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Cabin in the Woods Can't See the Forest for the Trees

At the end of The Cabin in the Woods, the world is destroyed by an apocalyptic hand of fate—an actual hand, mind you—yet that is not a spoiler, not really. The real spoilers in the film are in the tricky mechanics crafted by writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (Goddard also directs) to get there, an intricate design that makes the film nearly impossible to talk about without giving away surprises. A horror comedy with a structural twist intended to emit an air of being something more, Cabin has an off-putting vibe of cocky self-confidence, a "don't you get it" conviction that it's something special. As with people, it's not a charming quality in a movie.

The basic setup, the talk-about-able part, and the movie ostensibly being sold to audiences is that a group of five college kids goes up to a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend of hijinks. They are a near-perfect collection of stereotypes/archetypes of their genre—the jock, the party girl, the nice girl, the joker-stoner, and the black guy—each there to subvert/upend expectations. Amid their initial bit of partying and carrying on, they find an assortment of spooky knickknacks and creepy paraphernalia in the cellar that triggers the larger plan, and they soon find themselves under attack, first from a "zombie redneck torture family" and then all further manner of nightmare creatures.

The poster for the film is a small cabin twisted into sections like a Rubik's Cube, correctly implying that the story is set someplace more than just a simple secluded retreat and that there are most definitely people working the gears and levers to make things happen. (Hint: It might help to ask yourself why actors Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, witty, self-aware performers well past their coed years, are in the credits.) Through it all, Whedon and Goddard attempt to honor, send up, and advance genre conventions simultaneously.

Jesse Williams and Kristen Connolly are scared. Or "scared."
Diyah Pera
Jesse Williams and Kristen Connolly are scared. Or "scared."

Sometimes it works. But too often Whedon and Goddard want it both ways, trying to make the audience have a genuine reaction while at the same time never letting go of the self-conscious acknowledgment of what they are doing and the way they are leading the audience to that response. In a manner not unheard of in the Whedon universe, which includes Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off, Angel, the supernatural is normalized, treated as just another part of life. But unlike Buffy, Cabin doesn't seem to care much about its characters' lives. At one point, a girl is brutally attacked in the background of a scene as others distractedly party away. It's meant as a disconcerting joke, yet the way in which the scene blithely plays out is also emblematic of the film's larger people problem. With Goddard and Whedon much more invested in their own clever storytelling and genre-nerd inside jokes than in human emotion and motivations, viewers can't be expected to care much, either.

More than anything else, Cabin feels like the endgame of so-called fanboy culture in the way in which it is first and foremost about itself, interested only in a fundamental adherence to rules of its own devising and fenced off from the world at large. Even the way in which the story dares the anger of the spoiler-sensitive feels like a bit of cute game-playing (which, admittedly, we're buying into).

The Cabin in the Woods does pull off some neat tricks of narrative realignment; other screenwriters will be impressed. But a film created simply for the sake of regarding its own genre smarts is a hollow vessel. Without a human, emotional component, there actually isn't much to spoil.

 
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134 comments
Cbajenske
Cbajenske

Looking for showtimes to see this again and the first sentence of this review is there (I was looking at the blurbs of reviews which have 0/5 stars listed, not for the review, probably the lack of starring, IDK: Google) and I was like "biiiiiiiiiiitch that IS A SPOILER. IT'S THE. SPOILER." Whatever I've seen it. And I agree with cptfabulous, it's a metaphor for the whole horror genre being reduced to repetitive formula and strict sameiness, because if something isn't done right, the general audiences get mad.

ollven
ollven

Couldn't get past the first twenty minutes without slapping my forehead repeatedly at the blatant conventionality...kept waiting for the conventions to be deconstructed or analyzed--nope; never happened. Self-awareness of conventions is not equivalent to their subversion. It's an attempt to have it both ways--to stock the film with miscast 30-year old stereotypes playing "regular" college kids and be forgiven for doing so by implying a self-awareness of that fact. But the real stupidity is thinking such conventions as loosely contingent, when in truth the sheer two-dimensionality of its racial and gendered representations are far more powerful and determining than anything any comic-con favored writer or a fictional team of "system" controllers could effect. It is obvious that the makers of this film grasp the "conventions" of the genre only at its most superficial.

cptfabulous
cptfabulous

Who puts a HUGE spoiler in the first sentence?! Oh right, someone who doesn't quite seem to get the whole idea of the movie. Google showed the first bit of this review when I was checking for showing times and I was PISSED. Yes, it IS a spoiler. Oddly enough, this movie isn't about the characters' lives and relationships. It's a very outside-the-box criticism of the horror genre as a whole; the entire point is that the horror movies aren't about the characters anymore, but about the writers pulling strings to get reactions from the audience in the most predictable ways (notice how the 5 relatively nuanced characters were reduced to their most basic archetypes by the string-pullers). It's not as much "Don't you get it?" as "Here's what's wrong." For future reference, don't give away the (somewhat) surprise ending in the first sentence, since that is the blurb search engines will show.

