Sunday, June 03, 2012

A Dark Place in the Woods and the Temptation Towards Oblivion. Cabins, and Scientists, and Zombies, Oh My!

Let me be perfectly clear right off the bat; I am not in any way a fan of Joss Whedon.  I don't understand how he built up such a hardcore cult following with shit like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly.  Yeah, I know from his IMDB page that he did some writing work for the original TOY STORY (along with five other dudes), and he did ingrain Sarah Michelle Gellar as a sex symbol in the brains of an entire generation of geeks, and he's tried his damnedest to give Nathan Fillion some much deserved work and recognition over the years which is pretty cool.  But for the most part everything he's done has been shit and in my mind his popularity among fanboys defies all logic.  His main claim to fame in my mind is the hypnotic effect that his shitty TV show Buffy, and the totally, totally unnecessary spin-off Angel, seem to have over the intellectually unstable and weak-willed.  For me, understanding why people enjoy Whedon's work is like trying to understand the inner workings of the mind of a serial killer, or the logic behind the decision of any politician who ever lived (hint: there isn't any).  I know he's done a bunch of other stuff, but I'm not inclined to go near the it, not even with a twenty two and a half foot pole (I don't know, it was supposed to be a Grinch reference, but I can't remember the actual lyric).  I'll tell you what, Whedon: consider this an open invitation to suck my six and a half inch pole.

Actually, before I watched THE CABIN IN THE WOODS I wouldn't even have let Joss Whedon suck my dick if he paid me to.  And his nothing to do with any kind of homophobic hang-ups.  I simply wouldn't have wanted his mediocre lips wrapped around my shaft or his completely sub-par tongue tickling my balls.  His second-rate-dialogue-spewing mouth could never have kept me hard long enough to blow my load all over his pasty, white face and scraggly ginger beard.  And even now I'd be a little hesitant because Whedon was one of the two writers of THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, so I have yet to enjoy anything he's actually directed (looking like THE AVENGERS might bump Whedon up to full dick-sucking duties, but only time will tell).  Unlike Whedon's deluded disciples I went to see THE CABIN IN THE WOODS not because of his involvement but in spite of it and only because I was in a small town with a shitty record when it came to new release variety and LOCKOUT wasn't playing yet.  And I have to say, I actually enjoyed THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.  Don't let it go to your patchwork-bearded face, Whedon.  Redemption isn't a statistical anomaly.  Time will tell whether THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is a sign of better days to come or a blip on the metaphysical radar.

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS really worked for me on two levels.  The first was the "twist" on the horror genre that the media kept hinting at.  The genre twisting to which they were referring was the fact that this movie was a satire of the horror genre.  I believe the quote from Whedon was that it was a "loving hate letter" to modern horror movies.  Whether or not I misquoted him here or not, the statement is an eloquent way to sum up the movie as vaguely as possible.  Unlike some stupid shit like the SCARY MOVIE franchise which is just... I mean... is there a word in the English language to describe how terribly awful and soul-sucking those movies actually are?  The only thing the DVDs that the SCARY MOVIE franchise were distributed on are good for is wiping your ass after a massive diarrhea, and even then they'd probably break into shards of broken plastic that would shred your asshole causing massive internal and external bleeding.  Yet those kind of potentially life-threatening injuries are still infinitely more entertaining than any entry into the franchise.

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS did what the cock smokers in charge of the SCARY MOVIE chain could only dream of doing if their heads contained brains instead of donkey spooge and the rotting carcasses of dead dreams.  No, this movie was able to deconstruct, analyse, interpret, and provide intelligent commentary on all of the horror stereotypes and archetypes that plague the modern horror flick.  Not only that, but it's able to do this all while still being an entertaining horror film in and of itself which was the second of the two levels I mentioned on which THE CABIN IN THE WOODS worked for me.  I really felt that I almost got two movies for the price of one, because of the structure of the narrative and the framing device used.

The movie opens with Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford (you'll fucking recognize these dudes when you see them, trust me) as a couple of dudes or scientists or something gearing up for some big project at the facility/company they work at.  For the astute movie goer who saw a bunch of spoiler-ish trailers with giant holodeck style walls it might be assumed that these guys are pulling some strings, and that movie goer would be correct, though thankfully the movie will turn out to be a lot smarter than that movie goer will have given it credit for and the larger context cannot be entirely deduced and is a welcome surprise.  Jenkins and Whitford steal the show in a lot of respects and bring the right mix of humour and pathos to a couple of middle-management types who are going through the routines and trying to get through the daily grind while at the same time witnessing (and, I suppose, inflicting) some pretty grizzly shit.

The movie then shifts gears and we get introduced  to the usual gang of teenage idiots (some of them extremely hot) who tend to populate horror flicks.  They're all getting ready for (get ready for it) a weekend trip to a creepy cabin in a secluded section of wilderness somewhere in the United States of Generica.  Right from the get go the audience is let in on the fact that the whole thing is a set up with concealed agents and cameras keeping tabs on the gang of youngsters.  As for the kids themselves, the only ones I recognized right off the bat were Chris Hemsworth (of THOR fame, though this movie was actually made several years ago) and Jesse Williams who chicks and their browbeaten husbands and boyfriends will recognize from Grey's Anatomy.  Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, and Fran Kranz (actually a dude) I didn't recognize, though Hutchison (pictured left) was smokin' hot and Krantz does a great turn as the token stoner of the group.  It must be noted that this movie depicts one of the coolest and most multifunctional bongs ever depicted on screen.  Overall the cast was great and seemed to have an onscreen chemistry and played well off (and on) each other.

