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“Into the Wild” 

Grade: B (RENT IT)

“ZOMBIELAND” MEETS “THE MATRIX,” “The Cabin in the Woods” is the only movie in recent memory to start as a horror film and end as a stoner comedy.  But how this clever crisscrossing of genres plays out is part of the film’s fun, which is, there will be blood and laughs.  Not all of it works – it interrupts itself too much with heavy-handed meta-moments – but as the brainchild of cult collaborators Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel”), “The Cabin in the Woods” is far from a negligible experience at the cinema.  Its deliberately dull opening is a little inside, literally: organization men in lab-coats Richard Jenkens and Bradley Whitford are discussing some kind of production replete with in-jokes and an unclear sense of what exactly they’re operating.  After the title credits hit you like a Mack truck, abruptly cut to a pair of good-looking girls in and discussing their underwear and you’re suddenly back in the land of a horror movie, of girls gone wild on the last day of their lives.

Were students in a film criticism course given “The Cabin in the Woods” to review, it would be a formidable challenge in how not to spoil the main plot-point, thus destroying the experience for filmgoers, yet still convey the film’s basic premise.  There’s a major actor in this film’s last act that goes unbilled because of the secret way in which the Jenkens and Whitford characters parallel the story of five friends who rent a Rambler and travel to a remote cabin in the woods.  The ill-fated group includes two couples, one blond (Chris Hernsworth and Anna Hutchinson), one brunette (Jesse Williams and Kristen Connolly) and a lovable stoner figure (played with panache by Fran Kranz).  That the friend group is doomed is determined by a whole host of horror movie clichés on display: the jock in a varsity jacket, the sexually uninhibited blond destined for a grinder, even the crusty country-folk who warn the kids from the big city that they’ll help them find the cabin but that “getting back…well, that’s your problem.”  Then up come Jenkens and Whitford again and like Greek gods hovering over a stage of mere mortals, they appear to be pulling the strings here and calling the kids “lambs” on a “killing floor.”  Say no more except that in the tradition of the “Scream” series, “The Cabin” is a cabin-within-a-cabin-within-a-cabin.

Insofar as “The Cabin in the Woods” is ultimately a comment on the audience’s thirst for blood, Goddard and Whedon’s film belongs in the same family as the immensely popular “The Hunger Games.”  What does it say about contemporary culture that some of our most popular forms of entertainment are highlighting the popular thirst for a blood-sport wherein we, complicit in the crime, get to know and love our victims?  Have we never left the Roman Coliseum?  Could it be that, in the long wake of September 11th, we’re still coping with the fact that death and destruction can be televised for all the world to see and that worse, for most of us, the suffering of others exists not side-by-side but on the TV screen?  Perhaps the most stinging social comment here is when Marty the stoner describes himself as the victim of “angry gods” because those “angry gods” are us.

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