Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Cabin as Rubik's Cube

The poster for The Cabin in the Woods (“TCITW”) is a clue to the film, if you choose to analyze it.  The cabin itself is not what it appears.  Nor is the movie.
(C) 2012 Lionsgate.

I see no cause to be mysterious about my overall opinion, so first things first:  Go see this movie. 

Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods is fun, it’s a trip of the LSD sort, a kick, a blast.  When you have seen this, you’ll realize it is not a simple teenage slasher movie. It has elements of those, of course.  It also includes 1950s science fiction as well as gathering paranoia.

The movie has some jumps, some gasps and shrieks, and a lot of laughs.  In terms of laughing to breathlessness, one of my best nights in the theatre ever was the panty-wetting “Evil Dead: The Musical,” and The Cabin in the Woods pays its homage to the “Evil Dead” movies and all those that came before and after.  There is the eponymous cabin in the woods with a lake out back.  It is its own little world.  If the camera had ever pulled back so far, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a snow globe.
A very cool alternate poster for The Cabin in the Woods.  (C) 2012 Lionsgate

The requisite characters are all here:  The Jock, The Dumb Blonde, The Egghead, The Virgin, and the Clown.  These five archetypes are portrayed to perfection by Chris Helmsford as Curt, the Jock/Alpha Male who’s actually on academic scholarship; Anna Hutchison as Jules, the dumb blonde who only just became either on the day the story starts; Jesse Williams as Holden, the smart nice guy; Kristen Connolly as Dana, who we’ll call the good girl — virgin is a bit much to ask in this day and age — and finally the wonderful Fran Kranz as Marty, the clown, fool, the stoner. 
Kranz as Stoner Marty, Helmsford as Jock Curt, and Hutchison as Jules. (C) 2012 Lionsgate.

Two storylines converge in The Cabin In The Woods, augmented by myriad tales of times gone by.  The first storyline begins with the adroit pairing of Richard Jenkins as Sitterson and Bradley Whitford as Hadley.  Those two white shirted company men are Men In Black with pocket protectors instead of suit jackets.  Jenkins and Whitford are hilarious together, having a mundane domestic talk as they walk down a non-descript hallway to a lab with nary a test tube but screens and buttons and lots of unprofessional humor.  Each man’s last line in the film is just perfectly suited to his character.  And I won’t tell you what or why, you’ll just have to wait for it. 

It’s tough to tell who’s in charge of this massive federal expenditure, Whitford’s Hadley with his handsome sad sack face, or Jenkins’ Sitterson with his wry humor.  The delightful Amy Acker appears as a scientist named Lin, seemingly above the others, then joining in the totally unethical office pool.  Suffice to say her character from the show Angel receives a tip of the hat here as well.  Brian White looks just so trustworthy and above this behavior as Truman.  Alas, poor Truman. Oh, and there are mystery guests here as well.

Jenkins as Sitterman, Acker as Lin, Whitford as Hadley in the scientific complex.  (C) 2012 Lionsgate.
From the get-go Messrs. Whedon and Goddard (they wrote and produced together, and Mr. Goddard directed) want to let us in on the joke.  They tell us about the creepy guy at the decrepit gas station (played chillingly by Tim DeZarn), and show us the electronic web isolating the location — alas, poor bird.  We know we’ll see that web again.  Then there are the creepy 19th century toys in the inevitable basement of the cabin.  The movie could be split screen, with its two concurrent storylines coming together in surprising fashion.  The visuals are effective, building up the clues, creating not just a horror flick, but also science fiction with social commentary, its government scientists inhabiting an underground complex that’s like Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “The Initiative” on steroids.
Holden the Egghead, Curt, Jules, and Marty (C) 2012 Lionsgate.

The movie is speeding along on a bumpy road in an open jeep with no shocks and no windows (OK, so they drove an RV, you know what I mean), and then the explanatory denouement goes on a bit too long.  Even once we know what’s been happening — but not what’s coming next — it’s still rollicking good fun, then slows down for too much “visual explanation” of everything you’ve ever wondered about — under your bed, in the closet, or what really lurks in the murky depths of the mountain lake.  I’m a fan of less is more.

My quibble is a spoiler, so skip this paragraph if you haven’t seen the movie yet.  To me, and no one knows this better than Messrs. Whedon and Goddard, things that go bump in the night are scarier than monsters we can see.  I’m sure it was fun, giving life to creatures of myth, fable, and their imaginations, and I can just see Whedon and Goddard fighting for their favorites.  Unfortunately, neither won, so the list was not winnowed.  Hence the overlong denouement.

Whedon and Goddard do not wimp out at the end.  Honest and fitting closure is provided by something akin to my memory of the moving logo of the very old black-and-white anthology television show Thriller (which predated Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” by several decades). 

Jesse Williams and Kristen Connolly as the smart guy and the good girl.  (C) 2012 Lionsgate.

Who needs to see The Cabin in the Woods?  People who liked the first couple seasons of Supernatural.  People who like Whedon’s wit and work (e.g., Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Serenity, and Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, among others).  People who like Drew Goddard’s work (e.g., Cloverfield, episodes of Buffy, Angel, Alias, and Lost as a writer, as well as all of those as co-producer).  Most importantly, people who like their frights seasoned with humor.  It’s date night, kids.  Go have fun.  Quibbles notwithstanding, I'm ready to go on this ride again.

~ Molly Matera, turning off the computer but not the light.  It’s dark out there.

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