The Cabin in the Woods (2012) Review

The Cabin in the Woods
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford
Directed By: Drew Goddard
Rated: R

Horror movies are a difficult genre to discuss. What’s scary and or entertaining for some is completely lost on another person. The stuff that will scare me in a horror film isn’t necessarily the same thing that will scare another person. What makes a horror movie typically memorable though is when it takes the conventional horror we are used to and flips it on it’s head. “Scream” took the tired slasher genre and made it’s audience and characters self aware of genre rules and tropes. The “Saw” franchise took the psychological thriller aspect of horror and added a twisted torture aspect not predominately apparent in most horror. “Cabin in the Woods” attempts this same kind of genre revision with the campy horror films where teenagers party in a cabin in the woods and are killed one by one by a malevolent force.

While I probably won’t go into heavy spoilers, it’s best to see the movie as fresh as possible. (Don’t watch the trailer, don’t listen to people talk about etc. and you’ll get maximum enjoyment out of it.)

The movie begins like most horror movies you’d expect them to. A group of friends are about to head out for a weekend of debauchery, sex, and a break from school. There’s the main girl Dana (an extremely cute Kristen Connolly), who had an affair with a professor that ended badly, Jules, her best friend whose dating Curt (an unrecognizable Chris Hemsworth), a football player, and his friend Holden, whose a potential set up for Dana. There’s also Marty, the classic sarcastic stoner. All of them fit a typical horror movie trope for a slasher or cabin in the woods genre horror movie. (The main girl, the whore, the jock, the nerd, the stoner) except theres a twist in this case. The opening also showcases two men (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) who are working in a mysterious lab that is actually surveying and controlling every move of the five teens. This side subplot gradually unravels itself and makes it the unique, fun aspect of the film that separates it from being a run of the mill horror film and a genre reinvention.

Like when Scream made the characters self-aware of the idiotic decisions people make in horror films and yet still follow the conventional slasher format, it was a breath of fresh air into a tired genre. Cabin in the Woods attempts to do the same thing and eventually throw everything but the kitchen sink into a mishmash of horror genres and tropes into an unexpected, over-the-top love letter to horror film fans. The movie does start off shaky but is refreshing to see such typical characters be unlike their typical horror roles and eventually slide into the cliched stock characters we are used to seeing. The real fun of the film is Jenkins and Whitford’s characters who are sarcastic, juvenile and in charge of the bigger side plot and an absolute joy to watch making bets on, and commenting on the film while it is going on. It’s almost like watching The Evil Dead with commentary by writer Joss Whedon and director Drew Godard. Jenkins and Whitford are the highlight but Kristen Connolly is a serviceable scream queen and a pleasure to watch on screen and carries the film well. Hemsworth is very good as the jock, Curt and easy to see how he would eventually become a star (this film was shot in 2009) but unfortunately doesn’t get the deserved screen time but it works for the story in the long run.  Fran Kranz as the stoner, Marty does fine and what he is supposed to in the role but for me became too much of a caricature of whom his character was supposed to be.

Don’t watch Cabin in the Woods expecting scares or even a typical horror movie but instead a mish-mash of genre elements from the past 30 years blended into a horror-comedy cocktail served to please the likes of most nerds and fans of the genre.

RATING: 8/10

Thor (2011) Review

THOR


Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Hiddleston,
Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Rated: PG-13

After a streak of brilliant comic-book adaptations, Marvel hit a wall with comic-book movies with a string of sequels that didn’t live up to their predecessors. Now with the looming Avengers movie next year, aka the Expendables of Superheroes, more lesser-known Heroes are getting the big-screen treatment to round-out the Marvel Universe. To be fair, most people including me, recognize the phrase “Hammer of Thor” but besides that I was completely fresh to the Thor mythology outside of some basic mythology.

The film takes place on a planet in another realm from Earth. Asgard is sort of a digital version of Viking warriors that watch over the universe and are led by Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins. He has two sons, the titular Thor, and his brother Loki. Thor is decided to be heir to the throne but his arrogance overshadows his good judgment when he starts a fight with a race of monsters known as Frost Giants that have long battled Odin for control of the universe. This causes Thor to be cast out of Asgard and sent to Earth, where he meets and falls in love with cute scientist, Jane played by Natalie Portman. Not a bad trade off. The film is a mixed bag of some loud, visually aggressive scenes on Odin, and dry, loose scenes in New Mexico. The cast does well with the material. Chris Hemsworth shines in a tailor made role for him. The personality and physicality of Thor fits Hemsworth like a glove. The other major performances are Portman, Kat Dennings, and Stellan Skarsgard as a trio of scientists who become a mock family with the arrival of Thor. Their performances aren’t the most exciting even though they do each get their own individual moments, but their Everyman/everywoman personalities are a breath of fresh air and contrast well with the Spartan-like characters of Asgard.Tom Hiddleston also does a good albeit overdramatic performance as Thor’s brother Loki, that requires a bunch of evil glares and shouting at the camera.

The story is pretty paper-thin, being an origin story, multiple characters and plots intersect revealing character motivations instead of advancing the plot to a substantial conclusion. Don’t get me wrong, this is a fun movie, I sat in my seat the entire film with a cheesy grin on my face, soaking in the visuals and interactions. It’s a fun superhero in the vein of Iron Man and less of a dark character study like the Batman films. The action in the film is sufficient, beginning with a fantastic first act fight sequence between Thor, his hammer, and some Asgard warriors. This fight starts the film on the right foot and establishes the right amount of Thor’s cockiness with some great money shots with Thor’s hammer. Unfortunately one of the movie’s biggest downfalls is that the action sequences take place of Asgard and a small town in New Mexico. The viewer is recently becoming acquainted with the foreign planet and don’t know enough to become invested in it’s outcome. On Earth, the action takes place in a New Mexico town, that looks like a sound-stage, and has a few hundred maybe even thousand residents. When their put in danger the stakes don’t seem as high as in other superhero movies where whole cities are in danger. Come on, If you were an evil Alien prince with power of a giant metal robot, why not have him destroy more notable locations?  Probably the best scene is the most stripped down fight scene between Thor and a bunch of military personnel, where Chris Hemsworth gets to use more of his natural talent instead of relying on a CGI hammer. The ending action sequence also feels a tad anti-climatic and suffers a bit too much of the shaky cam syndrome.

Director Kenneth Branagh was a good choice for the the director of the film. I mean, Jon Favereau seemed like a strange choice for Iron Man. Branagh however takes his shakespearan experience and translate a Greek Tragedy story and adds some modern humor and eye-popping effects. At the core, the story is about a jealous brother who manipulates his King father to exile his arrogant warrior brother, a story that’s as old as Comic books themselves. Thor, was a great choice to kick off the summer with a fresh, enjoyable superhero film, and if anything is a great kickoff to the Avengers movie, I felt alot of different things watching Thor and one of them was definitely not regret.

RATING: 7/10

Note: Watch out for a great cameo by a fellow upcoming Avengers teammate during the 2nd act of the film, and also watch for the traditional Samuel L. Jackson cameo at the end, that isn’t as fun as some of the other Marvel movies, but begins to setup the story for The Avengers.