Thursday, April 26, 2012

Recent Reading Roundup 31

As I recently mentioned, one of the effects of scrambling for homeownership has been that I've had very little headspace for anything else.  It's not just writing that has fallen by the wayside but also reading, and often these days I find myself more contented with some cheesy TV at the end of the day than a good book.  Hopefully that will change in the coming weeks, and I'll soon have more substantial things to write about my reading, but here are the few books that I have managed to read this year.
  1. The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer - Whenever I chance upon a discussion of Heyer's Regency romances, the impression that forms is of Jane Austen methadone.  This isn't entirely an alluring description--it conjures images of an author who replicates the frothy surface of Austen's novels without dipping into the acid that lies just beneath it.  In my first foray into Heyer's writing late last year, with Cotillion, that is indeed what I found, but Cotillion was also charming, effervescent fun, and its central romance was satisfyingly human and unsentimental, so I marked Heyer as an author worth returning to.  Though it shares some superficial similarities with Cotillion--both novels involve a young woman arriving at the home of her fashionable London relatives, rearranging their lives for the better, and sweeping her dashing cousin off his feet--The Grand Sophy may not have been the ideal next step.  For one thing, the novel is just starting to gear up for its home stretch, as the title character, who has been raised by her rich, eccentric diplomat father to be his hostess and housekeeper and has been shocking her relatives with her strong will and independent habits, starts seriously meddling in her family's affairs and scheming to separate her cousin Charles from the odious, mean-spirited prig he's become engaged to, when an evil Jewish moneylender turns up.  Sophy's confrontation with, and ultimate triumph over, this character (for which read "agglomeration of ugly antisemitic stereotypes"), is one of the most viscerally unpleasant things I've ever read, but even so I might have managed to enjoy the novel around it if were not also at around this point that the novel's central romance begins to teeter.

    One of the things I liked about Cotillion was how firmly it established that its central lovers were made better for knowing each other, and that their relationship brought out the best in both of them.  In The Grand Sophy, however, the romance feels very one-sided.  It's pretty obvious why Charles, who in his determination to tamp down the wild tendencies that have led to his father's dissolution is hacking away at everything passionate and feeling in his personality, would fall in love with Sophy, who offers him the opportunity to express his emotions in an environment safely controlled by her iron will.  It's less obvious why Sophy falls in love with Charles, to the extent that it seems more likely that she has manipulated him into falling in love with her in order to further her aims for his family without feeling much beyond fondness towards him.  Which not only makes Sophy's decision to marry Charles at the end of the novel somewhat puzzling, but makes her seem like a rather unpleasant person.  Add to that the fact that Sophy's vaunted independence is little more than independent wealth--she can do and say as she likes because she has full access to her father's bank accounts, and the only scene in which they have no affect on her ability to carry the day is the aforementioned triumph over the evil Jewish moneylender--and the character becomes even more murky.  There is room, of course, for such characters--for an Unlawful Good figure who uses her wealth and wits to direct the lives of everyone around her, and justifies her interference with the persuasive argument that everyone is happier for her meddling--but as the heroine of a romance she makes for a rather unsatisfying fit.  There's enough in The Grand Sophy of the humor and charm that made Cotillion such a fun read that I'm sure I'll give Heyer another shot, but next time I think I'll have to be more careful about which book I choose.

  2. Twilight Robbery by Frances Hardinge - Hardinge's Gullstruck Island was one of my most surprisingly excellent reads of 2011, so I was very pleased when the chance to read something else by her came along.  The sequel to Hardinge's 2005 debut Fly By Night (which I haven't read, but which the narrative helpfully summarizes early in the novel), Twilight Robbery (Fly Trap in the US) sees that novel's heroes, orphan Mosca Mye and con artist Eponymous Clent, trying to flee their troubles through the city of Toll, which has adopted a City and the City-esque separation of its citizens.  In the novel's universe, every hour of the day is consecrated to a certain god, and the people of Toll, including its visitors, are separated according to whether the god they were born under is deemed positive or negative.  The former are allowed to roam the city by day, the latter by night.  As that description suggests, Twilight Robbery, like Gullstruck Island, is a novel whose elaborate setting is rooted in traditions and social conventions, and the novel's plot, which sees Mosca and Eponymous sorted into different sides of the city and then embroiled in a crisis that forces the two sides to work together, examines and dismantles those conventions in a way that is both familiar from Gullstruck and that feels almost unique to Hardinge.  It is, however, a novel that skews somewhat younger than Gullstruck Island, and thus spends a little more time than I cared for establishing that it is, in fact, wrong to make moral judgments about people based on their time of birth.  And though the central villain is an interesting character, the path taken to unmasking them was longer than I would have liked.  By its final quarter, Twilight Robbery begins to flag, one too many plot twists having been piled on a message that has already been firmly established.  There's still a lot here worth reading for, mainly Hardinge's skill at worldbuilding and at crafting characters who are both observant about their world and hopelessly immersed in it, but I think that for the time being I will give the Mosca Mye books a rest, and hope that in her forthcoming Face Like Glass Hardinge will skew a little further towards the maturity that made Gullstruck Island such a revelation.

