From the Crypt comics. Instead of heading back to civilization, onward they plunge, across a narrow mountain pass to the cabin of cobwebs. Rooms with two-way mirrors, grotesque paintings of brutality and massacre, and the creaking door to a cellar of corpses are just the beginning of a set that looks like the haunted house at Knott’s Berry Farm.
One by one, the visitors learn the meaning of “gotcha.” Zombies rise from the swamp and eat the sexy chick’s flesh. Vampires circle the moon and suck the hot stud’s blood. Only the smart girl who reads “Soviet Economic Structures” and the reefer-smoking doofus, so stoned he has to struggle to make complete sentences, manage to survive the monsters crashing through the ceiling, windows and floors. What they fail to notice is the hidden cameras. Yes! The rooms are all being monitored on a wall of video screens in some kind of remote science lab where an army of scientists like the security teams in Russian attack movies shift the course of the game with switches, including one labeled “Zombie Redneck Torture Family,” conjuring fresh hordes of killers from childhood nightmares to rise from their graves and gnaw, stab and mutilate the screaming victims. It’s all part of an elaborate video game that allows paying customers to watch real people slaughtered according to the horror of choice. The five kids in the cabin are innocent pawns to test the mechanics of the game, the way fiends in a horror movie test the sounds of screaming babies as they feed them to the jaws of mutated crocodiles.
The game, like the movie, is a meaningless absurdity. If it sells, people with a passion for gore can experience real terror while the players are shredded, one by one. What the game testers didn’t count on was luring a pair of victims smart enough to outwit them. The game ends only if the virgin survives. Somehow miraculously managing to figure it all out, the stoner and the brainy girl (who is also a virgin) crawl into a grave and get to the other side of the “ritual.” Then the real hell breaks loose and the whole movie collapses. It’s not a movie about acting, so ignoring the unfortunate people in it is an act of charity, but somehow Sigourney Weaver shows up in a neat spin on herself and her own sad contribution to horror movies to warn that if the virgin doesn’t survive it will mean the agonizing death of every human soul on the planet. But why say more? The Cabin in the Woods has died already in a boring finale full of metaphysical explanations that filch from every horror genre ever invented.
This is a first-time effort for director Drew Goddard, who developed a loud camp following by indulging his wacko imagination as producer and writer of numerous TV episodes of Lost and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The only imagination on view here is the creature effects. From snarling werewolves and humongous cobras to a faceless child in a ballerina costume whose entire countenance above the neck is nothing but a round hole filled with snapping razor-sharp teeth, the mythical monstrosities are awesome. The rest of the movie is the kind of time-wasting drivel designed to appeal to electronics nerds and skateboarders addicted to Xbox 360 video games whose knowledge of the arts begins and ends with MTV2. Instead of electronic wands like Nintendo’s Wii controllers, the master fiends working the control panels tap buttons and pull levers right out of Dr. Strangelove. As their victims plunge deeper and deeper, the narrative gets sillier and sillier. Maybe that’s why an entire row of what they call “fanboys” at the screening I attended laughed all the way through the movie, although I failed to see anything remotely amusing. I doubt if these people even know who Sigourney Weaver is.
At the risk of inviting a monsoon of unwanted hate mail, I admit it is indeed a brand-new world out there. I’m so glad I don’t have to write for it.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
Running Time 95 minutes
Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard
Directed by Drew Goddard
Starring Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford and Chris Hemsworth
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