Malleus Maleficarum!
202 – The Quest

So not much to say about this comic, so instead I’ll talk about Cabin in the Woods (SPOILERS), which I just watched.


A lot of people have been reccommending this film to me, and I want you all to know that I still love and respect you. If I sound like I’m personally attacking your tastes in film, it’s only because I’m a cranky curmudgeon who likes to hate things that are popular. I’ve been putting off watching this movie partly because I’ve never thought very highly of Joe Whedon and partly to spite the rabid Whedonites who get angry if you don’t think Serenity was the second coming of Jesus. But Moody ordered it off Netflix, so we finally sat down and watched it.

So I didn’t hate it. I can see why some people liked it, and I would say it’s got enough going for it that reasonable people could disagree. My reaction was more dull indifference, which has really been my most positive reaction to a Whedon movie to date.

Moody really didn’t like it, because she’s an OCD dork who notices every plot hole. I’m much more forgiving of plot holes if I don’t notice them while I’m actually watching a movie, so I don’t think there were any really major ones.

My main problem with the movie is that, well, it wasn’t very good. This was a movie that didn’t have any idea what it wanted to be, other than clever. And it’s oh so clever, in that non-threatening way that Whedon’s movies always are. Therein lies Whedon’s genius. His writing isn’t really all that deep or clever — it’s mostly just fairly mainstream pop culture allusions and occasional lampshading of the most obvious genre conventions — but it somehow makes you feel as if YOU ARE THE ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD TO GET THE JOKE. Anyway, the movie is kind of clever like that. I wouldn’t call it a horror movie or a comedy, which are the two genres it was marketed as. It’s not scary or creepy or unsettling; the director has no eye for horror, so the whole thing comes off as an extra long episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact, I almost think I remember a few Buffy plots that bear a surprising similarity to the plot of Cabin in the Woods, so many Whedon was recycling an unused show script. At the same time, it’s not really funny. There are jokes, but they just exist to be clever. If the movie is anything it’s a watered down sci-fi/action flick. Which is okay, I guess, but I’m not sure why you would create a movie lampooning the horror genre and NOT at least try to make it a horror movie. Sure, there are zombies in it, but they barely get any screentime and they always seem to be obscured in shadow, as if not showing us the face of what the audience clearly can tell is a hillbilly zombie will somehow make it more creepy and menacing. No one in the audience is thinking OH SHIT WHAT IS THAT. Just show us the zombie already. But whatever, the zombie hillbillies are pretty generic, nothing all that interesting or different about them. The death scenes are all pretty standard too, nothing horrible enough to evoke a real visceral reaction but also not campy enough to be fun.

Actually, that’s a big problem with this movie. Whedon and director Drew Goddard have no sense of when to show things and when to hide things. Everyone was all abuzz about the GREAT BIG SECRET in this movie, but this so-called twist is the BASIC PREMISE of the entire film. Whedonites have been begging people not to reveal the premise because supposedly knowing anything about Cabin before you see it will completely ruin the experience. I noticed a lot of angry fans were accusing newspaper critics of intentionally spoiling the movie, but I don’t think it was intentional at all; I think critics probably just assumed, from having watched many many films where the big twist is typically revealed in the film’s final act, that something revealed in the first five minutes wasn’t intended to be a big secret. But I think fans’ insistence on secrecy is also because they realize, deep down, perhaps on a subconscious level, that there’s really nothing to this movie other than its gimmick. Once the gimmick is revealed, there’s no place else to go for the next 90 minutes. It’s not like there’s some deep revelation about human nature coming down the pike. It’s a Whedon flick, so he has nothnig more to say other than LOL GENRE FICTION HAS CLICHES. I mean, if you knew that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father before the first time that you watched Star Wars, would the movie be forever ruined for you? Would you be unable to glean anything from Citizen Kane if you knew rosebud was a sled when you walked into the theater? I think you’d still be able to enjoy those films even with that forbidden knowledge, because those weren’t films that relied entirely on the audiences’ minds being BLOWN by those revelations. You’d probably still be able to get involved in Luke’s struggle to become a Jedi or find fascination in kane’s hubris. But Cabin blows its wad with its gimmick and then…there’s nothing else to hold your interest. Like I said, no chills, no comedy, just four dishwater bland teens and one obnoxiously quippy Whedon self-insert sort of going through the vague motions in the thinnest parody of a slasher flick.