  3. The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers - The thing I love best about the Clarke award is that it points me towards books, like Richard Morgan's Black Man, Sarah Hall's The Carhullan Army, and Marcel Theroux's Far North, that I almost certainly wouldn't have read on my own, and that besides being excellent in their own right shine a light on corners of the genre that I don't tend to explore.  Even in years with an underwhelming shortlist--and though I haven't read the entire shortlist, what I have read leads me to join in the general consensus that this is one of those years--there's at least one such book on the Clarke shortlist, and this year that is The Testament of Jessie Lamb.  It's a book that's generated a lot of debate and dispute, and I'm not sure that I could expand, either in summarizing that debate or in adding my own thoughts to it, on Nic Clarke and Dan Hartland's reviews, though for myself I am inclined to side with Nic in finding Jessie Lamb satisfying and thought-provoking.  The novel takes place in an alternate present in which MDS, a bioengineered disease, has rendered pregnancy fatal.  Jessie Lamb is teenage girl already reeling from her growing awareness of the messiness and complexity of the world around her, and the emergence of MDS only further cements her belief that the world she stands to inherit is hopelessly diseased.  When she learns about the Sleeping Beauty program--young women who are impregnated and placed in comas, which allows them to bring their babies, who will be immune to MDS, to term, even as their own brains liquify--Jessie feels that the best thing she can do with her life is to volunteer for it.  When her father finds out, he locks her up, and Jessie's testament is the memoir she writes during this incarceration, explaining her decision.

    What emerges from this memoir--what to my mind is the book's greatest strength and accomplishment--is the twinned and seemingly irreconcilable realization that Jessie is making the decision to become a Sleeping Beauty advisedly and of her own free and unencumbered will, and that she is making it for entirely the wrong reasons.  As Nic writes, Jessie's narrative perfectly captures the self-righteousness of a certain, particularly obnoxious class of teenager, but what underpins it is fear--fear of the world into which she is about to emerge as an independent operator, and fear of the compromises it will demand from her.  Like many teenagers before her, Jessie's response to that fear is to deny the world that has aroused it in her, and the adults who are responsible for it.  MDS gives her the opportunity to take that denial to its furthest, irrevocable extreme.  At the same time, Jessie isn't deluded, insane, or suicidal.  She knows that becoming a Sleeping Beauty will kill her, and unlike many other volunteers she meets she neither wants to die nor craves the attention and adulation that volunteering will grant her and her family.  Over the course of her testament she works through the implications of her choice until all her illusions and fantasies are stripped away, and even in the face of the stark fact that she is volunteering to die her choice remains the same.  It's not an admirable decision--especially as Rogers makes it clear that the Sleeping Beauty program is at least in part a hysterical response to a problem that may soon be solved in less gruesome ways--but it is Jessie's decision.  At the end of the novel, it's impossible not to accept that, and to accept Jessie's right to make it, even as it becomes clear that in a few years' time, if the faint hope held out at the end of the novel for Jessie's survival pans out, she will most likely look back on her testament and shudder.  When I finished Jessie Lamb I felt that it stood neck and neck with Embassytown as my choice for this year's Clarke winner, but the more time has passed, the more interesting and accomplished Rogers's novel has come to seem, and I very much hope to see it take the award next week.

  4. Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan - Lanagan's second novel, like her first, is a complicated retelling of a folk tale, this time the story of the selkie, the seal-woman who stays on shore with her male lover so long as he conceals her sealskin from her.  Sea Hearts (The Brides of Rollrock Island in the US and UK) takes place on a small island community (which gives Lanagan plenty of opportunity for blustery, windswept, seawater-soaked description and fishing-village patois) with a history of taking "sea wives" which has now fallen into myth.  When a woman is born with enough seal heritage to call the sea wives out of their skins, she revives the practice, and the island's community is rocked for generations as its men are placed under the sea wives' spell and its women find themselves displaced.  As the story progresses, it switches between points of view--Misskaella, the witch who avenges herself on a community that mistreated her by exposing its men to the sea wives' enchantment (and growing rich on the money she charges them for her services), a girl whose mother is replaced by a sea wife, a recently engaged young man who comes to the island meaning to sell his parents' house only to fall under a sea wife's spell, and the children of these unions, who are the only ones who may be able to return the community to its rightful footing.  The shifting perspectives help to humanize the story.  Misskaella, who speaks first, is a sympathetic figure for most of her story, terrified by her power and grievously wounded by a community that mocks and discounts her for being unattractive.  Her initial explorations of her power have more to do with wanting to find her own measure of love and companionship than revenge, and the brief taste of them that she gains, only to quickly lose, wounds her deeply.  For the rest of the novel, even as she grows more bitter and as we gain a greater understanding of how her magic destroys her community, it's hard to forget the pain and loss that are at the root of her story.

