Sunday, April 15, 2012

Quite possibly the worst film-review of all time

Sometimes reviewers just "don't get it". That's OK. I don't demand that they understand every sub-genre as well as its fans do, and it's still possible to review a film well when you don't understand the conventions of the sub-genre. Acting, writing, cinematography, costuming... these can all be evaluated in a semi-objective fashion, regardless.

That being said, professional reviewer Rex Reed recently decided to abandon all pretense of doing his job and submit a review of Cabin in the Woods which is so bad that it actually deserves a review of its own.

Before I get started, let me be clear: there will be massive spoilers in this review. See the movie first, then read this for the lulz. His review actually makes the movie a bit more fun, if that's actually possible.

Okay, moving on to the review itself. There are obvious indicators that he didn't spend much time working on this, so I don't want to be too critical of obvious stupidities like, "Some films have to seek their own audience ... Others arrive with a preordained sort of word-of-mouth anticipation ... This is one of them." We're not here to beat Mr. Reed up over random abuses of English grammar. His failings, here, are far too numerous to spend much time on such trivia. Instead, I want to focus on how he misunderstood the film, and how you might have too, if you weren't watching the shell-game closely enough.

"A testament to the wonders of writing under the guidance of crystal meth" I'm not 100% certain what his point is, here, but I suspect that what he's actually bothered by is the accelerating collection of nods to other parts of the genre. This is the first element of the movie that it's important to understand. Cabin in the Woods is about the horror film genre, not a bunch of kids or even a Lovecraftian menace. It's about Saw and Texas Chainsaw Massacre and In the Mouth of Madness and Scream and so on. It's about what the genre has become and what it could have become. It is, to quote Joss Whedon, "critical of the genre, but in the most loving way possible."

Going back to Mr. Reed, he gets himself a little more confused, "Stopping at a crumbling shack on a deserted road to buy gas, they encounter a cretin with rotting teeth and one eye who insults the women and spits tobacco juice at the men " It took me a little while after the film, but like Quentin Tarantino's artful misdirection of violence in Pulp Fiction, what we find if we go back and review the old man's lines is that he never insults anyone. "But," I hear you complaining, "he calls the one girl a whore!" Yes he does, and he's not insulting her at all. He's explaining to them what they're up against, and he chooses to divulge what their roles are in this farcical "vacation" they're on. Later in the film, you'll hear the name "whore" again, and that's when you should realize that, in his own way, the old man was actually trying to help, not insult.

Reed continues, "Oh, I get it. It’s a send-up constructed from old movies and the clich├ęs in Tales From the Crypt comics." Ignoring the fact that Reed doesn't even remotely get it, one thing to keep firmly in mind is that, like Buffy and Angel, there are many nods in Cabin in the Woods to other horror films, but that's not what the film is about. Instead, the film is about the genre created by those films and what has become of it in recent years. Listen to the countries that are listed off that are "sure to succeed" in the night's festivities. They're all countries that have produced excellent and creative horror films in the past decade. The sub-text, here, is that the U.S. has been falling behind in the horror genre, content to put out a consistent gruel of teen slasher flicks, it's stagnated.

Side note 1: Reed mentions a "the creaking door to a cellar of corpses." Here's our first glimpse at the idea that he not only rushed his review, but didn't even pay attention during the film. There are no corpses in the basement, of course. The basement is where our heroes make their choice (and later, where they run into "the black room" but although the black room is where much violence is supposed to have occurred, there are no corpses there because they were buried outside and are now rising to kill the teens... well, at least that's the story-within-the-story... none of that actually happened as we find out later.

Side note 2: "Only the smart girl ... and the reefer-smoking doofus, so stoned he has to struggle to make complete sentences, manage to survive the monsters." That would be "the virgin" and "the fool" and keep in mind that the fool is not just smoking reefer. He's smoking chemically-treated reefer that's designed to damage his ability to reason. "What they fail to notice is the hidden cameras." Are you sure you watched the film? Were there multiple bathroom breaks? Because in the film I saw, the "reefer-smoking doofus" did discover the cameras which is what lead him to the understanding that they were being manipulated.

"It’s all part of an elaborate video game that allows paying customers to watch real people slaughtered according to the horror of choice." Ah... wait, what? No, Rex, there's no video game and there are no paying customers. The "customer" that they cite is the collection of old gods they have trapped under the site who then proceed to destroy the world at the end of the film, and far from a video game, the simultaneous events going on all over the world are deadly real... you could think of it as a Lovecraftian spin on The Most Dangerous Game if you like, but that's a very different kind of game.

"The game, like the movie, is a meaningless absurdity." Ur, what? No, if they fail in the sacrifice, the world ends. Seriously, what movie did you watch?

"... the stoner and the brainy girl (who is also a virgin) ..." It's important to point out that Red Reed is a "professional" only in the sense that he gets paid to do this. When you write a review of a film in which one of the running gags is "the girl put in the role of The Virgin isn't" and you write the aforementioned line, you are proving that you are incapable of performing as a professional reviewer, one of the most important components of which is to watch the movie. I understand that he phased out somewhere during this film and stopped paying attention, but the setup in the very beginning is that she's just been dumped via email by the professor she's been having sex with. How can you miss that? The later discussions of her not being a virgin, regardless of the title of the role she's been thrust into, are legion, but that one is in the first scene she's in!

"Sigourney Weaver shows up in a neat spin on herself and her own sad contribution to horror movies to warn that if the virgin doesn’t survive it will mean the agonizing death of every human soul on the planet." Here's his problem with the film, I expect. First off, he hates horror as a genre. Fair enough, though calling Alien, Wall-E and other Weaver contributions, "sad" is pretty far over the top, even for someone who doesn't "get it." Second, he didn't watch the end of the film. He may have been in the theater, but he didn't watch. The number of times that we stressed that it doesn't matter if The Virgin lives or dies, only that she out-lasts the others... I can't even count them. But he clearly missed that, right along with why her living or dying at the end is irrelevant. The old gods have been asleep for a very long time... at least as long as humanity has been around, according to the hints given by the credits montage. The sacrifices are a symbolic ritual, using ancient templates of horror to keep the old gods dreaming. If you don't understand that, you don't understand anything that happens in this film. That's why it's explained so often, Rex...

In his conclusion, Mr. Reed suggests that anyone who likes this film is an uncultured "nerd." If that's so, then this uncultured nerd is proud to be a fan. At least I watch the films I review...


  1. I admit, I allowed you to "ruin" the movie for me just so I got to read you review-review. Well written. And, knowing what little I do of Joss Wheadon, spot on. I've not seen the movie, nor read the original review, but your own writing is good enough to keep me entertained...

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