Published on April 19th, 2012 | by Fred Betzner14
A Review of Rex Reed’s Review of The Cabin in the Woods
The following is an entirely sincere open letter to Rex Reed, who recently wrote a completely inaccurate review of The Cabin in the Woods for The New York Observer. Please note that there are no spoilers in the first section of this piece. A very large alert has been added before any spoilers are revealed.
Hi, I’m Fred. I’m a blogger. I’ve been thinking a lot about truth and truthful reporting recently, mostly because of the Mike Daisey kerfuffle with Ira Glass. As a blogger, and particularly a blogger of a humor column*, I feel like I have virtually no responsibilities to my reader aside from the obvious: attempt to make them laugh, chuckle, or at least mildly chortle. I don’t have to double source my quotations, I’m not bound by any particular journalistic ethical standards, and I really don’t do any research beyond Wikipedia because, ultimately, I’m not too worried about getting a fact slightly wrong as long as it serves the joke.
But because of habits from my days in journalism classes, and springing from a general desire to be as accurate and honest as possible, I always try to do my due diligence in citing facts that are verifiable in a reasonable amount of time. Unless, of course, I’m lying outright. Maybe I’m being lazy, but honestly, this isn’t war correspondence.
I tell you all this because I have some harsh words for you regarding your recent review of The Cabin in the Woods and before I get to that I’d like you to know my perspective and therefore the reasoning behind my assertion that this is one of the worst film reviews ever printed in a legitimate newspaper.
I think that there are distinct levels to the spectrum of journalistic responsibility. Somewhere at the bottom of the scale are humor bloggers (me), and at the top serious journalists reporting real-world events to the public (Christiane Amanpour). In my estimation Published Film Critic (you) lies somewhere in between, but much closer to the top (especially when said Film Critic is as well established and regarded as yourself) at least when it comes to accurately relaying facts regarding the subject of your review.
Your recent critique of The Cabin in the Woods is so egregiously inaccurate in its description of plot, character, and theme that it verges on the absurd. In fact, when reading this review after seeing the movie one can really only surmise that you either weren’t paying attention at all, did not keep accurate notes, or perhaps fell asleep for long stretches of the film.
For those of you who may be reading this and have not yet seen The Cabin in the Woods allow me to give you the barest summarization before warning you to stop reading this immediately. The Cabin in the Woods is a film written and directed by Drew Goddard, and co-written and produced by Joss Whedon, which could loosely be categorized in the horror genre. It is however much, much more than a standard slasher film. From the opening scene it twists your expectations of what such a film can be, wraps them around themselves, ties them into a Gordian Knot of unbelievable complexity and hands back to you something so spectacularly unique that you can hardly believe that its DNA was something that had become so mundane as to be barely worth notice.
The set-up is this: Five college students take a weekend trip to a secluded wooden housing unit in a large forested area where bad things happen.
I know that seems ridiculously vague, but to reveal any further plot details runs the risk of tempering (I won’t say ruining) one’s enjoyment of the ride, since so much of the appeal of the film is in the entirely unexpected ways the plot unfolds itself. It starts by throwing you off balance and then creates a ratcheting effect that builds to a final 30-minute release of tension in one of the most giddy, joyous, insane explosions of mayhem I’ve ever seen captured on film.
This may be slightly hyperbolic, but suffice it to say I really like this movie.
Rex Reed, you obviously did not, though that is not at all at the crux of my complaint with you. And here is where I implore those who have not yet seen this film to stop reading. I am going to go through Mr. Reed’s review, and he gets into significant plot details. So if you plan on seeing this film and have not yet done so, please stop reading now and go into it knowing as little as possible. You’ll thank me for it.
Now, Mr. Reed, I am not criticizing you for talking about what happens in a movie, obviously you have to do so in order to give your reader a full explanation of how you arrived at your opinion. But there is a way to give warning you are about to discuss the ending of a movie without spoiling anything for those who do not wish to know significant plot details. This is obviously not necessary with every film, but for this one or films with twists like The Crying Game or Chinatown, it’s a common courtesy (especially for an opening weekend review).
———–Spoiler Alert: Full Plot Details Ahead———–
The Cabin in the Woods takes place in two distinct locations, the first being the titular cabin where the five college students go to party and engage in sexual relations, the second is a control room decked out with television monitors where two men in business attire orchestrate the deaths of the five kids. What comes to be revealed is that unbeknownst to them the kids have been lured to a (possibly government run) high-tech facility to serve as a ritualistic sacrifice to placate the “Old Gods” who walked the earth before humanity came to be (though the connection is never made explicit, anyone familiar with H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos will understand the concept) and who threaten to wipe out all life on earth if the ceremony is not just so.
The ritual and the sacrifice (and on another level, the story you are watching) are ancient, having been undertaken for thousands upon thousands of years in every culture. These Gods, as it turns out, are extremely picky in who is to be sacrificed. The kids represent five archetypes: the athlete, the whore, the scholar, the fool, and the virgin (these are also pretty much the archetypes found in many horror movies). The order in which they are killed is important for some unknowable reason, as is the fact that they themselves choose, if even unknowingly, the manner of their deaths. But even though the chosen kids may not fit the archetypes exactly, we are told that it’s their youth that is of paramount importance.