    For all this, however, Sea Hearts doesn't quite manage to escape from the core difficulty of its underlying myth, the opposition it forces between human and seal women.  The characters who speak draw a stark comparison between the fleshy, imperfect, demanding human wives, and the endlessly yielding, accommodating, and of course eerily beautiful sea wives, and though Lanagan complicates that comparison in the sea wives' case, by showing us their sadness at being trapped on land, she can't quite get around the way the land wives seem earthy and mundane by comparison.  When Dominic Mallett, the young man who returns to the island to sell his parents' house, tells us about his fiancée, he describes her as practical, cautious, clever, and the way that she is filtered through the narrative--especially after he meets "his" sea wife, who is of course ethereal and unearthly--makes these qualities seem dull and plodding.

    Sea Hearts never resolves this opposition.  It's a novel that begins with Misskaella's resentment of other women--her domineering mother, her thoughtless sisters, and the pretty girls of the village who look down on her for not having a husband--and continues with the land wives' resentment of their seal replacements, but rather than an address these feelings of antagonism, the novel drops them.  There is, in fact, barely any interaction between women after the sea wives arrive--it's their male children who are able to return their mothers to the sea (girls born to human/seal pairings are transformed back into seals as infants, another way in which female relationships are done away with in this novel), and when human women return to the island it's these boys that they interact with.  The only relationship between women is Misskaela's adoption of the mainland girl Trudel, who becomes her apprentice.  But this relationship is perhaps the most underserved of the novel, developing fitfully in the background of other stories despite being quite interesting--far from recapitulating Misskaella's unhappy life, Trudel takes human lovers and has a gaggle of illegitimate children, and seems to have an affectionate if abrasive relationship with them and with her mistress.  All of this, however, is mostly unexplored.  We only find out about Trudel's children long after they're born, are not privy to her choice to take lovers or her feelings about that choice, and learn only a little about her life with Misskaella, and that after the older woman has died.  It's a sour note in a novel that otherwise feels almost perfectly formed, progressing from one narrative voice to another in a way that builds the story and its pace seemingly effortlessly.  And it is also a missed opportunity to have given Sea Hearts its missing component, the voices of women speaking to one another, not just about each other.

  5. Rule 34 by Charles Stross - This is only the second Stross novel I've read, and after the tedious, Hugo-nominated Saturn's Children I wasn't exactly eager to give him another try, but some positive responses, and Rule 34's Clarke nomination, convinced me to give it a try.  While I would still qualify Rule 34 as one of the books that weigh down this year's Clarke shortlist, it is a surprisingly enjoyable and at points intriguing read.  Set in Edinburgh in the near future, it parallels the stories of Liz Kavanaugh, a detective who normally investigates internet-related sex crimes but has been attached to the investigation of a bizarre and kinky murder, Anwar Hussein, an ex con trying out get rich schemes who agrees to become the honorary consulate of a just-formed Middle Eastern country, and a nameless fixer for an organized crime cartel who finds his plans in the city constantly waylaid by a series of strange coincidences.  The murder mystery moves at a brisk clip, with the other two characters' stories feeding into it rather quickly, but it soon become clear that neither it nor the characters are Stross's main focus (which isn't porn either, as despite the novel's title internet pornography plays almost no part in the story).  That would be a window on his day after tomorrow future and the role that the internet and constant connectivity play in the smooth running of society, particularly police work.  Liz and her fellow officers use CopSpace, a system that not only records their every interaction with the public to prevent police brutality and corruption, but allows them to crowdsource their investigations and share resources and information quickly and easily.  Stross's ideas about how such a system would work are interesting, but even more so is the way that this new form of policing folds into it the old school attitudes of Liz's older colleagues, neither rejecting their John Wayne fantasies nor embracing them.  This is all very interesting and distracts for a while from the fact that Rule 34's plot is rather perfunctory, to the extent that when, about two thirds into the novel, it becomes blazingly obvious who (or rather, what) the murderer is even as Liz continues to plod towards the solution, one hardly feels annoyed, since the investigation was never the point in the first place.  It does, however, have the effect of making Rule 34 seem rather weightless--neither its character nor its plot linger long in the mind, and without them the novel's worldbuilding feels untethered.  It's a pleasant read, but not one that has stayed with me.

