Director Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin in the Woods” follows the story of good-girl college student Dana (Kristen Connolly) as she and four friends venture to a dilapidated backwoods cabin for vacation.
The cabin’s creepy vibes awake a morbid curiosity in the group, and their drinking and partying is tinged with overtones of darkness. A game of Truth or Dare soon leads them into the cellar, which seems to be a treasure chest full of horror movie memorabilia, containing cracked porcelain dolls, dusty music boxes and old wedding dresses.
Dana is particularly captivated by the disturbing diary of a young girl who once lived at the cabin. Dana reads the diary aloud, inadvertently raising a family of bloodthirsty dead hillbillies from the ground. As the friends fight for their lives, they feel more and more that someone is behind the terror, watching them and trying to make them suffer.
They’re right. From the first scene, the grimy, decrepit cabin is directly, continuously contrasted with the sterile white walls of some sort of laboratory. The men and women in lab coats watch recordings of the nightmare, taking bets on the kids and drinking and rejoicing when each one dies. They seem to control what happens in the cabin with a simple dashboard, deciding which button to push (and which horror to unleash) depending on the orders from “upstairs.”
While this fluttering between settings creates an interesting dynamic, it makes it impossible to really get into the story. How can we, knowing that the entire cabin scene is both planned and under surveillance by the laboratory? Whenever the hair on your neck begins to rise and you start to clench your armrests in fear, the scene cuts back to the lab. We can’t believe the zombies, werewolves or anything is real because we’re constantly reminded that they’re staged.
That’s not the only reason “The Cabin in the Woods” is hard to get into.
The entire film moves too quickly. There’s no time to get invested in any of the characters before they’re suddenly slaughtered. The friends embody the typical horror stereotypes – good-girl, slut, scholar, bro, stoner – so when we’re told that the characters aren’t acting like themselves, we have no background to base what their “real” selves behave like.
Not that we really care. We have to wade through so many clichés that by the time we get to the twist it’s almost too late. The sense of timing is just off, with too much time spent on irrelevant, corny characters, too-dark-to-see gore and overdone zombies.
The only thing that keeps viewers interested is the question of why the laboratory is doing this. They mention a customer and they take bets – Is it some kind of reality TV show? Slasher porn? We’re willing to keep watching to figure this out. Sadly, the explanation is too little too late. While the twist is meant to satiate our growing thirst, all it does is raise more questions which go helplessly unanswered. The intriguing overarching story is abruptly cut with the final credits.
“The Cabin in the Woods” has been marketed as a horror with comedy elements. Instead, it dwells in some confused, muddled state of indecision. It is not a scary film – each scene that starts to get eerie and tension-filled is quickly cut with a stupid comedic joke, usually involving stoner Marty (Fran Kranz). The stoner jokes are just a bit too adolescent – Marty is apparently immune to the horrors because of some Grade-A weed? What? It’s not quite funny enough to be a comedy.
However, “The Cabin in the Woods” does spark our curiosity and skepticism concerning our perceptions of reality. Are we in control of our lives? How can we know what is real? When does protecting others warrant self-sacrifice?
Unfortunately, these important questions deserve more time and attention than they’re given. What “The Cabin in the Woods” has is an interesting plot ruined by poor focus – too much time on clichés, not enough on the original idea. The film tries to strike the precarious balance between horror and comedy that films such as “Shaun of the Dead” and “Cabin Fever” achieve, yet it falls right on its face.
“The Cabin in the Woods” almost belongs in the psychological thriller zone, yet it’s hard to suspend disbelief when you’re constantly reminded of unreality.Contact Mary Mueller.