Kkalamalka
Kkalamalka

This is a hilariously awful review. Remember when real critics like J. Hoberman used to work for the Voice?

Kevin Andrew Davidson
Kevin Andrew Davidson

"...a film created simply for the sake of regarding its own genre smarts is a hollow vessel".

That pretty much sums it up. Super shallow and disappointing. Incredible how much hype was generated. Good publicity machine workin for them, clearly.

Yousuk
Yousuk

Honestly. This review is the most asshole move ever. Thanks for ruining the ending you smug son of a bitch.

Carolyn
Carolyn

"Cabin has an off-putting vibe of cocky self-confidence, a "don't you get it" conviction that it's something special. As with people, it's not a charming quality in a movie."

Like a reviewer that gives away the ending in the opening sentence of his review? Fuck you, Olsen. You are same kind of critic as the filmmaker that you claim to resent.

Rod Barroso
Rod Barroso

Mr. Olsen, by starting your review in "Cabin in the Woods" by mentioning the ending, you are showing true contempt- not for the film , but for your readers.... in short, you should really not be a movie reviewer...

Rod Barroso
Rod Barroso

Mr. Olsen, by starting your review in "Cabin in the Woods" by mentioning the ending, you are showing true contempt- not for the film , but for your readers.... in short, you should really not be a movie reviewer...

joeybot
joeybot

Just thought I'd add my two cents, you're a fucking douchebag reviewer. Have a nice day!

JustinS
JustinS

I'm not thrilled about spoiling the ending, but its still a lot better than a couple of other reviews I've read slamming the movie for reasons that amount to little more than "Fanboys stuck. Spoofs suck. I didn't get the movie." At least Mark explains his reasons for not liking the movie in ways that people trying to decide if they should see the film can relate to and understand. That's pretty much the definition of a back-handed compliment, but those other reviews were beyond awful and useless.

Bademail26
Bademail26

What kind of asshole gives away the end of a movie in the first sentence and has the temerity to pretend it's not a spoiler? F you, dude.

David1225
David1225

This movie is very much like a dumb person who is convinced he's smart. Boring and dumb are two words that come to mind.

Spoiled
Spoiled

This review gave away the ending of the movie for me. As others have mentioned, the first sentenced popped up as I was Googling show times. I liked the film, but I am not pleased with the Village Voice for it's huge spoiler...

Tom Brennant
Tom Brennant

I have to echo all of the comments below: giving away the last shot of the movie is the very definition of a spoiler! Having seen the movie, I do understand why you think it isn't that big of a deal (it is heavily foreshadowed), but I would have been much happier not knowing.

I was looking at time listings in Google when I saw your review blurb. I know that it is not your fault that Google pulls the first sentence of each review... but you could have refrained from giving away the final scene in your first line.

Guest
Guest

I saw the movie after I only read the first line from this review by accident while I was looking up the showtimes on Google- I wasn't even on this webpage! Thankfully the film is still good enough that my night wasn't completely ruined. And yeh, it makes a HUGE difference when you already know the ending and that first line IS a major spoiler because you precisely stated what happens. You owe audiences an apology especially when a lot of them, like me, didn't want anything given away.

This movie is, to quote you: "...an intricate design that makes the film nearly impossible to talk about without giving away surprises"- which is why it's good. Maybe read OTHER reviews and see how they write like a professional critic. I hope Joss Whedon comes to your house and yells at you.

Guest
Guest

REALLY IN THE FIRST LINE YOU SAY WHAT HAPPENS? ASSHOLE!

VFex
VFex

Was looking up movie times when the first line of this review popped up. Major D-Bag move. Well at least I saved 10$.

John
John

Mr. Olsen,

For you to claim that the first sentence of your review was not a spoiler is clear evidence that you have absolutely no idea how people watch movies. The entire climactic scene of this film was ruined for me and any others unlucky enough to have read your article.

Since I am unable to punish you for this, I will wreak my vengeance on villagevoice.com for the unforgivable crime of paying your for your drivel. Behold: I have engaged adblock but continue to load pages on this website, using bandwidth while driving no revenue! Mwahahaha!

But seriously: you suck, and I hate you.

darkwhite7
darkwhite7

What was that about "cocky self-confidence"? A horror film that broke away from the stereotypes and incorporated more than just a horror element is nothing to scoff at. It's a refreshing change. Seems like you made up your mind before even seeing the movie, and simply nitpicked from there. Terrible review, and yes, bad choice giving away the ending in the first sentence. A high school student could have told you that.

tonylamentola
tonylamentola

I saw the movie after reading this review. That is definitely a major spoiler. You robbed us of that oh shit moment.