The real fun of the film, though, comes from THE CABIN IN THE WOODS examination and deconstruction of all of the horror cliches that plague today's (supposedly) scary movies.  The five teens represent five horror archetypes -the whore, the athlete, the scholar, the fool, and the virgin- and when they fail to live up to these roles they are manipulated by Jenkins' and Whitford's characters from behind the scenes.  One of my favourite little jabs was the use of drugs pumped into the cabin to disorient the teens and get them to split up at a key moment after they wisely decide to stick together after they are besieged by a "zombie redneck torture family."  They also pump in some pheromones and help set the mood to elicit the requisite horror film nudity.  Later when Connolly's "virgin" character is on the run from the zombie terror she's holding a knife she drops it after it delivers a small electric shock (the old why-the-fuck-didn't-you-take-the-weapon-with-you conundrum). The surprisingly clever rhetorical trick used here is the reversal of using rational explanations to explain away otherwise irrational behaviour.

There's also a bunch of nods to other films in the genre.  The cabin that the group goes to looks so much like the one from THE EVIL DEAD that I'm pretty sure I saw a couple frames where they forgot to digitally remove Ash from the scene.  Later the zombie attackers themselves (the Buckners) are reminiscent of the deadites, though they also kind of reminded me of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE as well, what with the disturbed family and all.  When Marty (Kranz) and Dana (Connolly) make their escape to the facility where all the nightmare creatures are kept (held by some mysterious magic?) and the subsequent slaughter that ensues once they are all released contains references to almost every horror film ever made.  There's the standard ones like werewolves, ghosts, and vampires and giant snakes and whatnot.  Then there's a killer clown (IT), saw blade head guy (HELLRAISER), doll mask murderers (THE STRANGERS), twin girls (THE SHINING), some crazy little girl with a giant mouth filled with razor sharp teeth instead of a face (???????), a merman (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON), and a classroom of Japanese girls dealing with an evil spirit (THE GRUDGE, THE RING (or the originals JU-ON and RINGU)).  The last one, the Japanese girls fighting (and winning, proving that characters in North American horror films are often less effectual than thirteen-year-old girls), is extremely important as it is shown to the audience via a live video feed from Japan and ties in the the framed narrative of the movie.

The whole idea is that there are these beings called The Ancient Ones that need to be appeased by human sacrifice or else they'll rise and destroy the world.  This is a clever idea for several reasons.  First, there is the blending of archaic, ancient, tribal, primal horrors and rituals with the modern socio-industrial complex.  There's a sense of the uncanny by blending the ancient and the modern.  Secondly, there's the idea of ritualized and institutionalized killing (I'll leave you to draw your own cultural parallels) which seems a lot more horrific than some lone nut or even a legion of the undead or demon from the bowels of hell.  There's something intensely disturbing about being tormented by an unfeeling, uncaring, corporate, industrial machine because that's the kind of nightmare you don't wake up from or escape.  Zombies and demons and chainsaw-wielding maniacs can be defeated or maybe escaped from, but how do you run from a social institution you are complicit in and where everybody except you is in on the conspiracy?  (Coincidentally, that's also the reason the presidency of George W. Bush was so terrifying.) 

The conceit of the film is that every year the human race has to make a human sacrifice in order to appease these Ancient Ones and that this has presumably been going on since the dawn of human history.  There are also some very specific guidelines.  First, the group of sacrificees have to willingly choose to proceed with the ritual despite being warned by this creepy dude who works as a gas station attendant also known as The Harbinger.  The sexy teens then have to choose the method of their own sacrifice (via a series of objects in the basement of the cabin... kinda curious what would have been summoned if one of them can found a cursed dildo... death by snoo-snoo!) and not only that bu they also have to die in a certain order.  This really fucked with me, the idea that we choose our own destruction.  For me, this wasn't just a commentary on horror films, but a general commentary about the nature of humanity itself.  We are our own worst enemy and we seem determined to proceed down whatever paths we want to follow despite all evidence that it will lead to some seriously fucked up shit (like that one time you answered that classified add looking for the third member of a threesome and showed up to find two chicks but they were both wearing strap-on dildos and you end up with a sore ass, the taste of molded rubber and a bunch of strange feelings you've never felt before...) kind of like a a more complex version of the old "you are your own worst enemy" shit.

If THE CABIN IN THE WOODS was indeed intended as a "loving hate letter" to the horror film genre, then I think that for once there was a strong correlation between intent and result.  The film is at once an homage to and entry into the horror movie genre.  It is also a sarcastic critique that filmmakers so rigidly and dogmatically follow the cliches of the genre that it must be for a higher purpose, like, to save the world from total annihilation.  So, we have to endure the same old garbage film after film because the Fate of the Entire World depends upon it.  Why else would filmmakers keep pumping out the same tired shit year after year, right?  It's a stunning indictment of the modern horror flick which has become a victim of its own cliches and de-evolved into the realm of torture porn rather than genuinely intelligent explorations of the darkest parts of our collective psyches.  For that, I'm willing to give THE CABIN IN THE WOODS a solid 8.5/10 = One Merman Head Chowing Down On the Collective Intestines of Mankind.  I'm far from being sold on Joss Whedon's shit, but I'm also not one to not enjoy something to prove a point.  So grudgingly I'll have to admit that Whedon has won this round, but I'm hoping that in the future my hate will definitely be proven right.    

(Just as a quick postscript, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS was also one of the best pro weed smokin' flicks I've ever seen what with prolonged use of the ganja counteracted the drugs that the dudes in the facility were using to fuck with the minds of the five teens.  In this case marijuana literally freed the dude's mind.  Fuckin' A.  Fuckin' A.)




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