Quickie Review: The Cabin in The Woods (dir. by Drew Goddard)

“If you hear a strange sound outside… have sex.”

If there was one thing the meltdown and subsequent bankruptcy of MGM ended doing it was shelving the Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon horror film The Cabin in The Woods for almost three years. The film was directed by Goddard who also helped co-write the screenplay with Joss Whedon and what we get is one of the smartest and most innovative horror films to come in over a decade. For fans of the tv shows Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel (not to mention Dollhouse) this horror film just reinforces the notion that Joss Whedon knows how to write smart dialogue and premises without ever getting too self-referential and deconstructionist (I’m looking at you Kevin Williamson) or too smart-talky (a stank-eye at you Aaron Sorkin).

There’s really no way to properly review The Cabin in The Woods without spoiling the films many different surprises and twists and turns. I will say that the film does a peculiar opening that focuses not on the five college students headed to the cabin in the woods of the film’s title, but on two men (Richard  Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) in your typical office attire doing the walk and talk about family home life and the like. We see that they’re technicians in an unnamed industrial facility that wouldn’t look out of place in one of the many governmental facilities we often see in film. The film will return to these two men and their facilities and other people working within often in addition to telling the story of the five college students and the growing danger they find themselves in as night falls in the woods.

To say anymore would definitely be a spoiler.

I will continue on and say that for a horror film written to self-reference other horror film conventions and tropes what Goddard and Whedon have ultimately done was celebrate the genre itself and how much of an impact it has had in society. Unlike films like the Scream franchise, The Cabin in the Woods doesn’t knowingly wink at the audience about how cool it is for pointing out all the horror cliches and stereotypes we’ve come to expect in the horror genre. Instead the film actually treats its audience to be smart enough to see the homage to past horror films both good and bad without ever drawing attention to the fact that they’re pointed out.

Another thing which makes this film so fun to watch is how much every character in the film comes across as fully realized individuals. Even the college students who we first think of as your typical horror film stereotypes (the jock, the slut, the virgin, the brain and the stoner) end up being more than we’re led to believe. All of this actually occurs right in the beginning and this helps the audience join in on the fun that both Goddard and Whedon are having in turning the horror genre on its head right up to it’s surprising conclusion. It helps that the cast did quite a great job realizing their characters. As the film progresses we even begin to get a sense that who the villains in the film may or may not be who we think.

There’s a sense of fun and the darkly comic to the film as well. Every one-liner and comedic beats we get throughout the film doesn’t have a sense of the cynical to them. It comes across through dialogue and actions by both groups in the film in such a natural way that they never make those saying the lines break the fourth wall. Most films that try to deconstruct genre films tend to get too cutesy with the breaking the fourth wall gimmick that the audience can’t help but be pulled out of the suspension of disbelief they’ve put themselves in. This has a way of making such genre films less fun and celebratory and more of making fun of the people who enjoy such things.

The Cabin in The Woods manages that rare accomplishment of being a horror film that retains not just the horrific aspect of the genre but also add such a darkly comic sense to the whole proceeding with such a deft touch from Goddard and Whedon that we don’t know whether to call it straight horror or a horror-comedy. Some might even see the film as an entertaining treatise on the nature of the horror film genre of the last quarter-century. Both Goddard and Whedon have already called this film as their answer to the current trend of the “torture porn” that was popularized with the help of such recent horror franchises like Hostel, Saw and those made by Rob Zombie. Where those films celebrated the concept of inflicting pain not just on the characters on the screen but those who watch them with The Cabin in The Woods we finally get a reminder why we love the horror films of the past. It’s through the sense of that adrenaline rush that a tension build-up leading to a horror money shot but without becoming overly gratuitious and reveling in the pain of the horror.

Some have said that The Cabin in The Woods is the best horror film of 2012. I won’t even argue with that statement since it is true. I will put it out there that Cabin in The Woods might just be one of the best films of 2012. The film is just that fun, smart and, overall, just plain awesome.

[I usually attach a trailer to reviews but this time doing it could spoil some of the surprises in the film]

Lisa Marie Finds Herself On Lockout (dir. by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger)

This Friday saw the release of two new genre films, The Cabin In The Woods and Lockout.  As you may have heard by now, The Cabin In The Woods is one of the best films of 2012.  But what about Lockout

Well, let’s just say that it’s no Cabin In The Woods.

Co-written by Luc Besson, Lockout takes place in the 2079.  The world is pretty much exactly the same  as it is right now with the exception of the fact that there’s a big space prison orbiting the Earth.  The prisoners — who we’re told early on “aren’t here for traffic violations” — are kept in a state of suspended imagination.  Though the process apparently has the side effect of making the prisoners even more psychotic than before, keeping the prisoners in “stasis” also keeps the prison relatively peaceful.  However, as usual, lefty do-gooders are concerned as to whether or not “stasis” is humane and they basically end up ruining the whole thing and getting a bunch of people killed. 

