Brilliantly playing with movie conventions and audience expectations, Cabin in the Woods is a prime example of why we love going to the movies.
Despite unrelenting rain and surprisingly cold temperatures, South by Southwest 2012 is off to a blazingly hot start in Austin. Though it has primarily been a breeding ground for independent filmmakers to showcase their ultra low-budget movies, in recent years SXSW has become a first choice location for some major releases, and 2012 is no exception. This year will see the premiere of 21 Jump Street, the U.S. premiere of The Raid: Redemption, and Will Ferrell’s Spanish action/comedy Casa De Mi Padre. However, it is this year’s opening night movie for which SXSW attendees were willing to wait in the rain and cold for over two hours.
Cabin in the Woods
Joss Whedon has been described as the nerd messiah successor to George Lucas. The creator of Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer is about as godlike to the film conference attendees as Bruce Springsteen is to the music conference crowd. (Springsteen is actually the 2012 Music Conference Keynote Speaker.) One of 2012’s most highly anticipated releases is Whedon’s big-budget directorial debut The Avengers, but at SXSW, Whedon is here as co-writer and producer of the festival’s opening night movie Cabin in the Woods.
Co-written with friend Drew Goddard, who directs, Woods is to the horror genre what Jackie Brown is to ’70s blaxploitation movies. Brilliantly playing with movie conventions and audience expectations, Woods is a prime example of why we love going to the movies. What is most refreshing about the film is the sheer inventiveness of the script and the obvious fun Goddard and Whedon had in coming up with the story.
The movie focuses on a group of five friends who decide to spend a weekend at a cabin situated in a ridiculously remote location. All of the stereotypical characters are accounted for: the jock, Curt (Chris Hemsworth); the sexually charged blonde, Jules (Anna Hutchinson); the brain, Holden (Jesse Williams); the goofball, Marty (Fran Kranz); and the virginal good girl, Dana (Kristen Connolly). Though the setup and characters are straight out of Horror Movies 101, they are merely red herrings to throw the viewer off guard with a false sense of familiarity.
To say anything else about the plot would be to ruin the experience for the audience and insult the filmmakers. Cabin in the Woods is sure to be one of the most discussed and debated movies of 2012, and is destined for cult status when it is released on DVD and fans can begin to dissect the intricate story and myriad references. Whedon and Goddard have created a mythology that rivals any great horror franchise with a film that is both an homage to and spoof of the genre they love so much.
God Bless America
Bobcat Goldthwait, best known for his standup comedy and distinctively voiced characters in 1980s comedies, has become somewhat of an indie film darling in recent years. His pitch-black comedy World’s Greatest Dad with Robin Williams brought him recognition as a serious director with something to say. His new movie, God Bless America¸ is getting its U.S. premiere at SXSW, having received decent reviews at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
Though it boasts strong performances from its two lead actors, Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr, the movie is a pedantic diatribe against pop culture with the subtlety of an AK-47. Goldthwait, who wrote and directed, has created a comedic rip-off of Natural Born Killers and Falling Down, but without any of the importance or prescience which made those films so cathartic to experience.
In the movie, Frank (Murray) goes on a killing spree with a teenage girl named Roxy (Barr) after losing his job and being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. The duo Bonnie-and-Clyde their way across the country, killing anyone they deem “not nice.” This designation can be applied to people talking in a movie theater, or spoiled teenagers or conservative talk show hosts who are mean to their guests. Fed up with pretty much everything in American society, Frank and Roxy decide to rid the world of some of its more annoying inhabitants.
The movie is brutishly violent, but that is not the source of its offensiveness: Goldthwait positions Frank as a messenger who has come to point out all that is wrong with our culture. The problem is, he doesn’t say anything that most rational people haven’t already acknowledged on their own. Reality television is out of control. Political pundits are nothing but talking heads for either party. Morning radio “shock jocks” do try to offend just for ratings. Goldthwait attempts to be shocking or revolutionary, but instead looks like a crabby dad who can’t understand why his kids enjoy listening to the rap music.
Murray and Barr give excellent performances, but they are wasted on a film that has no cinematic merit and is so short on substance that it begins to drag after only 20 minutes. God Bless America tries to capture the zeitgeist but fails miserably, and is almost embarrassing to watch. | Matthew Newlin