Awilly42
Awilly42

Village Voice, you just lost a loyal reader. Mark Olsen, if you are reading this, know that you ruined my day. Seriously, this is an absolute disgrace. To the Village Voice editors: I will never return to this site or spend another dime on you until Mark Olsen is no longer one of your employees.

Ali McGhee
Ali McGhee

Thanks for the major spoiler. Wow. This is almost as bad as when the little kid at the _Half Blood Prince_ release party opened the book and announced to everyone who died. And unfortunately this review pops up right at the top of the Google Movie page, first line and all.

Neloanjelo
Neloanjelo

You are retarded for ruining this film in the first line. What a disgrace to journalism. No warning or anything you hack.

jake
jake

Fuck you village voice. That is all.

dylangio
dylangio

You are whats wrong with movie reviews ... kindly stop being a spoiling pice of crap.

Ben Forrester
Ben Forrester

It doesn't matter whether or not you like it, but spoiling it like you did is unforgivable. You should be fired, you're a hack and a disgrace to the very idea of film criticism.

David Darouse
David Darouse

Wow dude! So I'm looking up times for the movie on Cinemark and KAPOWEE!!! There's the ending. As others have said, goodbye Village Voice, 'twas nice knowing you but I'm moving on.

Ruby slippers
Ruby slippers

Shame on you, sir. I wish you could see the look of disappointment on my face right now. While you are entitled to your opinion and enjoy the freedom of the press endowed on our nation, you abuse that power. You are no better than the WBC in my eyes. Just because you CAN say something, doesn't mean you should.

Heyboova
Heyboova

Spoilers!! It doesn't matter what movie it is, how it ends, or how you feel About it. You don't give away the ending of a movie!! Duh doi. Seriously, how is that not a spoiler in any way?! It tells you all the characters die, it takes away any suspense during the final scene when you think she may kill him to save the world. And it gives away the last scene completely! You are such an idiot and I hope this is your last review ever. How can someone screw up the coolest job of watching movies?

Nedan_R
Nedan_R

Generally speaking I like to avoid movie reviews and trailers because they give too much of the plot away. Now most reviewers who spoil films at least keep the spoilers deep in the review. You put it as the first sentence, so when I look up showtimes your little review pops right into my view spoiling the ending for me.

As wrong as I feel you are about this movie, I respect the fact that you have the right to your own opinion. I just wish you wouldn't purposely try to ruin the experience for others.

Tobeyqueef
Tobeyqueef

yes... that was a spoiler. really.

any lawyers want to start a class action lawsuit to get our tickets refunded by mark olsen?

last time i read the village voice.

Janie Crouch
Janie Crouch

Olsen, you're such a jackass with that first comment. Seriously. You're like the little kid who no one wants to play with because in the middle of the game you take your toys and decide to go home -- ruining it for everyone else.

Grow up.

Fred Betzner
Fred Betzner

Ok, you're missing the point here entirely:

"At one point, a girl is brutally attacked in the background of a scene as others distractedly party away. It's meant as a disconcerting joke, yet the way in which the scene blithely plays out is also emblematic of the film's larger people problem."

Yes, it is on one level meant to be a disconcerting joke, but the real horror of the film and this scene in particular is the blithe manner in which the Control Room is reacting the the brutal murder playing out behind them. We are supposed to be appalled and shocked by their behavior. There is more to this movie than you are giving it credit for.

And regarding your opening line, it's a snarky jackass move. Why why why for any movie would you reveal the final shot of the film in this way? It makes you seem petty and it's bad form.

Karzok
Karzok

seriously will someone fire mark olsen. Village voice is terrible. You ruin a movie that 90% of critics love by literally giving away the ending because you don't like it. I saw this review while buying tickets and YES it ruins the whole movie. I hope you die

Guest
Guest

Why would you start your review off with a spoiler of the end of the movie? Just because you don't like the movie doesn't mean you should ruin the movie for everyone who doesn't share your opinion. What a terrible film reviewer.

robthom
robthom

Best first sentence in a review ever!

Could have ended the review there.

All trash hipster media should be so succinctly dealt with.

It's not that serious, y'all.
It's not that serious, y'all.