While the president’s daughter (played by Maggie Grace of Taken and Lost fame) is visiting the station in order to investigate whether the prisoners’ rights are being violated, the most psychotic prisoner is revived so that she can interview him.  Why they would select this prisoner — out of the 400 that they have — to wake up is anyone’s guess.  Anyway, this leads to that prisoner escaping, all the other prisoners waking up, and the president’s daughter being held hostage.

Who can save her?  Well, how about a surly and disgraced former CIA agent named Snow (and played by Guy Pearce)?

The main problem with Lockout is that, with the exception of few welcome moments, it’s never quite as fun as it should be.  This is a film that opens strong (with a witty interrogation sequence and a thrilling chase scene) but it’s almost all rapidly downhill from there as the film fails to come up with anything to match the excitement of the first five minutes.  The space prison, itself, is well-designed but the prisoners within are a pretty bland and predictable bunch and they make for boring villains.  (The one exception is Joseph Gilgun as a half-blind, gleefully insane maniac named Hydell.)  Maggie Grace made for a perfect kidnapping victim in Taken but she’s a lot less convincing here.  Listen, I’m about as independent as you can get and I’m proud of it but I can guarantee you that if I was trapped in a prison and surrounded by potential rapists, the last thing I would do would be to give attitude to the one guy who has been sent to rescue me. 

Especially if that guy was Guy Pearce!  Seriously, this film has its flaws but Guy Pearce is not one of them.  Whether he’s telling off his superiors and informing Maggie Grace that she’s on her own as far as getting off the space prison is concerned, Pearce is pure surly sexiness.  Ultimately, Lockout works best as a showcase for Pearce and he makes the most of it.  He looks good beating people up, he’s a better actor than Jason Statham, and he’s got a sexier voice than Ira Glass.  He’s such a charismatic animal that, if he hasn’t played Stanley Kowalski in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire yet, somebody better hurry up and cast him.


6 Trailers To Keep Things Cheerful

After spending two weeks researching the career of Jason Voorhees, I am in the mood for some movies that feature absolutely no one getting brutally murdered. That’s why this edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Trailers is dedicated to some of the most light-weight comedies ever made. 

(Yes, I realize that these films aren’t exactly grindhouse films but they’re close enough.)

1) Making the Grade (1984)

This trailer almost feels like a parody, doesn’t it?  In fact, it very well could be.  Has anyone ever actually seen this Making the Grade movie?

2) White Water Summer (1987)

This is a weird movie that, for some reason, tends to pop up on TV every few months or so.  Kevin Bacon is a nature guide who appears to be sociopath and Sean Astin is the kid that he bullies nonstop.  Eventually, Bacon breaks his leg and Astin saves his life or something like that.  The whole movie just has a really weird feel to it.

3) Private Lessons (1981)

These next three trailers form a trilogy of sorts.  We start off with Private Lessons, which — let’s be honest — is a pretty creepy trailer.

4) Private School (1983)

The 2nd part of the private trilogy was directed by Noel Black who also directed one of the best films of the 60s, Pretty Poison.

5) Private Resort (1985)

And then we come to this…Private Resort.  Much like White Water Summer, Private Resort used to always show up on Sunday afternoon TV and I’ve never really understood why.  That said, I watched it a few times because I’ll watch Johnny Depp in anything.

6) Fraternity Vacation (1985)

And finally, let’s wrap things up with Fraternity Vacation, starring future Oscar winner Tim Robbins.

AMV of the Day: A Little Late

Usually Arleigh handles this sort of post.  And he did just post one yesterday, so I’m glad he’s taking up the slack that I’ve made.  I mean, ostensibly I was brought on board to handle all things anime.  Anyways, for once I’m actually going to post up something anime related.

Let me say this about this video.  I’m as manly as manly gets.  I kiss puppies and kick babies.  Kill the women and children first!  But even this video brings me to tears.  Funny story, I was sitting in Burger King today, this song started playing over the speakers, and scene for scene I could recall this AMV.  Heck, you don’t even have to be familiar with this anime to get the emotional impact (ef – a tale of melodies.  Watch it now!)  But you know, it really wouldn’t hurt you to watch both ef- a tale of memories and ef – a tale of melodies (didn’t I just mention that?  Yes, yes I did).  Both would help you get the full impact of this AMV.  But either way, can you really watch this video and not feel anything?  If so, then you’re a stronger man than I.  And since there is no stronger man than I, then you are a liar.  And since you’re a liar, no one cares what you think or say!  My logic is flawless.  Enjoy the video!  Full credit goes to Dragon Roy and the AMV contest at Anime Boston.

Anime: Ef – a tale of melodies

Song: “You Found Me” by The Fray

Creator: Dragon Roy