When Scream kickstarted the return of the slasher horror movie, it did it by being clever and sharp. Cabin in the Woods wants you to think it’s both of those things, when mostly it’s neither. Instead it comes packing the same late 90’s self-consciously smartass teen dialogue that sounds like it was written by Kevin Williamson, and a twist that’s not twist at all because it’s served up to us from the start.
Cabin in the Woods’ only real twist on the slasher movie is to put in a team of people who make the horrors happen, while breaking the fourth wall as a Greek chorus representing the audience and the production team. It’s a clever concept on paper, but the cleverness ends at using it to explain why things implausibly happen in horror movies. That makes it a punchline, but not much else.
After setting up its fourth wall, Cabin in the Woods has nothing else to do. The characters are one-note, the dialogue has been done before and the cabin, that the poster teased as some M.C. Escher construction, just has a fake mirror, a remote controlled trapdoor and that’s it. The team injects rape drugs and subliminal voices to try and make the four college students act out their parts, and that’s as unconventional as it gets.
Strip away the fourth wall and two-thirds of Cabin in the Woods is a weak and lame repetition of a dozen slasher movie reboots. And that’s the problem. The movie is constantly waiting until the team comes in contact with their victims, but that just means most of the movie is a waste. Cabin in the Woods is more entertaining when it’s done in the deep with the team, than when it’s with the four students who are just going through the motions.
But even once worlds collide, Cabin in the Woods blows its ending. The final dilemma could have joined both storylines together had Dana pulled the trigger and taken her place working with the team, instead the world seems on the edge of being destroyed in an ending that’s more awkward than apocalyptic.
Cabin in the Woods has one clever idea, but unlike Scream, it doesn’t bother to understand the materials it’s working with or to make the best of them. It thinks that one idea is enough, but it doesn’t develop it and it doesn’t bother trying to make a good movie, instead of a good gimmick.