With about a jillion comparisons to Wes Cravens criminally overrated Scream, there was no reason to have high expectations for The Cabin in the Woods. Still, I at least expected a mindlessly entertaining carnival ride of gruesomeness a la Demon Knight or Planet Terror. My expectations were too high. The reason for the Scream comparison stems from the fact that both films exhibit a self awareness of the clichés and conventions of the horror genre. This comparison however is not entirely accurate. As lame a film to ever masquerade as a horror film as Scream is, The Cabin in the Woods' brand of stupidity has more in common with tripe such as Mars Attacks or even The Brady Bunch Movie.
This is a film that looks and feels like a slightly sinister entry to the abysmal Scary Movie franchise. Another horror comedy that's never scary, and never really funny. To call it convoluted or contrived would be a massive understatement. It's flimsy excuse for a premise is like a house of urine soaked cards. The 1st act set up plays every bit as clichéd and predictable as any cut rate teen slasher movie of the past 30+ years. The only difference is the inclusion of a vast network of "puppeteers," two of which offer constant explanations (excuses) for said predictability. Basically it's all a charade. The kids are being lured into the cabin as part of some laughable ritual of human sacrifice to appease some angry ancient gods. This charade of trite horror genre mediocrity is the only thing that keeps them from rising up and destroying the world. In other words, the story is rotten because the "Ancient Ones" have wretched taste.
For reasons far too ridiculous to bother getting into, things don't quite go as planned. Two of the kids figure everything out, and to make a very dumb, bloated story short, the world ends. There's a bloody finale involving about 20 or more simultaneous references to horror icons of the past several decades, but don't think for a second that any of it's worthwhile. "Lord Fornicus," the obvious reference to Hellraiser's Pinhead, looks like something out of a SNL sketch.
Come to think of it the whole thing feels like some cut-rate comedy sketch show rather than a horror film or even a horror comedy. Watching this thing one get's the impression that everyone involved was striving for mediocrity. The acting is soap opera level. The direction uninspired. The writing an avalanche of sloppy expository dialog and dumb forced humor (people still think stoners are funny?). The camera work typical "lets film each scene from every conceivable angle and hope it all cuts together well. The Special effects barely a step above what you'd see in an Uwe Boll film.
The self-referential conceit is just an excuse to unleash a torrent of awkward, distracting exposition through each and every character's dialog. You half expect someone to look directly into the camera at any moment, throw up the sign of the horns and proclaim "Dude! It's a freakin horror movie!" This brand of lazy storytelling is no different from what the storytellers proclaim to be ridiculing. The people who defend this technique by saying "that was the point" are simply defending mediocrity. Clichés, ineptitude and lack of imagination cannot negate clichés, ineptitude and lack of imagination. Nor can they be excused. Consider films like Kill Bill and Grindhouse, which manage to pay homage to trash cinema yet still be incredibly entertaining, and original. The Cabin in the Woods is still the same boring same old same old, even with the reality-TV-show-of-the-gods slant.
All in all, the whole thing is about as clever, funny and scary as a fart joke. Some have surmised that the story is actually a kind of metaphor for the horror film industry, or horror fans expectations or whatever. If that's the case then The Cabin in the Woods isn't just lame, it's insufferably pretentious.
Merman, this single star is for you and only you.