Spoiler alert: this film sucks.
Let us explain. We like to start a film review with a snappy introduction - glowing or snarky, depending on our mood and whether the film was good or bad. We’ll segue into a run-down of the film's strengths and weaknesses, throwing in a gag or two before rounding it off with a blunt but fair conclusion aimed at the too-long-didn't-read crowd.
And that’s how reviews work. Like university lectures and BBC 2 documentaries, we a) tell you what we’re about to tell you; b) tell you; c) tell you what we’ve just told you. This technique has a name – someone once told us; we don’t remember – but the point is that it helps people retain information. It works well in educational settings.
It does not work for horror films.
The premise of The Cabin in the Woods is this: four generic, unlikeable teens and their Scooby-esque stoner pal take a trip to an isolated cabin where, unbeknownst to them, they’re monitored and generally screwed about by a bland yet murderous organisation. We alternate between the doomed teens and their puppeteers, who laugh and snark about the teens’ demise in real time. It’s a bit like Mystery Science Theater 3000, which isn’t funny either.
At its heart, The Cabin in the Woods is yet another teen slasher film that spells out the workings of teen slasher films – while also swanking about how clever and self-knowing it is for still conforming to the genre. Sometimes these films work and are genuinely funny; see Scream or Shaun of the Dead. By comparison, The Cabin in the Woods is the large-print version for the hard of thinking.
The whole point of The Cabin in the Woods is to evoke other films, and we see hints of The Truman Show, Cube, and, amazingly, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. At one point it even feels like watching someone play a tedious knock-off of Portal 2. The trouble is, this film is less than the sum of its indulgent in-jokes: it lacks the inventiveness of Cube; it lacks the humour of Portal. It even lacks the sinister whimsy of Gene Wilder's Wonka.
No, it isn’t entirely dreadful. We did smile – once – at a suited control room operator yelling obscenities at a TV image of nine-year-old girls, and there’s a satisfying death scene in which a speeding motorbike smacks into an invisible forcefield. (It’s a good guy going splat, if you care either way. We didn’t.)
The Cabin in the Woods attempts to subvert and comment on the slasher formula, but it says little that we haven’t already heard. The film wastes an opportunity to comment on the gratuitous violence and misogyny of mainstream horror; instead, it’s more of the same.
Producer and co-writer Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) has gushed that he wrote The Cabin in the Woods in three days, and it shows – especially in the film’s self-indulgent humour. It’s embarrassing to watch; an experience akin to being the unpopular kid at a party where everyone else knows all the running gags.
At our screening of The Cabin in the Woods, a young couple left the cinema half an hour into the film. We only wish we could have joined them. If you must see this film, catch it on TV. And watch it alone, so you won’t feel awkward about changing the channel.