So, I must confess to not quite getting Joss Wheedon. Certainly not any more. I loved Buffy when it first came on the TV. Dad and I, then latterly Mum and I, were big fans. But whilst he’s still clearly good he made a trademark out of being very post modern in his writing and very referential in his genre pieces. Now, however, it is turning out to be almost self-referential and being post modernist now and very self aware, whilst original when Buffy first emerged, that was 15 years ago. ‘Modernism’ has moved on. This brings me to Cabin in the Woods…
Cabin in the Woods is what nerds like to call a ‘Meta-Narrative’ on a specific type of genre, namely horror/slasher films. The characters are stock (deliberately), the set up is predictable (deliberately) and the actual initial ‘Horror’ element is paint by numbers (deliberately), to stop this disappearing up its own arse this is pointed out by the fact –
oh yeah *SPOILERS!*
-There is a shady government initiative setting all this up and putting them in this scenario. The reasons for this become apparent later. The REAL reason for this was that it is an excuse for a cold, exterior eye to dispassionately appraise the goings on. Cue every bit of Wheedon based wise-cracking you can muster: Oh so referential, oh so post-modernist, lots of fourth wall breaking, pompous bubble bursting, if you have seen Buffy or any Wheedon written/created fare you know the drill. As such, whilst this produces some funny lines, this wears thin about an hour or so in when it actually just becomes the very horror movie it is attempting to parody, cynical wise cracking suits notwithstanding.
They seem to get bored of that and go “Anyway, here’s what I REALLY wanted to show you!” The last half an hour of this film is a blast, all restraint goes out of the window and the premise they spent at length setting up is delivered in as over the top way as possible. And that is why I recommend going to see this film. The third act is highly rewarding and well worth the price of admission. I don’t want to spoil it and to be honest I guessed (it isn’t difficult) what was coming about a 3rd of the way in but when it comes you really get a buzz out of it. However… I do have my gripes.
- Wheedon Dialogue
As I said it was funny and clever 15 years ago, not as much now. Wheedon fans clearly still love it as whenever it was mentioned by various friends (all Wheedon fanatics who hadn’t even seen it yet) it came with a free coating of fan saliva. Sure enough, 10 seconds in a bunch of scantily clad, irredeemably beautiful 20 somethings are exchanging snarky quick fire “ironic” witticisms and we’ve already had one cheap scare. Please change the record Joss.
- Fan Wank
I am completely confounded by the 5 star ratings and breathlessly superlative language used to describe this film. “Game-Changer” and “Ground breaking” seemed to sum up the way people referred to this film. WHAT?! If you refer to the fact it is a slightly snooty, superior-minded, genre flick supposedly pardoying other films of the genre, might I remind you that this was done Sixteen Chuffing Years Ago? Methods have changed but not only is it that specific type of parody that just points at the thing it parodies and laughs hoping others will too, it is even doing it to the the same genre. It is not as clever as people are saying it is. The supposed “neck cracking twists” are not that alarming once you get about halfway and, having seen the trailer, I wasn’t all that taken aback by a lot of them anyway. If Joss Wheedon and Drew Goddard (the Director and fellow Mutant Enemy/Buffy alumnus) really think they were deconstructing the genre narrative to totally change the way we see the genre, they are WRONG. If you’ve read any books and seen any of Wheedon or Goddard’s work you can figure it all out. It bugs me that so many people elevated this film to God-like status but I suppose the foetuses that are the teenagers watching it never saw Scream the 1st time round so a recap was due. If Wheedon and Goddard simply wanted to use the tropes and idiom of Horror for a bit of a nerd-gasm then good on ’em. They succeeded. That is all this is though. Don’t act like its some angelic, Hollywood changing bible. At least I bloody HOPE it isn’t…
I used to be such an advocate of this… This film has THE worst CGI I have seen in a movie to date and considering we are nearly two decades in since its inception that is saying something. The nadir of which is in fact the last shot of the film which was a massive let down and reminded me of that cop out shot in Cloverfield (another Goddard project) where they show you the whole of the monster. Either way, I don’t know if we have reached the bottom of the uncanny valley now but there is an almost audible and certainly visual clunk when any CG appears on screen. There’s a CG bird at the beginning (and in the trailer too. Go watch!) that on the big screen looks worse than a sodding puppet. Even the CG blood is pathetic. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they ran out of budget (doubtful) or time (even less likely) or maybe it’s deliberately satirising it. I can’t tell quite how many litres of piss this film is taking at any one time. Either way, everytime it appears I’m hoisted out of the film like Keanu Reeves doing Wire-Fu.
