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Suspense film ‘Cabin in the Woods’ picks up steam at the end

G.W. Clift

By A Contributor

While in real life one learns to look out for the jacket-less guys in the colored dress shirts, in the movies it’s the guys in white shirts, sometimes even short-sleeved, and black ties that seem to require attention. Richard Jenkins is playing one of those guys in “The Cabin in the Woods,” a new suspense movie directed and written by Drew Goddard, who wrote “Cloverfield.”

“Cabin” mixes evil and unseen gods who could have come out of H.P. Lovecraft with mad slasher and zombie movie elements. In its last reel the movie gets ingenious. Some of its admirerers like the ending so much they are willing to forgive the first eighty percent of the movie for being just an indifferent horror flic.

Goddard is skilled at keeping the film’s two stories apart and clear. In one of them, Jenkins and Bradley Whitford play mission control engineers working in an underground complex with a huge staff divided into departments. They are there to supervise and manage (via remote control) the American entry in an annual international religious sacrifice festival.

Unbeknownst to us all, agencies in a number of countries isolate small groups of young people (in Japan they are 10-year-old girls locked in a classroom). These kids are led through certain culture-specific warnings to culture-specific spooky choices.

The American version sends five old-looking college students off to spend a weekend at an electrified but otherwise rustic-seeming cabin isolated in the woods. They are lured into the cabin’s cellar where they each fix on one spooky item. The Virgin among them begins to read the diary she has picked up before any of the others do more than admire their gee-gaws, so the group is doomed to be killed by a family of rural zombies.

I couldn’t tell if the monsters who could have attacked the kids were real or fabricated for the event. But it is clear that if The Athlete had clicked his round metal puzzle before The Virgin began to read, a different sort of threat would have attacked the campers. And a different set of mission control workers would have won the betting pot.

The controllers aren’t bad people. They do spray scent to encourage The Whore and they do cause a tunnel collapse to trap the kids in the kill zone. But their job is to see that some ritual suffering takes place before all the young scholars—or all but The Virgin—are killed and their blood sent down to placate the dark gods.

It becomes increasingly important that the required campers die when rituals in the other countries of the world begin to fail. Apparently “failure” means not all the victims have died. Only the deaths of the American lottery losers will keep the viscous powers of the deep asleep for another year.

But wait a minute. Drugs used by the Control Room staff don’t work on The Jester (the kid you or I would call “The Pothead”). Apparently that one-hit weed has allowed him to build up immunities. Once the zombies have offed The Scholar with a hay hook and The Virgin has escaped an attack in a motor home submerged in a deep lake, The Doper’s electrical experiments put the whole world in danger.

Cue staff Crisis Negotiator Sigourney Weaver.

Usually movies slow once they start to explain themselves. “Cabin in the Woods” is a sufficiently indifferent horror movie that it actually picks up as the last reel runs and the significance of the sacrifice rituals becomes clear to the survivors. But does the fun of the last twenty minutes come too late to save the picture?

Well it doesn’t come too late to warn us to fear Sigourney Weaver in a suit.

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