Skip This Trip
By Carl Kozlowski
Sometimes you can be too clever for your own good. If only the filmmaking duo of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard remembered that before they teamed up to make the new horror-comedy The Cabin in the Woods, perhaps they would have actually had a film that delivered either genuine scares or solid laughs.
By trying too hard to have it both ways, however, they wound up with neither. And considering that Whedon is the genius who created the TV series version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and is the writer-director of the far-superior upcoming edition of The Avengers, while Goddard wrote the brilliantly terrifying Cloverfield as his previous effort, the disappointment served up by this film is tremendous.
Cabin tries to make hay with a series of horror-movie clichés, sending five college students out for a wild weekend at a vacation home owned by one of their parents. One is a jock (Chris Hemsworth, who went on to become a star as Thor in the three years that Cabin has been sitting on the shelf), while the others are his trampy girlfriend, a new brainy hunk, a near-virginal good-girl and a stoner whose massive bong turns out to be incredibly handy as a weapon.
Out in the middle of nowhere after filling up at the requisite gas station operated by a madman, the kids all want to settle in for a weekend of alcohol, sex and getting high, but there are much more dangerous forces at work than they could ever imagine. No, they’re not being stalked by a superhuman psychopath like Freddy or Jason. Rather, they are caught up in a Big Brother-style game run by a mysterious team of scientists led by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins.
The fact that the duo are, respectively, Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated actors should tip viewers off to the fact that the proceedings won’t just be a series of mindless hack and slash kills. And Whitford and Jenkins show malevolent glee as they take bets among their white-robed colleagues about which kid will survive the contest, in what amounts to a more graphic rendition of The Hunger Games.
The problem with Cabin, however, lies in its execution (no pun intended). Viewers don’t get to know any of the teens long enough to really care about them, which lessens the scare factor when they’re endangered. On the other hand, their cookie-cutter personalities are far too easy to make the center of mean-spirited jokes that detract from the scares as well.
By the time the surviving teens figure out which part of the cabin they should really investigate in order to discover the ugly truths of their situation, the film has spun out of control. As a seemingly unending series of horrific creatures burst out of cages, walls and ceilings while our ostensible heroes watch with newfound god-like powers, Cabin deteriorates into an unpleasant bloodbath in which the main reaction it draws is a series of gross-out “ewws” rather than screams or laughter.
Whedon will rebound quickly via the outstanding The Avengers reboot. But Goddard had better hope he can come up with another plot twist to keep his own career alive.