Saturday, November 10, 2012

"The Cabin In The Woods"...

I am a huge "Buffy" fan, so I looked forward to seeing the Joss Whedon co-written, "The Cabin in the Woods". Per usual, I stayed away from reviews because I generally wait for films I want to see to come out on DVD. The television ads for the film said as little as possible, so I took that as a hint that Whedon, and his writing partner on the piece Drew Goddard (who also directed), wanted to keep things close to the vest to not give too many details away. I appreciate that as I have felt for a long time that trailers give away far too many details. Sadly, more often than not, the trailers commonly show the best parts of a film...which means big disappointment for the movie goer.

(Left to right: Kristin Connolly, Chris Hemsworth,
Holden McCrea, Fran Kranz)
If the name, Drew Goddard, rings any bells with you, he wrote the screenplay to “Cloverfield”, and he also worked on both “Buffy” and “Angel” as a writer. “Cabin” is Goddards’ first time in the director’s chair.

All I really knew going in was that it was about a group of college students who take a trip to a cabin where most/all of them get killed...but there is more than meets the eye, and humor is involved. Those elements helped me form a basic plot line in my head going in. Just enough to give me an impression of what I was in for, but not enough to completely ruin it for me. Being a fan of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (the series, not the movie), I thought it sounded like something that was definitely from Whedon's wheel house. It also stars Chris Hemsworth as the jock, “Curt". What's not to like about that? (Hemsworth did “Cabin” between “Thor” and “The Avengers”.)

(Chris Hemsworth)
When the Netflix envelope arrived in the mail, I was thrilled. My anticipation was great, and I looked forward to settling down in front of the TV with a big bowl of freshly popped corn.  The buzz going around was that ‘Cabin’ is a “thrill ride”. I was looking forward to something a tad different from the usual ‘young-people-getting-hacked-to-death-by-raving-axe-wielding-maniac’ flick. I was in for a mixed bag of predictability, and ‘didn’t I see something like that on Buffy’ moments.

This is probably where I should place a “Spoiler Alert”. If you haven’t seen it, you plan to see it, and you don’t want to know what happens, then stop reading here. Okay…moving right along.

(Left to right: Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford,
Amy Acker)
Not surprisingly, the plot line running through “The Cabin in the Woods” involves an evil well of sorts, young people, a ritual, and the fate of the world hanging in the balance. After all, Whedon did co-write here. There were a number of elements that just felt like re-hashed nuggets of story from Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s home turf of Sunnydale. When I watch a new film by a writer and/or director I admire, I find it irritating when I repeatedly think “hey, that reminds of __________ (fill in the blank with something from one of their past projects)”. Don’t get me wrong, I love(d) “Buffy”. It’s just that when I sat down to watch “Cabin in the Woods”, I was hoping for something a bit fresher. It’s so damn difficult to get into a movie when you’re being distracted like that.

Let’s see if I can simplify things here. There is a government facility below ground that is in charge of carrying out a yearly ritual to keep the “Ancient Ones” in a sleep state (they are giant evil gods(?) that are sleeping below where the facility is). This scenario reminded me of the Hell Mouth from “Buffy”, as well as the government/military guys from "Buffy". There are similar rituals being held in various other countries around the globe. All that is required to keep the evil ones sleeping, is one successful ritual to take place. The ritual requires the deaths of a group of teenagers, each one representing a certain social position/status.

Here is a breakdown to show you what I mean: “Curt Vaughan” (Chris Hemsworth) is the “athlete” of the group, sporting his jacket with the stereotypical embossed letter on the front. The fact that he is in the film was the only real selling point I needed to spend the time watching. He does a great job, but his acting chops are capable of much more. (Yes, I am biased, but I also speak the truth…he is a talented, solid actor.) The rest of the gang aren’t really known to me. I felt some mild recognition when I first saw “Dana Polk” (Kristin Connolly). She has the distinction of being the “virgin” of the group. “Holden McCrea” (Jesse Williams) is the groups “scholar”; “Jules Loudon” (Anna Hutchison) is the “whore” of the group; and “Marty Mikalshi” (Fran Kranz) is the stoner “Fool”.

