Cabin in the Woods

Cabin in the Woods is perhaps 2012’s most mismarketed movie thus far (Brave may yet prove me wrong, of course). It’s been touted as a horror movie, as a horror movie spoof, as an anti-horror movie, and no one really seems to have come to a clear consensus. It’s certainly not a traditional horror movie and it’s not that scary in that the movie’s horrors really aren’t the scariest part. What runs across pretty well every review however is that to delve into any details would risk spoiling the movie, and that’s certainly true; hence, the problem with the film’s marketing. How do you talk about a movie that you can’t talk about?

 Inception kind-of suffered from the same problem: they had a movie that they wanted to market but didn’t want to spoil anything. They solved it however by advertising it as a movie that couldn’t be advertised; press releases dropped stating the difficulty they were having advertising it, along with the now-commonplace viral marketing stuff, and that was mostly that. Included with just about every review, of course, was how “mind-blowing” and complex the film was and that the only way to advertise the film was to reveal the film’s premise and plot and thus risk ruining the film. As advertised, it was a fairly bad catch-22.

Cabin in the Woods “suffers”, I guess, “from that problem.” It is this really brilliant, really well-thought out film. It isn’t just this “anti-” horror movie, nor a spoof of a horror movie, nor just a horror movie, or anything like that. It has traditional horror movie elements, and it certainly has traditional Joss Whedon* elements, but I don’t know what to say from there.

It’s not that tough to describe the film: it’s smart, it’s funny, it’s witty, and what it does it does incredibly well, but those are all just adjectives that are routinely tossed out to describe Cohen Brothers films and kind of don’t really mean anything. The problem is describing the film in a really meaningful way because I don’t think those adjectives really tell you anything about the film.  The furthest one can really go in describing Cabin in the Woods spoiler-free is to say something like, “a bunch of teens go camping one weekend AND THINGS AREN’T AS THEY SEEM!!!!” and that’s really just that. We shouldn’t feel bad or sorry for someone making a brilliant, hard-to-market film, but that’s kind of the state of the industry itself. A film needs to be marketed as x, or as y, or whatever, so people know what film is appropriate for them. It’s kind of like how it seems every summer we get hit with blockbusters (like Transformers or Die Hard or, a bit of an interesting example [in that it is both a traditional blockbuster and a brilliant film] like The Avengers), and then after the summer we get artsy and/or brilliant films that become real Oscar contenders (yes, Best Sound Mixing or whatever is an Oscar, and blockbusters get nominated for it all the time, but does it really count? No). It is, obviously, just about marketing.  They’re considered as two separate genres practically on their own: odds are you have a friend who refuses to watch movies nominated for an Oscar, kind of like that friend who claims to like movies that critics don’t like (ie, Catwoman or a Rob Schneider movie where either magic, science, or luck turns him into something that he isn’t [but, unfortunately, these things never turn him into a funny or talented human being]), as though liking things that others don’t like makes them unique. That’s kind of what’s going on here. A film is either a blockbuster or an Oscar baby, and Cabin in the Woods falls into this uncomfortable space where it’s difficult to claim it’s either. It’s not an Oscar-contender but it is a very smart movie… at the same time, it’s a movie where you can watch in a noisy theatre and you don’t have to worry about missing out on much.

It is, I guess, a movie that pokes fun at horror movies (in a clever way, not a Scary Movie way) and even at itself. It’s smart, funny, well-acted, and, all in all, just a good movie. Go watch.

*on the note of “Joss Whedon” elements, old Whedon gets a ton of flack — more than he deserves — for including actors from his previous works in new stuff. It becomes such a point of criticism that it’s actually pretty stupid: the Cohen brothers and Christopher Nolan all reuse actors all the time and it’s not a big deal, but Joss can’t seem to catch a break.

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