Cabin in the Woods

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This Catch-Up is written by Telaina Eriksen
Year of Release: 2012
Rating: R (So.Much. Blood. So many entrails. And a bloody, decapitated head.)

Currently Streaming on Netflix?: Yes.
Spoilers: Mild

 

First off, let me reiterate again, I’m not a fan of horror movies. This has been on my “to-watch” list since it came out only because it was a Joss Whedon project. I knew I was going to have to watch it in a relaxed haze of alcohol. I needed one (very large) glass of sangria and I watched it on my tablet where the gore was… smaller. I did have to give myself a pep talk. “You made it through Django Unchained and you CARED about those characters. You can do it, Telaina!” I AM glad I made it through—Cabin in the Woods is funny, horrifically bloody, and offers interesting questions about being watched as well as the sacrifices needed to make our world continue to spin on its axis.

The very first scene of the movie lets you know this isn’t going to be your average slasher flick. Sitterson (Richard Jenkins—one of the hardest working character actors in the business and who forever and always be Nate, David and Claire’s dad from Six Feet Under to me) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford who will forever be Josh from The West Wing) are standing around the vending machine in a large, sterile industrial complex. They are friends and having a pretty regular conversation, complaining about their wives, etc. As they begin to walk back to work, they are informed by Lin (Amy Acker) that “just the United States and Japan are left.”

The movie then cuts to five college friends getting ready for a weekend away at the remote cabin of Curt’s (Chris Hemsworth… THOR baby!) cousin. Of course, the cabin has no cell phone service and isn’t on any GPS (these places do still exist—see, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, The) and has a mountain tunnel and a cliff on the way. The youngsters pack weed and alcohol and swim suits and music. They need to stop for gas and directions after the GPS gives out. They meet the gas station owner (also known to Sitterson and Hadley as “The Harbinger.”) After scaring the kids, the Harbinger places a call to Hadley and what follows is one of the funniest scenes in the movie. (I won’t spoil it. Top-of-the-line Whedon stuff that contrasts mythical dark superstition with hilarious modern-day cynicism.)

The movie continues this way—flipping between scenes in and around the cabin, to the puzzling industrial complex where Sitterson, Hadley and their team are to some degree controlling the events in the cabin to match a certain set of specs that the viewer doesn’t fully understand yet. One of the most interesting parts of the movie is at several points, we are watching Sitterson and Hadley, who are watching our hapless college students, and we as movie viewers are also seeing them in the background while action is taking place in the Sitterson-Hadley world. While this type of thing has been done in many movies (people being spied on/videotaped, etc.) it is particularly an effective device in this movie. To keep their sanity, Sitterson-Hadley must dehumanize their college student victims, but the viewer of the movie has also been introduced to Curt and Dana and Jules and Marty and Holden without the filter of Sitterson-Hadley, so we see their attempts to approach the massacre as “just doing their jobs” as both appalling and blackly funny. The contrast of the college students’ every move being watched at this remote place where no cell phone and GPS work (two of the things modern people blame for their loss of privacy) is not lost on viewers. Nor is the commentary on today’s voracious capitalism where there is no responsibility to people, the planet, or the future. Everyone is “just doing their job.”

Even on a killing field, Sitterson and Hadley can’t control everything, and Dana (Kristen Connolly) and Marty (Fran Kanz) prove to be especially hardy and ingenuous survivors. The last 10-15 minutes of the movie is a gore fest and include a knife-wielding clown (I almost had to get up and get another glass of sangria), a giant snake, and a merman. (Note that these are all archetypes from horror stories through the ages as well “main villains” in the old horror flicks of the 50s, 60s and 70s.) I handled this river of blood by putting my hand in front of my tablet so I could only see intermittent homicides.

I loved the ending of this movie which might seem unrealistic but also makes a weird kind of sense. Do the good of the many really outweigh the good of the few? What kind of civilization requires repeated sacrifices of the innocent? Can that ever really be a just and good place to live?

Those of you who love horror movies probably saw this while it was at the theaters. For the rest of us, we can now watch it in the comfort of our homes. With alcohol.

