While South by Southwest is better known as a musical festival, it also has a film component that is beginning to grow in prestige and becoming a peer to the better known movie showcases like Sundance, Tribeca and Toronto. Though I wasn’t in Austin to experience SXSW firsthand, I did follow the proceedings through many critics and other movie fans that did attend. Through their Twitter feeds, Facebook statuses and blog posts, one story seemed to be coming out of the film festival.
The movie to see was The Cabin in the Woods.
For movie geeks, there was a lot of anticipation for this long delayed film that finished filming in 2009 but was just being released, a victim of the bankruptcy of MGM. The movie was co-written by Joss Whedon, who directed a little film you may have heard of called The Avengers. His writing partner, who also directed the film, was Drew Goddard, whose previous writing projects included Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Lost and Cloverfield. Whedon has a bit of a cult-like following and Goddard had a very solid track record in his previous projects. This collaboration was enough to peak a lot of interest when the film debuted at South by Southwest. After the screening, the movie was pretty much universally praised. It appeared that it had lived up to the hype. But here’s the catch.
The best way to enjoy this movie is to know absolutely nothing about it.
If you’ve seen the trailers, you think you know what this movie is about. You’d probably guess that this was typical horror movie fodder: 5 good looking teenagers/young adults go to a cabin in the woods. Mayhem ensues.
You’d be wrong. Appearances can be deceiving. This movie is anything but typical.
Having seen it, I wholeheartedly agree that less is more when it comes to how much you know before viewing it. I took the warnings seriously and had been ducking any news about the film, which was fairly difficult since I read so much movie/entertainment coverage and I wasn’t able to see the movie opening weekend as I had planned. But I was steadfast in my refusal to read any spoilers and to go into the film ready for anything. The only thing I was aware of was some of the cast members and even that was probably a little too much to know, because it gets you thinking about how it was possible that some of these people could be in the same movie. I don’t think you will be unable to enjoy the movie if you do know more about it, but those aren’t the ideal conditions.
And herein lies the problem with The Cabin in the Woods – it is a really difficult movie to market or to try and encourage people to see. I’d love to go on and on about what I really liked about the film, but to do so would be to ruin the fun for others. It’s tough to sell a movie by saying “it’s good; trust me.” I had enough faith in the critics and bloggers that I read regularly to blindly follow them (this piece on NPR really convinced and intrigued me). But it wasn’t easy to do and even sitting in the theater before the show, I was a little nervous about what I had gotten myself into.
Ironically, probably the most important thing to know is to go in with an open mind and that you aren’t necessarily getting the movie that you think you are. This is not a case of bait and switch – if you like horror movies, you should like The Cabin in the Woods. You won’t be completely blindsided like I was when I went to see the movie Bug with Ashley Judd in 2007. That movie was marketed as a horror movie when in reality it was a psychological drama about drug abuse and an abusive relationship. Contrary to what the trailer indicated, there weren’t even any actual bugs. I left that movie confused, frustrated and mad, because it was the type of film I might have enjoyed had I not been expecting something completely different. The marketing was a complete betrayal. That is not something to worry about with The Cabin in Woods.
But if you have dismissed The Cabin in the Woods because you don’t typically like horror movies, I’d say you should give the film a shot. There is definitely more going on than the usual slasher film. I thought the movie was funny, innovative and creative. It has a fresh perspective. It is very aware of the genre which it is operating in, which is a comment that will probably mean more after you’ve seen it. Chris Hemsworth (aka “Thor”) is in it (he’s in the trailer, so it’s OK to mention him).
I’d definitely recommend giving The Cabin in the Woods a chance. I don’t think it will be in theaters much longer, so you may have to wait for a rental. That might even be better, since people are more willing to be adventurous with film selections when they aren’t shelling out $10-12 a ticket, though that does mean staying in the dark about it a little longer.
I enjoyed The Cabin in The Woods; it was definitely worth the extra effort to go in as a blank slate and let the movie take me where it wanted to go. Just remember to expect the unexpected.
I’m dead serious about not spoiling this for anyone – if you’ve seen the movie, please do not give anything away in the comments. Spoilers will be removed at my discretion. Don’t be a party pooper.