monday morning movie club

Why Wasn’t Cabin in the Woods Scary?

The Cabin in the Woods made a decent $14.8 million this weekend at the box office — not exactly at the high end of horror movie openings, but a respectable haul for a movie that’s been on the shelf for years. Still, if you pay attention to online chatter, Cabin may as well have been a blockbuster, for all the hype and sterling reviews it got (92 percent fresh at Rotten Tomatoes is nothing to sniff at. Read David Edelstein’s review here.). So is all the buzz warranted? Well … we’re of two minds on the subject, and we thought we’d hash it out by calling to order a meeting of the Monday Morning Movie Club. Beware, as spoilers follow.

Is Cabin in the Woods a horror film game-changer?
No, nor should it have to be. It’s a witty, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny horror-comedy. It sprays its bullets wide, hitting (briefly) every kind of scary-movie trope out there: the dark-haired dead girls in J-horror movies like The Ring, deadly flying creatures from The Mist, puzzle sphere-holding pale men like in Hellraiser, white-mask wearing murderers like in The Strangers, and of course, zombies galore. We didn’t see any vampires, but that might be because Twilight destroyed them forever. Unfortunately, the hype that followed Cabin out of the South by Southwest film festival (following a premiere for people predisposed to love the hell out of this movie anyway) might have set expectations way too high. Except for the killer unicorn. That was the best thing ever.

But … shouldn’t it have had some scares?
Cabin has been closely compared to Scream, but there seems to be one important difference to us: Scream was authentically scary even while dissecting horror tropes, while Cabin … not so much. The movie didn’t have much in the way of suspense or memorable kills, and the bogeymen sent after our main characters — a family of redneck zombies — wasn’t pulse-quickening in the slightest, or even all that distinctive. At Vulture HQ, we found the scares so scarce that we’ve been debating whether the movie was even supposed to be scary. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard managed to freak us out in their small-screen endeavors, but why is Cabin so tame?

Does Fran Kranz give the best or most irritating performance of the year?
We’re totally split on this one. As Cabin’s sagacious stoner, is Kranz playing things so wildly, obnoxiously over-the-top that you root for him to get dispatched early? Or is he simply trying to make hay with one of the movie’s five intentionally underwritten victims-to-be?

Can Bradley Whitford ever escape The West Wing?
No. In some ways, his Hadley (now, that’s a name for an Aaron Sorkin show) — a sarcastic, white-shirted, merman-obsessed functionary — is just a refracted version of Josh Lyman. He talks fast, makes time for some laughs, but is a professional above all. It’s quite possible that his character is the film’s most entertaining. (“Ugh, these zombies. Remember when you could just throw a girl in a fucking volcano?”)

Should Hollywood ever make a movie from an H.P. Lovecraft story?
Probably not. Cabin’s talk of the “ancient ones” may describe the bloodthirsty audience who demands horror movie sacrifice, but it also evokes the memory of Lovecraft’s “Great Old Ones” and “Elder Gods,” the ones who sleep under the Earth or at the bottom of the ocean, and it primes the audience to see something truly crazy as the third act concludes. Lovecraft describes their very appearance as being enough to drive a man insane — that’s a pretty high bar — but the brief shot of a giant hand shooting up from beneath the Earth at film’s end might have been the cheapest-looking thing in the movie. It’s a reminder that despite all the crazy monsters we see in this movie, to actually do proper justice to Lovecraft’s apocalyptic creations in a film might be impossible.

How did you feel about the Sigourney Weaver cameo?
Cabin played Weaver’s involvement in the film awfully close to the vest, though the game is kind of given away when her distinctive voice is heard earlier in the film. Regardless of that, though, did her exposition-heavy cameo work for you? Or were things getting a little too meta by that point? (Really, Sigourney, we don’t need you to explain the concept of the “final girl” to us. We all saw Scream.)

Why Wasn’t Cabin in the Woods Scary?