Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Movies

Review: Audacious, entertaining 'Cabin in the Woods' goes over the edge

By Steve Persall

Times Movie Critic

I've always wondered how people in horror flicks make such terminally stupid decisions, why sexy blonds have the least fun, and where the old coot predicting doom gets his information. The Cabin in the Woods answers those questions and more, in a freaky-gory manner so far off-the-wall that it could be a coffee table.

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the next cult phenom, which I'll try hard to not spoil with details. Better for audiences to discover for themselves the pretzel logic of slasher flicks, crazily defined and mocked here. The Cabin in the Woods isn't merely another Scream exercise in self-awareness, or a Scary Movie spoof of the same. It's a wickedly smart hybrid mutation, biting the severed hand feeding the genre.

At its core is the usual Spam-in-a-cabin yarn: Four young, photogenic stereotypes (and one Shaggy stoner pal) take off for a wilderness weekend of sex, drugs and eventual dismemberment. The virgin — well, almost — has the best chance of survival; the sexually active cutie, the worst. Something lurks in the woods. Everyone should stick together for safety, but they don't.

Meanwhile, there are moments to make you think the projectionist spliced in footage from another movie. A pair of techie working stiffs clocks in, sharing mundane conversation, settling into some kind of mission control room, taking bets on something strange. What they're doing there — and here in this movie — becomes clear in short order. They are the men behind the curtain, meta puppeteers making sure everyone in the woods dies on schedule.

From that twisted dual perspective, director Drew Goddard and his co-writer Joss Whedon create a blood-red snowball effect of satire, adding layers of calculated insanity as it rolls along. The puppeteers are revealed as the conscience (or lack thereof) of any filmmaker who ever faked a disembowelment and picked a cliche monster to do it. The campers are led through situations finally exposed for their stupidity, and ours for buying into it before.

Now, that's where Scream and Scary Movie ended, but The Cabin in the Woods is just getting warmed up. We haven't discussed the whys and hows of the puppeteers' stratagem, and we won't. Whenever Goddard and Whedon's imagination appears to have peaked, there's another, weirder development in store, until there's nowhere else for The Cabin in the Woods to go except over the edge. So it does.

I can envision college term papers being written about the myriad ideas at work here: the interchangeable nature of terror, the totems of modern horror from occult puzzles to creepy Japanese schoolgirls, the archetypes of nasty-death victims.

But that makes The Cabin in the Woods sound less audacious and entertaining than it is. Go for the gore or the loopy scheme behind it, but get there before your friends do.

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.

Comments
Star Wars: The Last Jedi has everything The Force Awakens was missing

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has everything The Force Awakens was missing

When The Force Awakens landed two years ago, it was everything Star Wars fans wanted yet not entirely what we needed. It was a rousing tribute missing its own vision, introducing new characters and crises hinting at old ones. Star Wars: The Last Jed...
Updated: 1 hour ago
13 new movies you have to see over the holiday season

13 new movies you have to see over the holiday season

Hollywood has enough movies left to get everyone through the holidays plus any New Year’s hangover. Many are aiming for awards glory, a few are just here for the party. The really serious contenders won’t open nationwide until early 2018...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Golden Globe-nominated movies and when to see them in Tampa Bay

Golden Globe-nominated movies and when to see them in Tampa Bay

Guillermo Del Toro’s romantic creature feature The Shape of Water soaked up seven Golden Globes nominations Monday, kicking off another marathon awards season. The Shape of Water is nominated for best dramatic motion picture alongside Christop...
Updated: 1 hour ago
‘Shape of Water,’ ‘Big Little Lies’ lead Golden Globes

‘Shape of Water,’ ‘Big Little Lies’ lead Golden Globes

Guillermo del Toro’s Cold War-era fairytale "The Shape of Water" swam away with a leading seven nominations from the Golden Globes, while the HBO drama "Big Little Lies" led television nominees with six nods. In what’s being viewed as a wide-open Osc...
Published: 12/11/17
Five offbeat movie choices to get you away from the multiplex this week

Five offbeat movie choices to get you away from the multiplex this week

Hollywood is backloading December, waiting for Star Wars: The Last Jedi to bring moviegoers back to multiplexes. After no major releases last week, only James Franco’s The Disaster Artist is making any new impression at box offices this weekend. (Cli...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Olaf is being let go: Olaf short is being dropped from Disney-Pixar’s ‘Coco’

Olaf is being let go: Olaf short is being dropped from Disney-Pixar’s ‘Coco’

Winter is still weeks away but everyone’s favorite snowman is already melting from view.In a cruel twist on Frozen’s showstopper, Olaf is being let go.Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, the 21-minute animated "short" preceding Disney-Pixar’s Coco in theaters w...
Published: 12/05/17
‘The Disaster Artist’ takes us inside ‘The Room’ as it notoriously happened

‘The Disaster Artist’ takes us inside ‘The Room’ as it notoriously happened

James Franco found a kooky, kindred spirit in Tommy Wiseau, The Disaster Artist whose 2003 cine-trocity The Room is hailed as one of the worst movies ever.Like Wiseau, Franco can be accused of stretching his talent way too far. Unlike Wiseau, Franco ...
Published: 12/04/17
That time Shia LaBeouf tried to join a Tampa Bay Undeground Film Festival ...

That time Shia LaBeouf tried to join a Tampa Bay Undeground Film Festival ...

For a few bewildering days, R. Presley Stephens thought his Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival would welcome a notorious celebrity.The fourth annual shoestring cinema showcase runs Thursday through Sunday at Britton 8 Theater, 3938 S Dale Mabry High...
Updated: 1 hour ago
What's in theaters for Thanksgiving: 'Coco,' 'Last Flag Flying,' 'The Man Who Invented Christmas'

What's in theaters for Thanksgiving: 'Coco,' 'Last Flag Flying,' 'The Man Who Invented Christmas'

NOW IN THEATERS: COCO Disney-Pixar’s animated dramedy Coco (PG) is inspired by Mexico’s annual Dia de los Muertos, the "day of the dead" when departed ancestors are celebrated. Good for diversity, although the movie isn’t as good ...
Updated one month ago
If you’re going to see ‘A Christmas Carol’ redo, make it ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’

If you’re going to see ‘A Christmas Carol’ redo, make it ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’

The last thing this world needs is another rendition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, likely the most remade, reimagined and ripped off literary property ever. At the same time, the world would be poorer without seeing Ebenezer Scrooge i...
Updated one month ago