The Devin’s Advocate: Why Are Negative Reviews Spoiling THE CABIN IN THE WOODS?
Not everybody is going to like The Cabin in the Woods. Some of you guys reading this won't like it; hopefully you won't come back here to post stupid things like 'You overhyped it' (no, I just actually love it that much. I wouldn't accuse you of overhyping your wife), but it's very plausible that you'll be baffled as to why others liked it so very, very much. Disagreement is a great thing - it's what keeps conversations from being really, really boring.
So it's no surprise that the film is racking up a small handful of negative reviews. There are four on Rotten Tomatoes right now, with The Hollywood Reporter's pan from SXSW being missing for some reason. Of these five negative reviews so far, four have something in common: they all spoil the movie. And they do it in a fairly wanton way.
Now, I'm no spoilerphobe. I actually think that the main 'twist' of The Cabin in the Woods isn't a twist at all, as it's the first scene of the movie and it's what makes the film actually worth seeing. It is the movie's basic premise, and that can't be spoiled. This isn't just a slasher film with a bunch of nubiles getting offed in the forest, and knowing that is key to making people actually want to bother coming to see it. But once the basic premise is out of the way - once you understand that there are secret controllers who are manipulating the events at the titular cabin in the woods - it's best to leave further discovery to the audience. What those controllers want, the purpose of all of it, is the film's big 'twist.' And there's some stuff in the third act that any polite critic wouldn't dream of giving away, love or hate the film.
And yet that's what these critics are doing. The Hollywood Reporter's review was originally the most egregious, spoiling a surprise cameo in the subhead of the review. Now that has been removed and a spoiler warning has been appended to the front of the piece, but the review perfunctorily blew many of the movie's surprises. Mark Olsen's review in the Village Voice opens with a description of the film's final scene, and then he somehow claims that this isn't a spoiler. Again, I'm no spoilerphobe but that reveal very much IS a spoiler. Rex Reed's review in the New York Observer is notable for not only being hugely spoilery but also massively factually incorrect. Rex, whom I have seen dozing at screenings of movies he later reviewed, literally misunderstands the plot of the film. "Vampires circle the moon and suck the hot stud’s blood," he writes, but nothing like that happens in the movie, and it seems as though Rex is simply transcribing his own erotic dreams. Finally there's Nick Schager's review at Slant; he at least has the decency to warn you that he's going to spoil the movie before spoiling the movie.
Please note that I'm not linking to any of these reviews because I simply think you shouldn't be spoiling yourself before seeing the film.
The one review that doesn't go out of its way to spoil everything is from Cole Smithey, but his opens with a torturous paragraph complaining that people liked The Cabin in the Woods more than Renny Harlin's Mindhunters, so he's got his own thing going on. Still, it's a testament to Cole that he can refrain from ruining the film while trying to tear it apart.
So why the heck are these guys all spoiling the film? On some level I sympathize - it can be irritating to try and write a pan when your hands are tied with spoiler rope. You cant properly explain yourself if you can't point to specific things, and all of these critics appear to have problems with elements of the film that come past the point of no reveal. That's no excuse, though - you can simply work harder to get your point across without giving away cameos or big events, or you can just simply not review the film before release. I know that sounds sort of nuts, but it remains a possibiilty - movies are still worth talking about after release! If you're a critic and find that you can't write a pre-release review without ruining the film for readers, you should give up the assignment and let somebody else do it. If you keep having to give up paychecks like that maybe you'll learn to be a better writer and figure out how to review films without spoilers.
But I don't think these reviewers care. There's almost an anger in these reviews, and the spoiling seems personal. They want to keep you from liking the movie, and this is a weapon to do so.
So why are they so mad? I don't rightly know. A couple of them have interpreted the film along vastly different lines than I did (not counting Rex Reed, who made up a movie in his head). Schager found the film nihilistic, while I think it's anything but. Many of the reviews make note of the fact that Cabin is a highly meta film, and there's a lot of 'not as clever as it thinks it is' stuff being tossed about. I can't tell if that's a reflex action against actually not getting what Cabin is doing or honestly thinking what Cabin is doing is kind of trite. If it's the latter I'd love to know what horror movies these guys think are actually clever (except for Smithey. He already came down strongly on the side of Mindhunters).
I'm not trying to call out anyone's personal opinion. I don't get mad when a critic has a differing take on a movie from me, even when I feel that the writer is painfully, obviously wrong. But this isn't just about disliking The Cabin in the Woods, it's about an almost primal need to spoil the movie. And you know what? I kind of like that. I like that this film is not only creating rabid fans but also snarling detractors. It's a hoary cliche but true nonetheless - one of the hallmarks of a great film is that it truly divides people. None of the negative reviews are fully slamming the movie as hack trash (although there are dismissive bits about quick cutting and how the film feels intended to be a video game - probably written by someone who doesn't play video games). This isn't like an Adam Sandler movie where the pans come from a place of deep, agonizing pain. Cabin is getting big reactions out of people, and some of those reactions are very negative. But at least they're big.