Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cabins, Mirrors, Stooges, and Death Star Revisits

 If The Cabin in the Woods is the next "Big Thing" in horror, then horror is done, at least horror as we once knew it. That is: Horror that horrifies. Because this collects all the cliches and tired horror tropes of several decades of horror movies and blends them into a self-aware stew, it's ultra-predictable from a suspense point of view, and not one bit scary.

I saw it once a few months ago and again this weekend with company. My initial reaction hasn't changed; it's been cemented. 

Not content to steal from the best and worst of horror films, it also steals big time from dear old H.P. Lovecraft and the oeuvre of Clive Barker.  It does this in a smarmy, distancing way that constantly diffuses its primary narrative.

The Rubik's cube-style poster art is fairly appropriate, except Rubik built a cube that made complete sense. This doesn't. This left me with too many unanswered questions and logic issues the filmmakers glossed over. I got bored quickly because it mined so much familiar material such as Evil Dead (of course), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (both versions, although the score has actual music phrases from Marcus Nispel's remake), Bay of Blood/Friday the 13th, Dellamorte Dellamore, Halloween, The Twilight Zone, The Truman Show, Nightbreed, the list goes on); theft of this magnitude is not new, but when there's so much thieving going on, it's hard for horror film makers to meet basic horror film requirements such as scaring an audience. Ironically, it's the pre-awareness of all elements that kills the thrills because horror, at its core, is about the unknown, and nothing is unknown here at all.

The film's hook is a technical one that reveals something broader. The revelation is served  to us after the whole shebang has gone to hell. Ultimately, The Cabin in the Woods becomes an unholy mess that throws all logic out the window. The concept, on paper, must have radiated potential, but the film is a case of too many scattershot ideas canceling each other out.

I never thought I'd say it after watching the trailers, but I enjoyed and admired Tarsem Singh's Mirror Mirror, a well written and restrained (for this director) re-telling of the Snow White saga.

Many moons ago, director Rob Reiner made a little gem spawned by fairytales called The Princess Bride. It worked because it had a smart script filled with fascinating characters who mouthed intelligent dialog. And it was funny. Mirror Mirror, a similar case, is not as good as Bride, but it's not too shabby, either, and reflects some of Bride's jovial tone.

Launching itself into familiar story territory, the film does contend with a creeping sense of predictability, but it counters what we know and expect with clever dialog, good-natured humor, and occasional detours into the surreal (a scene in which the seven dwarves battle a puppet is really inventive).

Julia Roberts is perfectly cast as an aging queen, and the mouth-watering Lily Collins is never less than engaging as she transitions from palace shut-in to a feisty female warrior.  Sean Bean, playing The King, has almost nothing to do, but acquits himself adequately. The real stars of the show are the seven horizontally challenged blokes who are blessed with mountains of great comedy material by writers Jason Keller and Melisa Wallack.

I was clearly in the right mood for this amusing fairytale fluff and even found myself marveling at some of the incredible costumery of Eiko Ishioka. That's not like me at all.

It's not a fact that the world needed the Farrelly Brothers' Three Stooges movie, but the world go it, anyway. It pads its thin narrative with a backstory where we learn how Larry, Moe, and Curly came to be. Its primary plot involves murder and the boys trying to raise almost a million dollars to keep their old orphanage open. The twists and turns are sub-sitcom at best.

The original Stooges films worked best as shorts. There were features, but the shorts provided the trio with the best structure for their shenanigans. This flick relies heavily on the physical interaction the Stooges were famous for and there are some extremely funny and grotesque exchanges that celebrate sadism with a smile. After a while, though, it becomes tiring because the dramatic scenario barely holding it all together isn't complex enough for a feature. The Mr. Bean movies suffered from this problem also. Bean, like the Stooges, is best in short bursts. Comedy of this nature requires a simple but strong premise on which to hang the schtick. The premise here would have been tight at ten to fifteen minutes. At ninety, its endless. Which is proof that comedians like The Three Stooges and Bean don't work in feature length scenarios.

There is nothing terribly wrong with the actors portraying the famous trio here, but the flick's kid-friendly tone is strangely inconsistent at times. A stand-out, however, is the presence of a very sexy nun (Kate Upton) in a killer swimsuit at the film's conclusion. Not worth the price of admission, but it justifies a serious perve for Nunsploitation fans. You know who you are.

 Lockout, with Guy Pearce (who is very good in a cliched role), is a super-generic action flick set in the space just above our planet. It's part Escape From New York, part Con Air, part Face/Off, part Lost in Space episode 'Condemned of Space'('67), and part Star Wars. Actually, the climax is all Star Wars as X-Wing fighters attack the Death Star (!) and blow it up.

From Luc Besson's Europa Corp, the film is mildly entertaining and features enough brutality and crazed performances (Vincent Regan and Joseph Gilgun) to keep you awake. But that's all.


  1. Thanks for being a gentleman and not spoiling Cabin In the Woods. I'll be seeing it anyway, because I'm a sucker for horror movies that have the slightest chance of being good.

  2. Phantom, this is the first bad reveiw i`ve read for "Cabin in the Woods", literally everyone else has hailed it as a supreme masterwork of the horror genre.

  3. Too bad because Cabin In The Woods looked so well cut into commercials! I can't wait to see the Mirror Mirror, Snow White of course! Also for me, some things can't be deplicated and one of those was the Three Stooges. Even back in the day when they started making "movies" I thought the skits they did fell apart in movie form. What the heck is up with American Horror? They had me hooked and is it true it's over?

  4. Anonymous -- I wish it was a supreme masterwork. I have some friends who feel similarly to me. The majority hailing anything as supreme is more of a worry to me than a recommendation.

  5. I was forced to see the trailer for "Cabin in the Woods" a few months ago while I was waiting for the movie "The Grey" to start, and I'm glad to hear that the movie lived up to the annoying expectations of the trailer.

    While I didn't see the movie, the trailer did indeed invoke all of what you mentioned and in fact, while I was watching the trailer the first thing that popped into my head were all of those MAD magazine parodies that were done of those horror films to begin with.

  6. Cabin In The Woods seems like a product of the times, a postmodern, meta sendup of specific horror cliches. It has the feel of a movie made by people who love horror movies (which made it enjoyable and tolerable), while making fun of the genre's trademarks and culture. Oddly enough, websites like Bloody-Disgusting are part of the "Next Big Thing in Horror" bandwagon, but I don't see what's so new about the movie, even according to BD's logic. According to them, the movie references and combines elements from all the horror movies that horror fans love, which is what will attract horror fans (more than the general public) to it. What's new about that? Also, they don't seem to think that the movie makes fun of horror movie cliches, which it obviously does in a more scrutinizing way than a more polemical, almost pedantic movie like Haneke's Funny Games, which BD and Fangorians hate. That confuses me because Haneke's movie had nerve-wracking tension, effective violence, and was infinitely more thoughtful and controversial (horror fans get upset when their love of cinematic violence is pointed out to them, for some reason). CITW feels like a critical discussion of horror movies and their attraction transposed into a fictional narrative with every kind of aesthetic hallmark that average horror fan likes thrown in for entertainment value. I liked it, found it to be thoughtful, and would probably see it again, but there isn't anything about it I hope to see replicated in newer horror movies. The best way to make a good horror, that inadvertently says something about the genre, is to make a movie that no one has seen before. It also has to be scary.