I also suspect that Whedonites were insistent in not talking about the premise because they feared that, once people knew what the film was about, they’d just go “Oh, okay, that’s dumb” and then just skip it. I wouldn’t put it past them, because they have been known to stoop to all sorts of lies to trick people into seeing Whedon films because I geuss they need to keep reinforcing that head narrative they have going about how he’s some sort of misunderstoof genius.

So SPOILER ALERT I’m going to spoiler the movie, I guess. It’s about these five teens who go to a cabin in the woods and get attacked by zombies… but the opening act TWIST is that it’s all being orchestrated by some company and nebbishy guys in ties are watching their every move through cameras strategically placed throughout the house. The question of WHY this company is doing all this is the final act reveal, but (1) there are enough clues that you’ll probably figure it out pretty quick and (2) who cares why they are doing it, the why of it isn’t all that tantalizing a question.

It turns out that they’re doing it because some vague elder gods demand a sacrifice of five archetypical horror movie teens — a jock, a slut, a nerd, a stoner, and a virgin — every year or else they’ll destroy the world or something. Which is, honestly, a really dumb final twist. I was expecting that it would turn out they were filming a reality show or a snuff film, which, though it would have been slightly more trite and predictable, given the movie some sort of message about, I dunno, violence in media or our hedonistic unfeeling society or something, anything beyond LOL CLICHES. It would have also made a lot more sense, because in the final chaotic act it’s revealed that the ritual sacrifice doesn’t actually need all the horror movie trappings to be successful, so why did they even bother? Finally, it’s a twist that kills both any black humor or any disturbed chills that could be wrested from the premise, because suddenly it turns out that this evil, callous company isn’t evil or callous at all, they are just MAKING HARD CHOICES FOR THE GOOD OF THE MANY.

This isn’t a bad idea for a movie, but it was handled absolutely wrong. Maybe if we had discovered the truth at the same time that the characters did it would have had more punch. I doubt it, because there were problems with the characters being so goddamn boring that you can’t get invested in their fates at all. Normally, I think that knowing someone is being manipulated by unseen forces bent on their destruction would make me naturally sympathize more with the manipulatee, but here I couldn’t care less. There is some attempt to make the victim characters a little more fleshed-out (and there is some admittedly amusing bits where the puppet-masters manipulate them to behave more like stereotypical slasher victims) but unfortunately they all end up so generic that you actually feel LESS sympathy for them than if they were stereotypes. But, hey, if a character is a stereotype, at least you know what they are and how you’re supposed to react to them. In this movie, I only figured out that one character was supposed to be “the nerd” because he was randomly wearing glasses for one scene. There’s a bit near the end where the nebbishy company guys are all celebrating a successful sacrifice in the control room ignoring the scene playing out on a giant overhead monitor, where the final girl is being mauled by a zombie. I guess it’s supposed to show us, I dunno, man’s inhumanity to man, but the final girl is so nondescript that I could only see her continued survival as an obscacle to this movie finally being over.

I think the most offensive thing about this movie is that it’s being touted as a GAME CHANGER that totally plays with your expectations of horror tropes, yet Whedon only seems to be aware of ONE trope, namely that teen slashers always involve the same archetypical victims. That’s akin to making a parody of Star Trek based only one joke, that red shirts die a lot. I can only assume from watching this that Whedon isn’t a horror fan, because he really doesn’t seem to have any love or interest for the artform, so I’m not sure why though he should be the one to spoof it. Probably just because it was an easy target.

