Trapped in the Witty Woods

This scarefest has a lot of charm.

I was prepared to despise The Cabin the Woods based on its previews, and until the last minute, I debated going to see Chimpanzee instead.

I am so glad I took a pass on the primates and opted for the horror instead. There’s nothing subtle about Cabin (and subtlety is overrated anyway), but there’s enough humor and tongue-in-cheek (more like tongue-on-the-floor-after-it’s-been-chopped-off) pop culture references in this one to keep even the most desperate-for-amusement moviegoers intrigued.

The premise seems like one we’ve all heard before: Attractive college-aged kids decide to escape for a weekend to a remote destination, enjoying their time “off the grid” and entertaining nature-based possibilities like swimming, off-road motorcycling and alcohol- and pot-fueled games of truth or dare.

The last activity above elicits Jules (played by a slatternly Anna Hutchison) making out with a taxidermy wolf and it stands as the best human-on-animal kiss I’ve ever seen, surpassing even King Kong for its bestial suggestiveness.

The plot twist in Cabin is that like The Truman Show (referenced here by a minor character’s name) and , the kids are set up to die by a NASA-like organization (complete with the ties and short-sleeved dress shirts) that broadcasts their every move to an (implied) international audience and manipulates their environment to set up their eventual demise. This agency (with no name) has the ability to lock doors in the secluded cabin, create an avalanche that blocks a getaway, and summon the nastiest animals and zombies to eviscerate the five unsuspecting kids just trying to get away.

The name of the ghastly family that botches their opportunity to kill the kids: Buckner. I thought Red Sox nation had finally forgiven Billy Buck (who bares more than a passing resemblance to Will County State’s Attorney James “Jimmy the Hairdo” Glasgow, also famous for botching important opportunities, including ) for the cardinal sin of blowing the 1986 World Series.

The violence and crazy creatures in Cabin are way over the top, but because this one is so well-written, thought-provoking and funny, it’s far superior to many of the recent films that it resembles, and that’s a long list:

  • : The premise here is eerily similar, in that the kids are set up to die with the whole world watching via a big-brother type operation broadcasting their every move to viewers around the world. Unlike Games, however, you’ll find yourself laughing every minute or so here at Cabin’s absurdity. Consequently, my mobile device gets an assist on this review for its auto-correct on the Notes app by creating an ingenious line. I was trying to type “Why the heck am I laughing so hard about blood and guts?” but my phone translated it to, “Why the heck am I laughing so hard at blood lust?”, which works even better.
  • : The angry beasts in both Cabin and Wrath will have you running for the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual for proper identification. However, because Cabin’s pissed-off creatures have one hoof cemented in black humor, their violent Darwinian nature is enjoyable on several levels, unlike the mono-moody (and mono-eyed in  the case of the mad Cyclops) things that inhabit Wrath. For instance, in the bloodbath ending here, one unfortunate human gets impaled by an angry unicorn.
  • : Although Cabin’s horror is less subtle and more bloody than the throwback charm exuded by Black, the filmmakers’ attention to detail can certainly be compared. The toys, weapons, and overall creepiness add reams to the overall aura of horror here, which is palpable.
  • : Mordecai (played by Tim De Zarn) displays the best use of chewing tobacco since the cast of the baseball saga of last year. You’ll leave the theater checking to see if any chaw drops landed on your clothes.

But Mordecai’s bloodshot-and-stubbled nature provides a way-creepy layer of intrigue to Cabin, which is loaded with wonderful archetypal performances. Fran Kranz’s Marty, the fifth-wheel stoner who saves the world only to see it destroyed at the end, is perhaps the greatest pothead ever cinematically portrayed, surpassing even Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High because of his paranoid and 99-percent beliefs about surveillance and tracking (which all prove true).

This one really surprised me, folks, and I laughed out loud at the over-the-top violence and winking acknowledgement of the lame scare ‘em pictures we’ve been subjected to of late. At the end, you’ll appreciate a great moment with scream queen Sigourney Weaver.

Quotable moments

“Everyone knows you can’t trust the Swedes.” — Sitterson (Richard Jenkins)

“Do you want to come over Monday? I’m going to pick up some power tools and liberate my cabinets.” — Hadley (Bradley Whitford)

“People in this town drive in a very counter-intuitive manner.” — Marty

“I was not informed there would be calisthenics.” — Marty

“I’m on a reality TV show. My parents are going to think I’m such a burnout.” — Marty

“I kind of dismembered that guy with a trowel. What are you up to?” — Marty

Obligatory Who observation

I haven’t done one of these in a while. Dallas, that quintessential 1980s soap opera, is coming back to TV this summer, according to the movie previews. Dallas gave us the plot cop-out of the dream sequence, you’ll remember, when attempting to tell us who shot J.R. Dallas’ star Larry Hagman, returning to the small screen in the upcoming saga, was a neighbor of Keith Moon’s in Los Angeles, and he actually helped Moon at a botched attempt at sobriety. Hagman’s recollection of sending  Moon to rehab, recounted in Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon:

“He says, I always get up at six in the morning and I have my bangers and eggs and I drink a bottle of Dom Perignon and half a bottle of brandy, and then I take a couple of downers, and then it’s about 10 o’clock and I’ll have a nice nap and sleep until five or six. Then I’ll get up, have a couple of black beauties (amphetamines), some brandy, a little champagne and we’ll go out on the town. We’ll go out and have something to eat, I’ll have a little brandy and champagne and then we’ll go out boogying. Then we’ll wrap it up about three or four, go to bed, wake up about six or seven and start all over again.”

Other observations at the moviehouse

  • Garlic press, blue cheese = the dangers of using a mobile device to take notes and multitask at the movies. That’s what I needed from Target on the way home Sunday.
  • At the aforementioned Target stop, I overheard a fun joke shared between two youngsters: “What did the daddy buffalo say to his son? Bison!”
  • If you get there at the right time, park in the spaces directly west of the Cinemark Louis Joliet Mall by JC Penney. The rock star parking will ensure you a temptation-free escape from the theater.
  • Bruce Willis appears to be the ever-present Daniel Craig of movies this year. He’s got two action-snoozers on the docket, including one with Sylvester Stallone and former California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger (The Expendables 2). In the other Bruno-driven showcase (Looper), the masturbatory plot revolves around a hit man who travels to the future to off himself.
  • Numerology, the ancient study of the relationship between the divine and the relationship between numbers, finally gets its cinematic due in the upcoming Safe. If Hollywood were to make a movie about alchemy, or the way cheap metals are turned into gold or silver (as outdated as journalism is now), I’d buy my ticket today.
Tom Saaristo April 24, 2012 at 12:49 PM
Great review! Oh, and don't buy a garlic press tom.xanga.com/tags/garlic/5/
Dave Wilson April 24, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Haha Thanks Tom! You still work downtown?
Freddie Kissell April 24, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Nice job on the review. I saw this movie and thought it was kinda corny, though the way you described it almost makes me want to see it again.
Dave Wilson April 24, 2012 at 02:37 PM
It was pretty corny, Freddie, but enjoyable nonetheless.


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