More spoiler-free musings on Joss Whedon's The Cabin in the Woods
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Talking about a film you can’t talk about…
If you’ve seen a preview of a mysterious yet quality film such as The Cabin in the Woods (written by Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard, produced by Joss Whedon, and directed by Drew Goddard), it’s difficult to avoid seeming like you’re jumping on the bandwagon of ‘definitely see the film but don’t find out too much about it’, since this is not only the common thread of critical consensus on the film, but also the most important sentiment to articulate.
But if you want to delve deeper without giving anything away, how do you talk about the film in a way that’s nuanced yet vague?
‘Nuanced yet vague’ seems like it should be abbreviated into one portmanteau word, like ‘nu-vague’. And since ‘vague’ is French for ‘wave’, this approximates to ‘New Wave’; which is fitting, since it is directed by Goddard. (Though in this case, it’s Drew Goddard rather than Jean-Luc Godard. (Or Jean-Luc Picard, for that matter. Incidentally, he’d make a great director; all wise and authoritative: “Make it so!”))
That also brings to mind comparisons between Star Trek and The Cabin in the Woods. Hey, they both have Chris Hemsworth in… But thematically, the Star Trek franchise takes place in a relatively utopian future (with wrinkles, obviously, because any story needs conflict), whereas The Cabin in the Woods is decidedly darker. (‘Whoah, you mean it’s not an idyllic arboreal retreat nestled amongst a sun-dappled woodland glade? Dude, spoilers…’)
But enough digressions. Back to talking about the film. That you can’t talk about.
Naturally, trying to discuss such a film results in dancing around spoilers, leading to irrelevant wordplay. (‘Numfar, do the Dance of…Trying to Avoid Giving Away Spoilers…’)
So, the question is, what do people want to know about a film that they haven’t seen (that they’re presumably considering whether to see or not)? (Aside from spoilers, which if you actually want to know before seeing the film, you are a very bad film fan.) Plot? Aesthetics (of which there are many aspects)? Themes? Characters? Which movie stars are in it? Or simply the reviewer’s judgement of quality?
So here’s a quick rundown of The Cabin in the Woods:
Plot: Ah, that would be telling…
Themes: The socio-political influence of cheese. Or marshmallows. Also, strudel as metaphor. Maybe.
Which movie stars are in it: Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchison, Kristen Connolly, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins. And monsters. Possibly. Or possibly not.
The reviewer’s judgement of quality: Good.
However, tongue-in-cheek deflection aside, there are some vague things that can be said about The Cabin in the Woods.
As I’ve previously commented in my first spoiler-free review, the film is worth watching. It’s smart and funny, and even if you’re not a horror fan, it’s worth facing the scares and gore (should that be ‘scary gore’, or ‘gory scares’?) for the fresh, thought-provoking story. Unless you’re so timid that you’re even scared of bunnies. Which is understandable; there’s no judging in the Dollhouse. Go and watch The Muppets instead; it’s fantastic and wonderful and happy.
However, The Cabin in the Woods arguably feels a little too short. You’re left wanting more. But I think it’s in a good way, because as soon as it finished (in fact, halfway through) I knew I had to watch it again. As with the rest of Drew Goddard’s writing, it may be very streamlined, but there’s a lot in there. Dense themes lead to rewatchability.
Anyway, that’s kind of the downside of a film compared to a TV series. It can tell a great story, but with less time to get to know the characters, you can never (or rarely) have the same level of emotional investment. You care about the characters in The Cabin in the Woods (as Joss Whedon says, “No-one is expendable”), but a TV series would have benefited from more screen-time and character development. And Joss Whedon has shown with Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, that he implicitly understands the storytelling strengths of TV.
There are plenty of great quotes from the film, most of which are potentially spoilerific. So to be on the safe side, none of them are quoted here. But if you’re familiar with Joss Whedon’s writing, then you’ll know to expect dialogue that’s not only witty, but also imbued with meaning. The Cabin in the Woods makes typically playful, contextualised, and thought-provoking use of language.
Shakespeare said that “Many a true word is spoken in jest”, and I think that’s true. (Well, he may have been joking…)
Joss Whedon is a big Shakespeare fan, and I think that a lot of the humour in the Whedonverse bears scrutiny; it rewards analysis. It’s funny, but if you look at why it’s funny, and what elements of truth are contained in it, then you’ll see that, while bizarre, idiomatic, and witty, the dialogue is also very dense with meaning. Perhaps that’s because he has an implicit understanding of who the characters are and the interplay of the themes he’s dealing with, as well as insight into human nature and life. Or maybe he’s just really smart. (Or maybe it was simply the fortuitous intervention of some terrifying space monkeys that got loose and did this.)
Shakespeare’s dialogue and humour do this too. Shakespeare’s and Whedon’s work both work on multiple levels. Which is one of the reasons they make your mindpan go crazy and geek out and squee at the sheer overload of awesomeness.
So, yeah. Definitely see the film, but don’t find out too much about it.
The Cabin in the Woods is released tomorrow, Friday 13th April 2012.
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