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‘The Cabin in the Woods’ Review

Cabin in the Woods
Lionsgate

Occasionally there is a film that sparks some spirited discussion and debate. Such is the case with this week’s ‘The Cabin in the Woods.’ As such, critics Jordan Hoffman and Matt Singer have teamed up for a joint-review to work out their thoughts on the film together.

Jordan Hoffman: Since I just came back from a Passover Seder, the Hebrew word “Dayenu” comes to mind. “Dayenu,” a sentiment expressed by the Israelites after God freed them from the Egyptians, loosely translates as “it would have sufficed.” Or, as my grandmother would put it: “No, no, don’t make a fuss.”

If Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon had joined forces to give us a standard slasher thriller in a rote setting, it would have sufficed. If they’d just thrown in Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins as some sort of omnipotent string-pullers, it would have sufficed. But this is just tip of the iceberg stuff. I feel like Goddard and Whedon made ‘The Cabin in the Woods‘ because they were tired of films with cool concepts left unfulfilled by halfhearted executions. This is a movie meant specifically for people who are tired of being able to predict where films are going to go.

Matt Singer: Jordan, if you’re not the only critic this week who compares ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ to Passover, I’ll eat your gefilte fish without the requisite cream sauce. Still, as I think more about this wildly inventive, genuinely scary, and hilariously funny genre mashup, it occurs to me that ‘Cabin’ is actually a perfect film to watch on Passover (other than the fact that you’ll have to forgo the ceremonial tub of popcorn for the ceremonial canister of macaroons). For reasons that are probably left unspoiled, ‘Cabin in the Woods’ actually speaks to many of Passover’s themes, most notably man’s defiance in the face of God’s wrath. (Eat, it ‘Wrath of the Titans!’)

Because of those unpredictable swerves you mentioned Jordan, this is a difficult film to write about in anything but the broadest strokes. As the title suggests, the film is a riff on the classic horny teens isolated and under attack in the forest movie, but Whedon — creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and director of the upcoming film of ‘The Avengers‘ — and Goddard — writer of ‘Cloverfield’ and frequent Whedon TV collaborator — throw quite a few monkey wrenches into the typical genre works. Whitford and Jenkins are involved behind the scenes as — well, I don’t know that I should say how they’re involved. Or why. Or what they’re doing. Or what exactly is the metaphysical significance of this particular cabin in these particular woods. Or why these particular kids — Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth, a.k.a. movieland’s Thor) Jules (Anna Hutchinson), Holden (Jesse Williams) and Marty (Fran Kranz) — are so important.

Then again, maybe I’m being overly careful. As much as I enjoyed ‘The Cabin in the Woods,’ and as shocked as I was by some of its numerous plot twists, I’m not entirely sure that this is a film that really can be spoiled. Yes, you might discover the order in which the kids die, or Whitford and Jenkins’ secret, or even the location of the film’s batcrap crazy final act (all of which, by the way, can be glimpsed in the film’s trailer). But ‘Cabin”s pleasures are far greater and far smarter than the sum of its surprises. Or at least that’s my take. Jordan, what do you think?

Jordan: I completely agree that, for all the “don’t spoil the ending” hubbub around this movie, this isn’t like ‘The Mousetrap.’ It isn’t, as I mentioned in my interview with Goddard, ‘The Crying Game”s surprise was in your face; more like a series of in your face moments. Furthermore, if I were to detail every twist, it would be a jerky move, but I don’t think it would detract as much from the pleasure of seeing this film as your average movie with “surprises.” It’s about the journey, it’s about the details, it’s about the characters, it’s about the world-building.

That’s something that may get overlooked as genre lovers commence to drool over just how badass this flick is. Beyond its core creative concept, it is exceptionally well-crafted. The action is good, the comedy is golden, and the production design is spot-on. Concerning the creatures, setting, and costumes, much of the perfection is because it is a play on what is “iconic,” but the Jenkins/Whitford environment is, to a certain extent, created from whole cloth, certainly within the context of a horror film. I mean, how strange and unexpected is the title card in this film?

Matt: Pretty strange and unexpected.  I’m trying really hard not to be spoiling anything here, but the problem is everything I have to say about this movie beyond “ZOMFG IT’S SO GOOD” essentially require spoilers. I can’t tell you what Whitford and Jenkins are up to, which means I can’t tell you what their activities represent, which is incredibly interesting. I guess I’d say this: keep your brain working while you watch this movie. Don’t tune out and let the aesthetically pleasing bloodshed wash over you. Consider what Whitford and Jenkins are doing and why, and how that relates to what you’re doing when you pay to see a movie about the ritualistic slaughter of young teenagers. You may also want to consider that Whitford and Jenkins are two creative collaborators, just like Goddard and Whedon, and that like Goddard and Whedon they must serve several different masters.

Am I being too vague, Jordan? Not vague, enough? Also, before we wrap this thing up, we probably should discuss any flaws we saw in the film. So far this has been one woodsy lovefest.

Jordan: Well, I kinda thought the nerdy character was a little annoying, but maybe that was just because he reminded me of this guy I know. I agree, though, about staying alert. I know that I will see this movie again some time soon and I know it will be a different experience knowing what is beneath the surface. There’s just a lot that comes at you in this film. I mean, I’ve barely been able to process that a mounted, taxidermied buck basically gets a lap dance.

Matt: Yeah the character you’re referring to, Marty, may be a bit too on the nose, and his dialogue might be a bit too Whedonesque at times. But he, like all the characters in ‘The Cabin in the Woods,’ gets some great moments. Unfortunately, we’re not at liberty to discuss what those moments are.

If you trust us at all, though, you’ll take us at our extremely vague word and see this film. At least for now, that will have to suffice.

Jordan Hoffman:
Rating Meter 9
Matt Singer:
Rating Meter 9
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.

Matt Singer is a Webby award winning writer and podcaster. He currently runs the Criticwire blog on Indiewire and co-hosts the Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit podcast. His criticism has appeared in the pages of The Village Voice and Time Out New York and on ‘Ebert Presents at the Movies.’ He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, dog, and a prop sword from the movie ‘Gymkata.’

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