Yes, I agree the first line of the review gives away a large key element of the film. However, let's consider the following truths here. 1: The author of the review does not directly control the order in which his review is listed in on Google's website-- he works for the Village Voice. Not Google. You can't fault him for that. 2: The first scene of the film, even before the title screen, takes place in the complex where the 'twist' takes place. Clearly, it was not Whedon or Goddard's intention for the 'twist' to be subverted throughout the movie, and only appear at the end. In short, the instant the movie begins, you're aware of the twist. In fact, I'm a little concerned that one commenter, Tuna365, admitted that he was only aware of this twist halfway through the film. Sure, we don't know the extent of the twist, but I think the slow unwinding of the apocalyptic mythology can still be enjoyed even with this tiny bit of information. 3: The film, to me, is more cerebral than visceral. It's a conversation piece, not one to scare you out of your seat or have your mind blown. I've also used the word 'twist' 6 times in this paragraph.

Personally, I liked the film. I also agree with each one of the reviewers critiques. But hey, we all have opinions, don't we?

Baxter2
Baxter2

If you didn't get past the first 20 minutes, you really shouldn't be writing an opinion of the movie. It sounds like you had already formed an opinion of the movie before watching it, which isn't fair.

nibblo
nibblo

@cptfabulous You are absolutely right about it being a criticism of horror writing and movies in general, you could tell that from the title sequence which had 2 people having the most banal conversation and then throwing the Title up on the screen in bold red writing with a blare of music. Right from the get go they tell you what tone they are taking.

I've been quite surprised at how so many critics are missing the point, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that this movie is almost putting them out of a job and they are pissed. Personally I really enjoyed this movie, it just kept on surprising me at it's intelligence. Miles better than the annoying Scream franchise which a lot of these anti-critics appear to love - that was full of smug, self congratulatory references, I never felt that here, humour, yes, self aware oh aren't we clever no.

By the way loved the scene with the Japanese school girls defeating the "Ring" like evil monster - best part of the whole movie.

justaguy06
justaguy06

I agree with you.  I just saw the movie for the first time with my girlfriend, we spent a lot of money on the BluRay.  VERY disappointed-- people who raved about this movie must have seen a different movie.  And was shocked to see that it is "91% Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes.  I am thinking more and more that my tastes differ considerably form the critics'.  The writing was terrible, and the dialog, particularly those of the "controllers" was not believable-- I got the feeling that the older, veteran actors must have felt uncomfortable acting like jovial, sophomoric youths -- I often found myself thinking that people just don't behave that way.  And for something so fantastical to hold my attention and suspend my disbelief, the non-fantastical, personality-driven scenes MUST be believable.  Perhaps very young people would buy into it, since they only have assumptions about how older people act... but I think anyone over the age of 35 or 40 squirmed in their seat while hearing Jenkins and Whitford (the controllers) deliver their silly lines and gesticulations.  People that age just don't act that way.  Not to mention the fact that most women, of any age, don't dance in their underpants in front of a huge bay window to be seen by all from the street, as depicted in the opening scene of the movie-- that turned off most of the female audience I think (my g/f asked ironically "how many women do that??")   And then there was the uncomfortable fact that the writers "borrowed" (or stole) directly from Lovecraft the concept of the world-destroying "Old Ones"... my g/f and I groaned when we heard that.  I don't see that so much as a homage or a spoof as plagiarism.   I could go on and on, but in short, I was disappointed.

Gmazing
Gmazing

Honestly, this did hurt my moviegoing experience. A comment about halfway through the movie along with this spoiler makes it very easy to determine where the movie is going to go, considering the director's background/body of work. (BTW Joss is only the 2nd unit director)

Hopefully SOMEONE takes note of all the people pouring in to complain about this.

Awilly42
Awilly42

Absolutely agree. I don't think I have ever before called for someone to lose their job. But this "review" is unforgivable and disgusts me. Olsen is an affront to movie-goers everywhere, and should ashamed of himself.

The Dude
The Dude

1. Yes he should be faulted, he works in media, he shouldn't be clueless about how people on the internet are channeled to his reviews. 2. What is happening remains fairly ambiguous for a long portion of the film. But Olsen didn't reveal the twist, he revealed how the film ends, that the world is destroyed. There is no clue that this is even at stake until very late in the film, let alone that that is going to happen.3. The film is equally visceral and cerebral, which is a rare triumph, one that readers of this review are denied.

Serafina Kernberger
Serafina Kernberger

It's true that neither Olsen nor Google individually decides which reviews show up on their movie sites. However, NO reviewer should spoil the end of a movie in their review, let alone without a warning, let alone in the first half-sentence. The fact that this review shows up on Google just makes it that much worse. And yes, it's clear in the film that there's some sort of conspiracy controlling everything - but this is NOT what Olsen spoils. Olsen spoils literally the last 30 seconds of the film. And revealing this last 30 seconds completely ruins the fact that, for example, one supposedly dead character is not actually dead. It also spoils the last 20 minutes because the whole point of the end of the movie is that if one character dies, the end of the world does not happen. This is not about opinions of the movie, this is about common courtesy.

KM
KM

Your comment totally destroyed the end! Olson didn't go as far as you..,

 

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