Critics Who Hate 'The Cabin in the Woods' Love to Spoil 'The Cabin in the Woods'

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by Matt Singer
April 11, 2012 12:04 PM
8 Comments
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"The Cabin in the Woods."
STOP!  Read NO FURTHER if you don't wish to learn the SHOCKING SECRET of the angry "Cabin in the Woods"' reviews!

It appears that film critics who don't like director Drew Goddard and producer Joss Whedon's new meta-horror movie are responding by brazenly spoiling its secrets in their reviews.  Some of these go way beyond disclosing details of the plot (which is superficially about a bunch of teenagers running for their lives in the woods) into straight-up telling you the ending of the movie.  For example, here's how Mark Olsen begins his Village Voice review, with some choice redactions for those who haven't yet seen the film:

"At the end of 'The Cabin in the Woods' the [REDACTED] is [REDACTED] by [REDACTED] -- an actual [REDACTED], 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."

Even with the [REDACTED]s you get the drift: the first line of the piece is the last shot of the film.  I'm sure Olsen would say he did this to prove a point about how that detail is not actually spoiler.  Others -- like, y'know, me -- might disagree, but Olsen's not alone in his distaste for the film's structure or his willingness to tell readers about it.  Here's an excerpt from Cole Smithey's review, from his website:

"The would-be social satire opens with a couple of white-coated military industrial complex administrators goofing around in the secluded privacy of a colossal facility that serves as the [REDACTED] from which all [REDACTED] is [REDACTED]. Jokes make for an inappropriately casual atmosphere. The clinically dressed employees are in fact [REDACTED] whose cloaked actions will exact [REDACTED] for the young people on the mean-end of their [REDACTED]."

One of Smithey's recent tweets -- "#Spoiler alert! If you don't want to know about the plot, don't read film reviews." -- suggests he considers that paragraph a plot description, not a spoiler.  In this case, I'm inclined to argue the two are not mutually exclusive.  But that's still not the worst of them.  That prize goes to Rex Reed, for his review of 'Cabin in the Woods' in The New York Observerwhich is not only excessively revealing, it's excessively inaccurate too.

"It’s all part of an elaborate [REDACTED] that allows [REDACTED] to watch real people [REDACTED] according to the horror of choice.  The five kids in the cabin are [REDACTED] to test the [REDACTED] of the [REDACTED], the way fiends in a horror movie test the sounds of screaming babies as they feed them to the jaws of mutated crocodiles."

Out of an abundance of caution and respect to the filmmakers, I've redacted that paragraph too, but I really didn't need to; everything Reed says is incorrect.  A "test" involving the five kids in the cabin?  Uh, what test?  There's no test in "The Cabin in the Woods," unless Goddard and Whedon pulled yet another fast one on audiences and made multiple cuts of the film, "Clue"-style, with totally different surprises. He also, kind of hilariously, says the film is "a testament to the wonders of writing under the guidance of crystal meth," which isn't a spoiler, but is kind of a weird thing to accuse two filmmakers of doing.  Also, I'm not really a horror movie expert: which movie has the fiends who feed babies to mutated crocodiles?  That sounds awesome.

Look, I get it: "The Cabin in the Woods" is not an easy film to write about.   If you think Goddard and Whedon are operating in bad form by  intentionally short-circuiting the critical process by making it impossible to discuss the film, then perhaps spoilers are justified.  And there's no question about it: the movie is almost all surprise.  As the trailers and poster suggest, that is no ordinary cabin and those are no ordinary woods.  But revealing what's going on in either, at least in my eyes, is still bad form.  Whether audiences will like or dislike the film, they have the right to discover that stuff for themselves.

As a film critic, that's frustrating on two levels: you can't talk about the plot because that would ruin the audience's experience, which in turn means you can't talk about all the fascinating things the plot represents.  It's something I grappled with in my own review of the film (available later this week on ScreenCrush.com, plug plug plug plug plug).  I did my best not to reveal anything I wouldn't want to know about "The Cabin in the Woods" while still trying to addresss the film's fascinating subtext.  But I can tell you this: I didn't even once mention the [REDACTED].

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8 Comments

  • Doug | October 3, 2012 3:13 PMReply

    I would do Dana seven ways to Sunday......

  • Abby | April 27, 2012 12:43 AMReply

    I would argue that "Cabin in the Woods" isn't 100% surprise, per se, given that you can (like me) go into it having read reviews that gave the basic concept of the plot--without revealing the ending, mind you (it's totally possible)--and enjoy yourself. But I think that people who went in not knowing what to expect had a much better time. Either way, this is a really enjoyable, creative movie that does some refreshing things with genre, characters and dialogue. I'm sorry not everyone gets it.

  • tay | April 18, 2012 1:44 AMReply

    i wore a unicorn shirt today.

  • Glenn Kenny | April 12, 2012 12:25 PMReply

    Matt, you write: "Also, I'm not really a horror movie expert: which movie has the fiends who feed babies to mutated crocodiles? That sounds awesome."

    I think Reed is getting Tobe Hooper's "Eaten Alive," starring Neville Brand, mixed up with something else, perhaps just his own perfervid imagination. In that film, Brand is a fiend who feeds ADULTS to some kind of croc. It's pretty good.

    Why aren't you a horror movie expert? What's wrong with you?

  • Cole Smithey | April 11, 2012 1:56 PMReply

    Re: "SHOCKING SECRET"
    Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" has a "shocking secret."
    "The Cabin in the Woods" does not. End of discussion.

  • JJ Burningham | April 19, 2012 3:12 PM

    what a twist!

  • Steve | April 11, 2012 2:39 PM

    I would attempt to get more information from Mr. Smithey's view on this, but he ended the discussion.

  • Jonathan Poritsky | April 11, 2012 12:33 PMReply

    Here are two statements worth discussing:

    • A review that can't preserve a film's surprises is poorly written.
    • A film that can't stand on it's own without a surprise reveal is poorly made.

    As Matt mentions, it's tough not to talk about the specifics of "Cabin in the Woods" and say anything meaningful. Does that make it wrong to take the material head-on? I don't know.

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