Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Frakking Shiny Goes to the Movies- Cabin the Woods

Have you seen "Cabin the Woods" yet?

No? Then stop reading this right now. Because I am going to spoil the shit out of "Cabin in the Woods".

Still with me? You say you don't want to see "Cabin in the Woods"? Well you should. It's great. And seriously, we are going to talk about this movie in 5..4....3..2...1

Here goes:

I don't particularly care for horror as a genre.

I mean, I like the idea of horror movies. I love monsters. I love suspense. I love watching people solve puzzles (like, how do we get rid of this ghost that's killing all of the teenagers in this camp?).

But the execution of horror movies? I don't care for it, most of the time.

Why? Well nearly every horror movie you watch is exactly the same. A bunch of dumb kids do something stupid, wake up some kind of monster or serial killer, then proceed to make a series of stupid decisions that get nearly all of them killed. Then, the two or three characters who live overlook some very important factor in defeating their particular monster/serial killer allowing that monster/serial killer to come back in subsequent films. So there's that. I hate watching stupid characters being stupid.

Also, most of those stupid characters tend to be flat, boring, stereotypes. The dumb jock. The bimbo. The virgin. The funny guy. The goth. You get the idea. These aren't people- they're cartoon characters. And not cool cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny or the Animaniacs. These are really boring, mostly unbelievable cartoon characters. Oh, and have I mentioned how stupid they usually are?

Finally, the third thing I hate in horror movies is massive, totally unnecessary amounts of gore. I hate torture porn. I hate the "Saw" movies. I hated "Descent." Why? Because somewhere, somehow, someone decided that "violent" and "scary" are the same thing. They aren't. I mean, a little gore can be scary. But what's really scary is tension, suspense, and the breaking of that tension with something unexpected (interestingly enough, comedy works in basically the same way). Throwing buckets of blood and entrails around isn't the same thing. There is no tension, and no subtlety in most modern horror movies. To me, they're violent to the point that they actually seem kind of silly.

I mean, it would be one thing if there were just a few movies populated by dumb stereotypes who get violently murdered by crazy monsters, but there are tons of them. And they're inexpensive to make, and provide a pretty good return on investment, so I understand why Hollywood keeps churning the damned things out. But I wish Hollywood would say to itself "You know Hollywood? We make alot of money on these dumb movies, but we could do alot better."

Enter "Cabin in the Woods".

First and foremost, "Cabin in the Woods" isn't REALLY a horror movie so much as it's a movie about horror movies. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have produced a film that pays homage to what's great about the horror genre while tearing down what sucks about it. They have made a fun, funny movie that makes kind of a statement.

Basically, to spoil everything, a bunch of college kids go out to a cabin in the woods for a fun weekend, and they (mostly) get killed by some redneck zombies. Sort of. In reality, a large organization in some undisclosed location has been tasked with setting up human sacrifices to please some sort of Lovecraftian "old gods." These old gods demand their sacrifices follow a very specific set of rules. Specifically, they follow the rules of a typical horror film. So the kids are really part of a ritual sacrifice being orchestrated by a shadowy organization that is forcing them to (without their knowledge) play out the tropes of a typical Hollywood horror film.

Here is how Whedon and Goddard have addressed each of my three criticisms of modern horror:

1. The Stupids- In "Cabin in the Woods" the characters are actually pretty smart. They're college educated, and when confronted with a difficult situation (zombies) they actually make some pretty smart decisions- like sticking together instead of splitting up. The movie actually calls this out when the workers at the sacrifice factory start to freak out because the kids are making themselves tougher to kill. We then see those workers take a series of steps to actually make the kids dumber. They squirt Chris Hemsworth with a pheremone that makes him dumber. They poison the Stoner's pot to make him oblivious to the world around him. They put something in one girl's hair dye to make her act more like a bimbo (more on this in a minute). This is basically the filmmakers calling out how dumb teens act in most scary movies. The kids in "Cabin in the Woods" aren't dumb at all- they're just drugged. And in the end, one of them (the "Stoner") realizes that nothing that's going on makes sense, figures out what's going on saves the day (kind of).

2. The Stereotypes- No one in "Cabin in the Woods" is one dimensional, really. There is a bimbo, but as mentioned above, she's been drugged (basically). There is a dumb jock, but he's actually a merit scholar who is only acting dumb because he has also been drugged. Oh, and the Stoner saves the day (kind of).

3. Torture Porn- There is a ton of gore in "Cabin" but it's SO over the top and SO ridiculous. Have you ever wanted to see a guy get impaled by a unicorn? Then this is the movie for you. The violence here isn't meant to scare you, or gross you out, it's meant to show you how silly it is when horror movies try to use over the top gore to accomplish the goal of frightening an audience.

So there it is. As a statement about modern horror films, I loved "Cabin in the Woods." I also loved it just as a fun movie. The dialogue is great, the characters are believable, and the movie is, at points, laugh out loud funny. Go check it out if you get the chance.

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