"The Cabin in the Woods" and "It Follows" are this week's selections.
The dead bird, color of a bruise,
and smaller than an eye
is king among omens.
Who can blame the ants for feasting?
Let him cast the first crumb.
— Cecilia Llompart, "Omens"
I was going to write some inane ramblings on the rise of the horror genre as high art and why people enjoy getting scared, but I quickly realized I already did something similar last year, and it's way more in-depth than what I was planning. So just read that one again! And while you're there, read up on "Penny Dreadful," still my favorite piece of horror ever.
(Evergreen articles are a godsend.)
This week's picks are good too. I promise.
“The Cabin in the Woods” (2012)
FuboTv, rated R, 95 minutes
You’re with your friends, going camping for a long weekend. You have rented a *cough* cabin in the woods so outside of civilization that your GPS can't find it. The forest gives you the willies, and the house, well, let’s say it has seen better days. Plus, there’s a bunch of odd people around, telling you to turn back … or else.
Do you stay?
Horror movies believe you will — or at least some people would — despite your better judgment, either because one loudmouth member of your party champions that cause, or you’re crushing on one of your friends, and there’s been talk of skinny-dipping, or because, heck, you already paid for the dang thing, and it would be silly to waste it.
This is monumentally stupid. So are about a million other horror cliches. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard know this, which is why they decided to blow up the horror formula in 2012. “The Cabin in the Woods” isn’t just a horror movie; it’s a deconstruction of the choices characters make in horror movies and why those movies follow the same plots over and over again.
Whedon and Goddard co-wrote the script, with Whedon producing and Goddard directing. I’m hesitant to say too much about the story because even though the film is endlessly rewatchable, you can only watch it the first time once, and it’s incredibly fun to slowly get on the film’s wavelength and understand what is happening to our five protagonists. It’s length goes a long way in that endeavor. A two-hours-plus cut of this thing would drag, but in its current form, the 95 minutes fly by. It knows exactly how much story it has to tell.
Another fun treat? Chris Hemsworth plays one of the protagonists. Yes, Thor was once a cocky college-aged jock who gets in over his head. It’s not his best performance, but it is fun to see such a different role from the impenetrable Greek god of thunder. The other four are people whose names you won’t know but faces you might. I think that’s intentional — Goddard and Whedon want these people to feel familiar yet anonymous. They could be your own group of friends.
The film’s antagonists, on the other hand, are played by big names, which I will not spoil because it is far too much fun to see (or hear) them pop up unannounced.
I should mention that this movie is, above all else, fun. It’s a horror-comedy, with most of the emphasis on the comedy. (If you like Whedon’s stylings, you’ll like this movie.) Even the deaths are played for laughs, with the film going over-the-top to point out how gruesome things have gotten in the genre.
It’s meta, absolutely, but I don’t think you need to be a horror connoisseur to enjoy “The Cabin in the Woods.” Just warm a bag of popcorn, get comfy under a blanket, and prepare for a good time.
“It Follows” (2014)
Roku/Vudu, rated R, 101 minutes
After last week’s Maika Monroe talk, I couldn’t stop at just one of her movies, so here’s “It Follows,” a nice, sweet movie about young romance.
Just kidding, it’s a petrifying allegory for sexually transmitted disease and the anxiety a lot of people feel before, during and after intimacy.
Monroe plays Jamie — everyone calls her Jay — a normal college kid who decides she is ready to lose her virginity to her boyfriend, Hugh (Jake Weary). They have sex in his car, and it seemingly goes fine. But, oh man, everything is not fine. Once they finish, Hugh drugs Jay with chloroform. She was up to find herself tied to a wheelchair in an empty parking garage, where Hugh explains the situation.
Basically, there’s this thing — an unnamed entity — that is passed from person to person through sex. It can take the form of any person, and it will pursue you, and only you, via walking, until it catches you and kills you. Unless you have sex before then, when it will switch to pursue that person, etc. Only those cursed can see the entity, and if it catches you, it will then revert back to the last person in line, so to speak, and go after them. It is a never-ending cycle of dread.
It’s a lot scarier to watch than it sounds. The AV Club’s A.A. Dowd put the feeling this way, which I think sums up things well: “As plenty of J-horror movies have already demonstrated, something walking right at the lens is scary. … The filmmaker [David Robert Mitchell] employs deep focus photography, placing a speck-like figure in the far distance, generating tension from its glacial advance. Gradually, the background space of every shot becomes a source of menace, and every extra on screen becomes a potential threat. The film turns its viewers into paranoid spectators, scanning the frame for signs of trouble.”
The film's morals are a lot more complex than it appears, too. Yes, sex gets Jay into this mess, but it is also the only way out, at least temporarily. "It Follows" doesn't shame anyone for their actions; it simply explores the weight that comes with such decisions and how people learn to live with the potential consequences.
Your mileage might vary on the film's ending. (I personally think the last shot is an all-timer.) What does succeed, unquestionably, is the film’s suburban setting, in a time period that could be today or could be 1987. It’s never specified, and the intentional mishmash of iconography give the whole thing a dream feel — or perhaps a nightmare feel.
Sometimes the scariest foes are the ones you do see coming.