There is ONE detail in this movie that actually works, and that’s the weird one-way mirror behind the creepy painting. That would have been a great way to indicate that something weird was going on here, but, since the audience already KNOWS what’s going on, it’s kind of wasted. Also, neither the painting nor the mirror ever really have any bearing on anything. The painting doesn’t foreshadow anything and it’s never referenced again. And why was there a one-way mirror inside the cabin? It’s clearly established that the puppet masters are watching the proceedings from a command center far below the cabin, so why is the mirror there? Did they watch previous rituals from inside the cabin itself? That seems needlessly dangerous and stupid. So I guess it was just there to fail at being unsettling.

To give credit where due, it could have been really good, if the creative team had bothered to do anything beyond the initial gimmick. It was an interesting idea completely botched by an execution more concerned with appearing cool and deep than in actually making a cohesive movie. And some of the monsters that escaped at the end were cool. Too bad we barely got to see any of them. I’ve definitely seen much worse movies, but then again most of those movies aren’t ballyhooed as being the best thing since sliced bread. Ultimately, it’s like that Abe Lincoln quote about that book that will appeal to people who like that sort of book: If you’re a Joe Whedon fan, then you’ll probably like this movie becaue it is a Joe Whedon movie.

It’s definitely no MOTHER’S DAY MASSACRE, I’ll tell you that!



Discussion (7) ¬

  1. LinusMines

    Scrolling past spoilers with a phone iz easy (I do wanna see Cabin In The Woods one of these days, even if it winds up being a half-star better than Sharknado).

    That Percy…he’s a man rat among ratty men.

  2. Coyotenose

    Somehow Percy’s badly out of place eye in panel three sells his determination. I really like that shot of him.

    From the review, this movie sounds like it would make an excellent plotline for a modern horror RPG, the best of which are cheesy as hell. (And that’s the key with such stories, really: the situation can be as outlandish and goofy as you like, but the protagonists have to NOT be outlandish and goofy, which includes being cliche.) But a tabletop RPG has different requirements from a movie. I’m currently working on a horror game whose premise is that a radioactive meteorite hits a classic movie theater in a newly revitalized mountain tourist town during a monster marathon, creating waves of movie-monsters-as-zombies that overrun the place. It’s stupid as hell, but the game genre can make it work. However, the players, no matter how unusual their characters’ backgrounds, have to experience verisimilitude or it might as well be a fantasy dreamscape game. So there are going to be lots of dead-serious plotlines and backgrounds that get complicated by Zombie Monster Movie Victims and Zombie Vampires and Zombie That Truck From The Movie Duel.

    I have some great ideas for how to make the players never feel entirely safe from Zombie Jaws Shark even in the mountains. Mostly they revolve around the fact that zombies don’t have to breathe, so a zombie shark needs nothing but time to get almost anywhere…

  3. Mr. Casual

    Now that is an epic name.

    @LinusMines: Just be sure to scroll past spoilers in these comments, too.

    Like this one:

    Gary was the killer honey badger the whole time! And he didn’t care! HAHAHAHA!!

  4. LinusMines

    @Mr. Casual I just spoiler-choke-spit all over my keyboard.

    And me without a wet/dry vac…

  5. Agouti-Rex

    This game sounds like it would have potential. Maybe that’s because games and movies have different requirements, I don’t know, but I think I would play it.

  6. Coyotenose

    Oh yeah, like I said, Cabin in the Woods sounds like a good fit for a horror RPG story. You can have some serious fun with those. Or you can get completely sabotaged by players. Goddam players.

    Speaking of zombie games, it costs $60, but if you can afford it or know somebody with a copy, play Last Night on Earth. It’s one of the best board games I’ve ever seen. Better yet, it’s compatible with the company’s alien invasion vs. roadside carnival game, so you can pit aliens against zombie survivors or zombies against carnies, or mix and match!. The heroes you can choose from are all unique, too. One of the carny heroes is a dancing circus bear. A DANCING CIRCUS BEAR THAT YOU PLAY AND RUN AROUND THE BOARD TO FIGHT MARTIANS.

  7. Agouti-Rex

    A dancing bear??? I’m sold!

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