The Cabin in the Woods

Because all of “The Cabin in the Woods” comes as something of a surprise, this horror film’s real twist is that a movie this clever could end up having an ending so outrageous, cheap and dumb.

It sets loose five teenagers into a slasher-film playground and tempts them with sex, booby traps and creepy gas station attendants before unleashing zombies to murder them.

The clever conceit is that this is a game, if not an experiment, by a secret shadow corporation pulling all the strings. The employees have unexpected fun taking bets on how these kids will choose to die, be it ghosts, psychopathic clowns, mermen, zombies or the notably different family of redneck zombies.

The cute realization is that there are Hollywood studios operating just like this, dropping character types into a fish bowl and then spicing up the outcome with a new monster.

But rather than keep the mega corporation behind mysterious closed doors, Director Drew Goddard and co-screenwriter Joss Whedon have a lot of fun calling attention to the fact this is all a set up. The film has go for broke laughs in the way it tries to egg on these characters to whip out their breasts or pick up not one but five smoking guns that’ll lead to their death.

They even know they can pull the strings of the audience by strategically setting up the camera in ominously low, canted angle positions, in tight, dark close-ups peering around a corner or in towering wide shots.

“The Cabin in the Woods’s” first problem then is in how knowingly smart it is. It’s constantly begging you to notice its clever twists before trying to top itself with something even more out of left field. It can’t stay put on one character, or for that matter even one gruesome murder. Before long, the clever CGI creations are literally bursting from the walls, and it’s yanking you left and right with how many twists and turns it can concoct.

But I can accept that. A movie that’s too self aware is still better than one that is oblivious. Yet a clever scenario should really be about something more than just being clever. “The Cabin in the Woods” centers on the free will, or lack thereof, of the teenagers caught in this gory mess.

But the funny office pools, the fancy gizmos and the voyeuristic imagery makes me want to know more about that secret corporation and more specifically the people working inside. They’re having a ball at their jobs, so what does that say about them? The movie doesn’t ask, and it cops out in its ridiculously madcap and torrentially bloody ending by justifying all of their actions with a deus ex machina defending the greater good. Its ending philosophy is that all of humanity is horrible and deserves to die.

“The Cabin in the Woods” has been compared to “Scream” and ‘The Truman Show,” the former for its referential execution and the latter for its pseudo sci-fi concept. But I’d actually compare it in some respect to “The Hunger Games.” Its morals and themes are actually quite similar, but “The Hunger Games” is surprisingly more realistic in its examination of human and individual problems.

“The Cabin in the Woods” is little more than a crafty game, an idea that avalanched out of control to the point that it looks real cool but is still a mess.

2 ½ stars

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