The cabin and immediate surroundings are completely under the control of the underground facility. There are technicians watching the whole scenario unfold, and they intervene in certain ways to keep things on track. They administer various drugs via drink, mist, etc. to make the youngsters less aware, and less able to reason, as well as giving their sex drives a little boost at appropriate times. They are directed to the cellar of the cabin where there is a treasure trove of cursed trigger items. There are any number of horrible outcomes in the basement room, it all depends on what they unknowingly choose.

(Anna Hutchison)
Whedon and Goddard clearly had their tongues tucked in their cheeks, but not securely enough for me. Aside from the “I’ve seen something like this before” issue, I also found the film rather predictable for the most part. The lab coats at the facility have betting pools set-up for what murderous creature(s) is released, who dies first, etc. Rather than that distasteful business being humorous enough to illicit a chuckle, the best I could give it was an eyeroll.

Once Dana “the virgin (who isn’t really a virgin…she had recently broken up with one of her professors)” finds a diary, and recites the Latin incantation that is recommended she not read. The zombiefied Buckner Family scenario is begun. All are seemingly dispatched by the Buckner’s, except for Curt (Hemsworth) who smashes into an invisible barrier while trying to jump a ravine on his dirt bike. (I have to admit that once he was out of the film, I thought about whether or not I wanted to continue with it). Dana “the not-so-virginal” doesn’t have to die for the ritual to be complete, she just has to suffer. I guess she had suffered more than I had…but not by much. Just as she’s about to be killed, Marty the stoner shows up, having thwarted his killer. Apparently, his pot smoking ways made him immune to the drugs the lab coats were administering. (An observation…Marty reminded me of the “Big Bang Theory” uber-nerd, Howard Wollowitz…plus the pot smoking.)

Oh, back to the lab coats. They are having a big party to celebrate the completion of the ritual, only their festivities are cut short due to the development of Marty not being dead. Marty takes Dana to a room he found when he was dragged off by the zombie, and he shows her an elevator…going down. They go down (of course), and discover a collection of cubes housing different monsters that were waiting in the wings in case the sacrificial gang had chosen them instead. (When I saw the cubes, I instantly thought of the Syfy Channel movie, “Cube”.) 

The two survivors make it down to lab coat land, where security corners them in a control room with a switch. What do they do with the switch? They let all of the ‘cubed’ monsters loose, of course. All of the lab coats get slaughtered by the monsters. It’s a pretty bloody operation. I wonder what their blood budget was?

So Dana and Marty make it into a temple room that sits directly over where the “Ancient Ones” are snoozing. The director of the government operation enters the room, and we get one of the few surprises of the film…it’s Sigourney Weaver. She explains the whole point of the ritual, and how it is necessary to keep mankind safe. At the director’s urging, Dana levels a gun at Marty, but before she can shoot she is attacked by a werewolf. The director is killed by the zombiefied version of Patience Buckner, the girl who wrote the diary that started the ball rolling. The movie ends with Dana and Marty smoking a joint he still happened to have on him. They decide that maybe the planet is due for a change of species. The “Ancient Ones” awaken, and a giant hand shoots up from below destroying the installation.

There were a few other recognizable actors in “Cabin, other than Weaver. The two main lab coats overseeing the operations at the cabin were played by Bradley Whitford (probably most known for his role on “West Wing”), and Richard Jenkins (a character actor you would know if you saw him). There were two alumni from Whedon’s TV shows: Amy Acker (she played Fred/Illyria on “Angel”); Tom Lenk (he played one of the nerds on “Buffy”).

Do I recommend it? Well, if you can see it on cable, sure. Maybe you’ll watch it, and agree with the favorable reviews of which there were many. Personally, I can take it or leave it. I’ve heard grumblings on the internet about a sequel. If that’s true, I hope the premise isn’t a rehashing of already successful story elements from another project.

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