Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.
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My name: Brian Martin
My Journey Home From the Cabin in the Woods
I watched Cabin in the Woods yesterday. Imagine my surprise when I went to Wikipedia, scrolled down to "Critical Reaction," and discovered that the film "received critical acclaim." Now, that could go either way. Maybe I was amazed that mainstream critics were actually on board with a horror flick. Or, maybe I was astonished that mainstream critics were actually on board with this horror flick. I won't keep you in suspense: I was goggle-eyed that so many of them liked it.
I started out liking it. I liked seeing Joss Whedon's name in the credits. As someone who misses The West Wing, seeing Bradley Whitford again was a definite plus. And I smiled when Tom Lenk (from Buffy) popped up as a goofy intern. I'm telling you, I was primed. Then the movie happened.
I like Ebert. Kael and Kaufmann are dead (and now, so too is Ebert). I need a new crop of critics. But I've watched and read Ebert since the days of Sneak Previews, when he was working with Gene Siskel (dead). Siskel was a tougher sell. Ebert gave Cabin 3 of 4 stars, the clear equivalent of a thumbs up. Siskel probably would have voted it down. Good old Gene.
So Ebert says,
"This is essentially an attempt to codify free will. Do horror characters make choices because of the requirements of the genre, or because of their own decisions? And since they're entirely the instruments of their creators, to what degree can the filmmakers exercise free will? This is fairly bold stuff..."
Fairly bold? If this film accomplished even half of what the critics have said it did, it'd scare Kane himself.
According to the critics, Cabin in the Woods...
is so intelligent that "if you're at all invested in horror movies -- what they are, what they're for, what they can be -- you best see this one" - Tom Charity, CNN
"tell[s] a dark tale about the bonds of friendship and the demands of humanity, about sacrifice and manipulation, about good and evil." - Lisa Kennedy, Denver Post
is so deeply moving that, though the "gods and monsters of the movie never question their appetite for gutting pretty young things....you'll question yours for sure before the film's shocking end." - Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
is "a serious and smart critique...[with] life-or-death stakes that only come from characters one genuinely cares about" - Ian Buckwalter, NPR
"becomes a witty essay on the exigencies of Hollywood narrative (taking a few jabs at trendy incursions from Sweden and Japan along), with its world-weary gaze finally settling squarely on the audience, whose appetite for ritualized violence and sadistic sacrifice seems never entirely sated." - Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
And so on. And on. And on.
At about this point, I had an idea. I wondered if, because it's so cool to love Joss Whedon these days, that that could explain these reviews. So I skipped over to the Buffy page of Rotten Tomatoes. The film, not the series. And lookee what I found:
Aha! Back in 1992, before Whedon was cool, the ratings weren't nearly so good. They're pretty awful, actually. Pandering. Those Cabin reviews -- a clear case of pandering to Whedon fans and trendy analysis.
My elation, unfortunately, died quicker than the "whore" in Cabin. Back on Wikipedia I discovered that it's okay not to like Buffy. Whedon doesn't like Buffy. Whedon says the filmmakers screwed with his script.
So now I'm just wandering. Way down toward the bottom of Wikipedia's Cabin page, I see that Rex Reed's review of the film "caught the ire of fans and internet bloggers who questioned his professionalism" due to its inaccuracies. Well, I had to see what that was all about.
If you've seen Cabin, I highly recommend Reed's review: it's funnier than the movie. Here's a taste. In the film, according to Reed, "vampires circle the moon."
Of course, Reed hated the movie. But what good did that do me? With that review, his support was worthless -- like trying to induce a friend to try a new food and having Jeffrey Dahmer tell her, yeah, it's good to try new things.
One of Reed's critics, on the other hand, led me to Bosley Crowther.
Crowther was the primary film critic for The New York Times for 27 years. He was replaced in that role in 1968. What's important is the reason he was replaced: he didn't like Bonnie and Clyde. In fact, he loathed it. He loathed it the way George Will loathes JFK, because of its historicity and the way it makes heroes of criminals. Evidently, he almost killed the movie, but other, less biased, critics weighed in and saved it. Now, of course, it's considered a classic.
But let's go back to why he was fired; it wasn't just because he didn't like the movie. Wikipedia says, "it was widely speculated that his persistent attacks on Bonnie and Clyde had shown him to be out of touch with current cinema, and [this] weighed heavily in his removal."
Now, that's scary. "Speculation" aside, isn't it fair to assume that news organizations, magazines, and all the other employers of film critics (and critics in general), for reasons of circulation, want reviewers who are "in touch" with prevailing opinion? I think so. And might that not color a critic's viewpoint, even if just a little?
I mentioned Sneak Previews before. I can't verify this, but something my parents told me about it long ago has stuck in my mind ever since. They said they lost all respect for Siskel and Ebert when they initially gave Star Wars a poor review, then changed their minds after it became a blockbuster.
With Whedon's popularity, isn't it possible that Ebert and all the rest simply decided to pass Go on the first try and skip the ignominious trip to critical jail?
Or did they all just love the movie? Audiences clearly do.
I suspect, from critic to critic, there's a little of both at play.
But me? I just didn't like it.
If you've made it this far without having seen the film, let me help you out. It's about five kids who go to a cabin in the woods for a little R&R without realizing they are the players in a vast government conspiracy designed to hurt them, kill them in fact. Most of them, anyway. But that, as all the critics will tell you, is just the beginning.
My problem is, there's nothing personal about it, and good horror is nothing if not personal. Buckwalter may have cared about these people, but I didn't. And I can't believe we're supposed to, not when we're force-fed a third act that's more about cgi than human beings. (Whedon didn't bother to turn that movie convention on its head.)
Now, I know what fans are going to say, that I didn't get it. That's it's not so much a horror movie as it is a meta-horror movie. It's ironical, satirical. You know, like Buffy (the series this time).
Yeah, well, I cared about the people in Buffy.
And, no, I didn't get it. I didn't get how the bad guys could confirm each kill -- except the one that ends up causing them the most trouble. Is the movie supposed to be seen from such a distance that even its illogicalities are funny? I thought you made fun of a trope by showing how ridiculous it is, not by regurgitating it.
Am I taking it all too seriously? Probably. I think I may have a blind spot for humorous horror, anyway. I honestly don't believe this is a good movie, but then I don't expect you to believe that.