- Last Updated: 1:00 AM, April 14, 2012
- Posted: 10:34 PM, April 12, 2012
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
Try Motel 6 instead. Running time: 95 minutes. Rated R (graphic violence, nudity, profanity, drug abuse). At the 34th Street, the Empire, others.
I’ve seen a lot of rip-offs of “The Truman Show” and a lot of rip-offs of “Scream.” I guess I have to give credit to “The Cabin in the Woods” for ripping off both at once.
Fans of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” whose creator Joss Whedon co-wrote the script along with “Cloverfield” writer Drew Goddard (who directed), may enjoy this meta-horror flick, but to me the movie (like “Buffy”) is a vivid illustration of the difference between witty and smarmy. Wit makes you laugh. Smarm, on the other hand, may be clever, but it’s hard to laugh at it: The guy telling the joke beat you to it. You feel like an irrelevant bystander as he chuckles himself to pieces.
“Cabin” consciously evokes “The Evil Dead” as five college students gather to drive in their RV to a remote (i.e., scary) cabin. Meanwhile, though, we meet a group of wisecracking tech guys (the two leaders are played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) who work in an anodyne office building. It turns out they’re using hidden cameras to spy on the teens while manipulating a series of controls to influence their behavior. For instance, they release chemicals that make them stupid and horny.
So the youngsters act increasingly crazy and dare each other to visit the creepy cellar, which is a garage sale of horror props — creepy dolls, an ancient diary, etc. Scary things start to happen, and if you’re betting that all heads will remain attached to their own necks, you’re probably new to this game.
Every time things get horrifying, though, we cut back to the tech wizards who are orchestrating the whole experience. The “scares” are therefore “ironic” and, being safely cordoned off behind these “quotation marks,” aren’t scary. While some of the one-liners are funny, the only reason I could think of to keep watching is to learn what the overarching reason behind the setup might be. When this answer is delivered, though, it’s weak, and it is given in the clunkiest possible way: A new character simply walks onscreen and explains the back story. Worse: It’s a celebrity cameo. Worse still: The “reveal” nullifies everything the protagonists have been trying to do.
Efforts to “subvert the genre” don’t go very far. For instance, we learn at the start that the students, despite being good-looking, are really smart, but the detail winds up yielding nothing. Moreover, none of the young people in the cast (the jock is played by “Thor” star Chris Hemsworth) manages to make his or her character memorable, with one exception. Fran Kranz, the guy who plays a comedy-relief stoner who sees secret patterns in the universe, turns in a performance so annoying that if you multiplied 1960s Jerry Lewis by 1990s Pauly Shore, you’d still be only halfway there.
Movies that mean to deconstruct movies seem to be made solely by and for cinema vampires, those ghost-faced geeks whose pallor is rarely challenged by exposure to the sun. This audience is meant to be sent chattering into the street exclaiming, “Did you spot that reference to . . .?” I require more, and couldn’t help noticing that the total of genuine wit in the movie is roughly equal to that contained in any six minutes of any “Treehouse of Horror” episode of “The Simpsons.”