The movie’s genius lies in the way this unfolds. You are getting hints from the very beginning that something along these lines is happening, and while the movie doesn’t get explicit until the last few minutes, you have been given enough information along the way that, once given, the explanation is in no way unclear. This, Mr. Reed, is what makes your review so infuriating. That someone could watch this film and, enjoy it or not, walk away not understanding what happened and why is inconceivable to me. Let’s look at your plot description line by line:
“Five college kids take a motor van to a country weekend cabin. Stopping…to buy gas, they encounter a cretin with rotting teeth and one eye who insults the women and spits tobacco juice at the men…Just behind the bloodstained glass window stands a barrel of meat hooks. Oh, I get it. It’s a send-up constructed from old movies and the clichés in Tales From the Crypt comics.”
Yes, yes it is. That’s kind of the point. I guess you missed the lengthy (and hilarious) scene in which the gas station owner is revealed to be an overzealous actor placed there to play the part of “The Harbinger,” as part of an early test for the kids. The ritual requires that they choose to continue on despite the creepy guy and the meat hooks and clichéd paraphernalia. Also I’m 99.9% sure he had both eyes.
“Rooms with two-way mirrors, grotesque paintings of brutality and massacre, and the creaking door to a cellar of corpses are just the beginning of a set that looks like the haunted house at Knott’s Berry Farm.”
I’m not really sure what any sort of house at Knott’s Berry Farm would look like, but I guess I’ll take your word for it**. While there were lots of creepy things in the cellar (it was by interacting with these that the kids chose the form of their destruction), but there were no corpses.
Zombies rise from the swamp and eat the sexy chick’s flesh. Vampires circle the moon and suck the hot stud’s blood.”
There are zero vampires in this movie. I also don’t remember a single shot of the moon, vampires or not. Also not how the hot stud dies at all.
“Only the smart girl…and the reefer-smoking doofus, so stoned he has to struggle to make complete sentences, manage to survive the monsters crashing through the ceiling, windows and floors.”
No. The reefer smoking doofus is probably the smartest of the bunch, entirely capable of making complete sentences as well as figuring out everything that’s happening and how to gain entry to the control room. It’s said explicitly that the bad decisions the rest of the cast is making are a direct result of manipulation by the control room. The athlete insists that they all stay together; the control room can’t have that so they flip a switch that gasses him as he walks down a hall and he abruptly changes his mind, insisting that they split up and go to their separate rooms. For some reason the control room can’t understand, the pot the stoner has been smoking has made him immune to all of their other chemicals.
“What they fail to notice is the hidden cameras.”
Nope, “doofus” finds them.
“It’s all part of an elaborate video game that allows paying customers to watch real people slaughtered according to the horror of choice. The five kids in the cabin are innocent pawns to test the mechanics of the game, the way fiends in a horror movie test the sounds of screaming babies as they feed them to the jaws of mutated crocodiles.”
See, now this is where I realized you weren’t even remotely paying attention to this movie. NONE OF THIS IS IN ANY WAY ACCURATE! At no point is it ever even hinted that this is a video game. Maybe, Mr. Reed, you saw buttons and dials in front of a TV screen and made some assumptions, but I honestly do not understand how you could reach this conclusion if you had actually watched the movie. As for “paying customers,” perhaps you misunderstood the idea of “the people downstairs” that they refer to, but again it is clear by the end of the movie that they are referring to the Old Gods for whom this entire thing has been orchestrated.
“The game, like the movie, is a meaningless absurdity. If it sells, people with a passion for gore can experience real terror while the players are shredded, one by one.”
I have no clue where this is coming from.
“The game ends only if the virgin survives.”
Even aside from the game part, the virgin’s survival is said to be optional on multiple occasions.
“It’s not a movie about acting, so ignoring the unfortunate people in it is an act of charity…”
I’m not really sure how one determines which movies are about acting and which ones aren’t, but I don’t know how you missed the performances by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, two exceptional actors, both of whom make characters engaged in horrific and callous acts not only funny but arguably the best part of the movie. You finish your review:
“At the risk of inviting a monsoon of unwanted hate mail, I admit it is indeed a brand-new world out there. I’m so glad I don’t have to write for it.”
I’m guessing that what you mean by referring to a “brand-new world” is that the tastes of modern cinema consumers are drastically different from your own and you do not see it as your responsibility to adapt your preferences to accommodate new film-making voices for which you don’t care. Maybe you’re right. I won’t quibble with you over your final opinion of the film; you didn’t like it, and that’s fine. But if when watching one of these “brand-new” films you cannot even summon the energy to watch with enough attention to remember its main plot points, why do you even bother to write about it at all?
I hope you don’t consider this hate mail. I don’t hate you, and really, this is just a movie review we’re talking about here. No one’s life was ruined, and I don’t think you undermined the weekend box office. I honestly believe, though, that in so poorly understanding that which you were critiquing you have abdicated what little responsibility you have to your readers. I hope that you can see this and admit it (if only to yourself) and endeavor to serve your readership more diligently in the future.
*Actual Humor content of this blog is a matter of some debate.
**Upon further research, Knott’s Berry Farm is apparently an amusement park in California and not an actual Berry Farm and purveyor of jams and jellies. So again, I’ll take your word for it that this is accurate and there is some sort of haunted house there. If, however, there is some subtle commentary on the quality of Knott’s Berry Farm and a particular haunted house, it is entirely lost on me.
Behind the scenes photo from The Cabin in the Woods 2: Knott’s Berry Farm Haunted Shack