On the flip side, there are pros –
- Wheedon Dialogue
Loathe as I am to admit it, the occasional funny line did make me chuckle and at least two of the characters are well drawn but they have the least time spent on them. It is definitely time to move on from this approach to dialogue but it still makes for the odd good laugh and enjoyable skewering of certain cinematic cliches which I heartily endorse. Zombie hands are, yet again, made creepy and funny.
- Fan Wank
Whilst Wheedon fans can Fuck Right Off ™ the film is especially rewarding if you know and enjoy horror films. The trailers are wrong by telling us how presumptuous we are to assume we know the story but right in assuming you’ll be pleased if you do know the genre. Again, without wishing to spoil anything, it does a great job satiating most desires whatever your taste in horror by the end and is really quite satisfying in that regard.
It is still shit BUT there is hardly any of it! YAY! FOR ONCE a director has seen the merits of CGI and only used it as an enhancement not a crutch. Hot tip for directors: Practical effects are cheaper, look better and are more convincing. 70% of the visual effects are done ‘in camera’ I’d say and are all the better for it. A CG monster you can show from any angle in any light and that reduces its effect. A man in a suit needs to be shot and lit in a certain way for it to look convincing, a good cinematographer knows this and uses it to his own advantages. Not only that but the leaps in technology of the suits the people wear is vastly improved. So the ‘things’ that are after our protagonists are actually pretty convincing and creepy and altogether more Monstrous.
- Drew Goddard
Despite having had a hand in the brilliant but flawed Lost and Cloverfield, Cabin in the Woods is sterling stuff for a directorial debut. It helped he had a lot of money behind him and Joss “I am my own cliche” Wheedon as a producer/co-writer but whilst Wheedon’s presence is felt in the story and narrative structure it is the adornments that could only have been performed by Goddard that makes the film so much fun, especially towards the end. Again, his approach to the CG is evidently one of wariness so he sticks to a more practical approach which is much more enjoyable. The timing, the key to those scares and funny lines, is perfect, the sign of a good director. In general it is taught, well paced and builds very well to the climax (apart from that stupid last shot). In Baseball they use a phrase which has been purloined by the film industry: Set up, pitch and pay off. The set up is deliberately formulaic, the pitch is well balanced to the point it just is what it is parodying but the pay off, like a good batsman, uses these two things and knocks it out of the park. Whilst not particularly ‘scary’ per se, it is thrilling and a real popcorn movie. A damn fine debut. Sincerely hope his fellow Lost writer Damon Lindelof will pull it out of the bag for Prometheus and not a dud like Cowboys & Aliens.
Basically my two biggest problems are the CG and whether or not Wheedon thinks he’s being clever because ‘clever’ this film ain’t. Knowledgeable of its audience and genre? Yes. Clever enough to redefine it? No. It is, at its best, a great big bag of popcorn fun and at its worst a formulaic slasher, somewhat ironically it would seem. What I find weird is the people who are throwing perfect ratings at this film’s feet are probably Wheedon/Goddard fans anyway so I assume are familiar with their well established resume of referential and deliberately self-aware productions (Lost, Alias, Cloverfield, Buffy, Firefly etc). As such, even I, someone who likes a lot of those but does not obsess over them, could see where things were going just from the trailer. But as I say, I can’t tell if this is parody or pontification. But my argument is that if you can’t tell whether Wheedon/Goddard are taking the piss – sorry, satirising through a Meta-Narrative – then I don’t care how clever it is trying to be, you are so far up your own arse you’re coming out of your mouth again. IF however, they aren’t making any bones about it and just used the premise as a frame for the best bit of cinematic fan fiction in the last half hour, I praise them to high and mighty. Kudos.
In short, if you like horror films you’ll love it. If you want to be entertained you will be. If you like Joss Wheedon, you’re already spamming me with hate mail…
P.S. Plot hole: HOW DO THEY COLLECT THE BLOOD THAT GOES ON THOSE GLASS PLATES?! I DEMAND ANSWERS!