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"THE CABIN IN THE WOODS"
(2012) (Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Horror/Comedy: Five college students must contend with horrific occurrences when they travel to a cabin in the woods for some rest and relaxation.
PLOT:
Five college students have set off for some rest and relaxation at a cabin deep in the woods. They are jock Curt (CHRIS HEMSWORTH) and his sexy girlfriend, Jules (ANNA HUTCHISON); her good-girl friend Dana (KRISTEN CONNOLLY) and the brainiac, Holden (JESSE WILLIAMS), she's been set up with; and finally resident stoner Marty (FRAN KRANZ). After a run-in with a creepy gas station owner, the quintet arrives at the remote cabin.

Unbeknownst to them, a number of people in a faraway research facility, including leaders Sitterson (RICHARD JENKINS) and Hadley (BRADLEY WHITFORD) and their assistants, Truman (BRIAN WHITE) and Lin (AMY ACKER), are observing their every move. Despite what's to follow, they and the rest of the staff are fairly laidback, even placing bets on the behavior of their subjects.

All of that starts to fall in place when the group enters the cabin's basement and finds a bizarre collection of old items, including a girl's diary that contains disturbing passages. Once one of the students reads a passage in Latin, all hell breaks loose. From that point on, they must do what they can to survive the slaughterous onslaught.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
You know how some things that kids do once or a few times can be cute, charming and/or entertaining, but quickly become tiresome and irritating when they're repeated ad nauseam? Well, the same holds true pretty much for anything in life, be that personality characteristics of famous people, suddenly popular types of music and/or dance moves, and -- yes -- even movie genres and their associated conventions and clichés.

That's clearly true of horror movies that certainly know how to beat a dead horse (metaphorically, although I'm sure there's at least one instance where it's literal). When "Halloween" made a big splash, many bogeyman imitators followed, all pretty much copying the same behavior, structure and patterns. The same was true after "torture porn" first reared its ugly head and the imitators ran such material into the ground to the point that it became stupid, unintentionally funny or, worse yet, not remotely scary.

Such sorts of overall trends, not surprisingly, lead to the rise of parodies such as 2000's "Scary Movie" and its various sequels. Of course, four years before that, Wes Craven took a more stylish and less goofy approach with "Scream" that featured characters in a horror movie who were all too familiar with how scary movies operate, thus delivering a knowing but still effective horror/comedy satire.

Now, 16 years (!) later, we have another whack at poking fun of said clichés and conventions, and the turning over of them and then some in "The Cabin in the Woods." Marking the directorial debut of Drew Goddard, the film is reaping all sorts of critical praise that makes me wonder if I saw the same film or whether said fellow reviewers should let up a bit on the movie geek pedal.

Yes, it's funny and witty at times, and it has some decent jolts here and there. And it adequately deconstructs and plays with various horror film conventions, most notably (and not surprisingly considering the title) that of the young adults who venture into the woods, cocky, horny and unaware of the dangers that await them. But is it brilliant like some are gushing? Hardly, nor is it original, as "Scream" and other films of its ilk have demonstrated in terms of taking a wink-wink approach at making a horror flick while also delivering obvious commentary about just that.

In a surprising move, Goddard -- who co-wrote the screenplay with his former mentor Joss Whedon (best known for the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV series) -- lets the cat out of the bag (at least sort of) right from the get-go. Thus, before we set eyes on any members of the pending meat grinder quintet, we're shown lab coat-wearing characters (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) as they prepare for another day at work, making small, joking talk about this and that.

Thus, the hook is immediately set (including with a fun and sudden jolt of the title card showing up on screen) as we wonder what they have to do with the characters that next follow. They include Anna Hutchison as the highly sexual girl; Chris Hemsworth as her jock boyfriend; Kristen Connolly as the good girl; Jesse Williams as the brain; and Fran Kranz as the stoner. They're all obvious stereotypes, but as the film unfolds the filmmakers insert sly twists here and there, thus making them something more than they initially appear.

I won't go too much more into the plot to avoid spoilers, but needless to say the story segues back and forth between the five college students and those lab coat guys (and their staff) taking a fairly jovial approach toward the mayhem and carnage that's about to released. While I appreciate the notion behind the satire, deconstruction and twists on the genre's clichés, and found some of them fairly amusing, to call this work brilliant nearly makes one think such praise-gushers were breathing in similar lab-based fumes designed to induce such reaction.

"Scream" was certainly more self-aware and clever in playing up and off such matters, while the likes of "Shaun of the Dead" were simply a lot more fun. That's especially true compared to the last 15 or so minutes of this film that pretty much goes bonkers. Genre fanatics will likely geek out about what transpires then, but I liked earlier and more subdued scenes much better.

That includes when the sexpot, choosing the latter element of a game of Truth or Dare, French kisses the wall-mounted head of a stuffed wolf. As we watch in amazement of the tongue to tongue, bestiality action, we laugh at the outrageousness of it all, while simultaneously bracing ourselves for the possibility that those sharp jaws are going to snap down on her face at any moment. If only the rest of the pic had been able to maintain that level of giddy unease and unpredictability, then we would have had a classic flick on our hands.

If you've never seen the aforementioned flicks and/or simply geek out at the thought of turning the genre's usual trappings on their head, you might really enjoy the flick. But for those who have and don't fall into the giddy geek crowd, this will be entertaining at times, but not much more. "The Cabin in the Woods" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed April 9, 2012 / Posted April 13, 2012


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