 

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Six

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This Catch-Up is written by Telaina Eriksen
Year of Release (originally aired): 2001-2002
Rating: TV 14ish

Currently Streaming on Netflix?: Yes.
Spoilers: Moderate (Slightly more than episode descriptions)

I am completely cheating here and I hope my partner in crime doesn’t mind this brief segue into TV land. I’ve been wrestling with Buffy Season 6 for a long time and have never understood how one season of a show can be so wonderful and horrible at the same time. I’ve been watching Season 6 again as I cook. One of the tedious things about trying to prepare healthy food is all the peeling and chopping. So I prop my tablet on the kitchen counter and watch an episode of Buffy while I snap the ends off of green beans, or peel an eggplant or chop an onion. In the spirit of full disclosure, I also do this as I fry chicken (not so healthy) which has to be watched so you’re basically standing out in the kitchen for 20 minutes making sure you don’t start a grease fire.

This is my third (or fourth ?) time through the Buffy series and outside of old re-runs of M*A*S*H, this is the most time I have ever devoted to a TV show. Every reason why I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer has already been stated by someone else—it’s smart, funny, it has demons and vampires but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The cast is amazing and the group dynamic is strong—each character getting to develop, grow, slide backwards and take center stage in different episodes. There is social commentary and a lot to contemplate about the way we see the world. (High school being hell is taken to a whole new level on Buffy.)

Season Six is often vilified as being the worst season of Buffy, the writers lost their way, Joss Whedon (the Avengers guy, young ones) had other projects and wasn’t overseeing the show carefully, etc. But what these couch critics often generalize over is that Season 6 has some of the best episodes in the entire series as well as several other PARTS of episodes that are brilliant.

The two best episodes in Season 6 are Once More with Feeling, where a demon visits Sunnydale and everyone bursts into song and dance, unintentionally revealing their innermost thoughts and feelings to each other, and Normal Again, where a demon infects Buffy with a poison that sends her hurtling into another dimension? reality? a dream world? where she is hospitalized for believing vampires are real and that she is a vampire slayer and her mother is still alive and her parents never divorced. Runner-up episodes include The Doublemeat Palace, where Buffy, a college dropout in desperate need of money, decides the meat in the doublemeat burger may be her co-workers and Bargaining, Part 1 & 2, where Willow raises Buffy from the dead after months in the ground. PARTS of Tabula Rasa, Smashed, Wrecked and Gone are smart and funny. If you add all those up, you simply cannot write off Season 6 as a horrible mistake.

But the parts of Season 6 that are bad, are really, really bad. A loan-shark demon that actually looks like a shark? Ick. Xander leaving Anya at the altar? Totally out of character for him. Giles leaving Buffy just a few months after she is back from the dead? Unbelievable. Buffy not catching the Nerds before they do serious damage? Far-fetched. Spike trying to rape Buffy doesn’t seem very likely either after Glory tortured him the previous season and he refused to roll over on Dawn because he knew it would devastate Buffy. All of these inconsistencies irritate any viewer or fan who has been paying any attention at all to the previous seasons.

Speaking of Dawn, I hate Dawn. With every re-watching of Buffy, I take a deep breath at the end of Season 4 and think, “Oh great. Here comes Dawn.” Dawn, Buffy’s “sister” who started life as a green ball of light/key, is a whiny, nasally, selfish, douche-baggy little brat. I really wanted someone to kill her in Season 5 and solve the Glory problem once and for all. (My hatred of Dawn is equal to my hatred of Jean in the X-Men movies. These characters have no redeeming qualities.) I have never seen Michelle Trachtenberg in anything else but Buffy, but I fear I may have sauce béarnaise syndrome where she is concerned. Dawn whines constantly, “You’re NEVER HERE, Buffy!” Well, you stupid, spoiled bitch, Buffy is working at a nasty fast-food place to support your ass and then patrolling to protect you, and if she gets some from Spike on the side, everybody deserves a little relaxation. So why don’t you just shut up and go get a job, do your homework and make your sister some pancakes for a change?

So all and all, don’t write Season 6 off. Buffy at its worst is still better than 95 percent of what is on TV, both then and now. One of the great things about Netflix is all the TV shows available that you can try out with no financial risk and no commercials. So if you’ve never seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I’m looking at you, 20 year olds) give it a try. Even with low-budget werewolf costumes and a faltering Season 6, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.