  6. MetaMaus by Art Spiegelman - Twenty years after the publication of the first volume of his groundbreaking, seminal Holocaust comic, Art Spiegelman sits down to answer the questions that Maus continues to elicit--why the Holocaust?  Why mice?  Why comics?  MetaMaus is a book-length interview with Spiegelman about these questions, as well as many other aspects of bringing Maus into existence.  It also contains many of the steps on Maus's path to its finished form--studies for the book's art, the original, three-page Maus strip Spiegelman drew in 1972, photographs of Spiegelman's parents, Vladek and Anya, from their pre-war life in Poland and their post-war years in Sweden and the US, and examples of Spiegelman's other work.  Spiegelman emerges from his interview as a thoughtful, deliberate, detail-oriented artist (if also a bit finicky, and something of a control freak where his work is concerned), and the insight he grants us into the process of bringing Maus into being shows how considered every aspect of the book was, which only serves to enrich the final product.  Just as interesting is Spiegelman's discussion of his parents' lives, both before and after the war, and of his relationship with them (I was particularly intrigued by his observation that the choice to write about Vladek's story of survival was driven by circumstances--by the time Spiegelman sat down with his father to learn and record his story in the early 70s, Anya was dead, and had she lived Spiegelman might have preferred to tell her story rather than his father's).  The richness of the material Spiegelman was working with when creating Maus, and his own keen intelligence, make MetaMaus a window not just on a single family's story, or on a single creative process, but on the Holocaust and the way that depictions of it in popular culture have changed and increased in prominence (Spiegelman makes the sadly convincing argument that we've reached the point where Holocaust stories are hopelessly mired in kitsch, which is something I've felt myself for several years), and on the comics scene at the time of Maus's publication and in the present day.  If you've read Maus, MetaMaus is an invaluable accompaniment that only further brings home the depth of Spiegelman's accomplishment, but I think that even those who are unfamiliar with the comic will find a lot worth reading for here--and hopefully a spur to seek out Maus itself.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

If you've been following this blog for any amount of time you've probably noticed that I don't have much use for spoiler warnings, or for the primacy that spoilers have gained in the discourse about popular culture.  The conversations I want to have, the ones that seem interesting and worth having, are precisely the ones that don't allow for the self-censorship of spoiler mania, and the truth is that I don't believe that a truly worthwhile work is one that can be "spoiled" simply by knowing what happens next.  So when I say that Drew Goddard's horror comedy The Cabin in the Woods (written by Goddard and Joss Whedon), is the sort of film that rewards unspoiled viewing, that probably seems entirely different to viewers who know its secrets, and that may, in fact, only be worth watching if you're ignorant of its central twist, I'm not being entirely complimentary.  Cabin is a funny, clever, well-made film, extremely effective in its scary scenes and an enjoyable viewing experience all around, but it is also rather hollow.  That's a direct result of binding the film's affect so inextricably with its central twist--a choice that is disappointing not only because of what it makes of the film, but because it leaves unexplored all of that twist's more intriguing implications.

Before I get any further I should probably acknowledge that my use of the word "twist" here is somewhat questionable.  Inasmuch as The Cabin in the Woods has a twist, it is not only announced in the film's trailers, but in its opening minutes.  Before we're even introduced to our cabal of doomed young people as they blithely prepare for their fateful trip to the titular cabin--bubbly pre-med student Jules (Anna Hutchinson), her earnest boyfriend Curt (Chris Hemsworth), her best friend Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt's friend Holden (Jesse Williams), who has been invited as a fix-up for Dana, and pothead clown Marty (Fran Kranz)--we meet the people who are planning their cliché-ridden doom, Hadley (Bradley Whitford), Sitterson (Richard Jenkins), and Lin (Amy Acker), who from a hi-tech underground facility are monitoring every centimeter of the cabin and its grounds, the better to usher the campers to their deaths.  Even the purpose of that carefully orchestrated massacre has already been made clear in the film's opening credits, which depict scenes of human sacrifice.  Ten minutes into the film's run, then, the only question that remains--the one whose answer I am calling the film's twist--is really more of a missing puzzle piece: who are these kids being sacrificed to, and why?  Nevertheless, once you know the answer to that question, The Cabin in the Woods becomes a completely different story, and to watch the film knowing that it is that story would, I think, be a supremely unsatisfying experience, because just where you'd expect that story to start is where The Cabin in the Woods chooses to stop.

The film instead puts its eggs in the metafiction basket, revealing that the tropes of American horror films (and of those from other countries, as sites in places like Sweden, Japan, or Spain, where other scenarios are being run, are mentioned) are integral components of the sacrifice ritual.  These tropes are painstakingly recreated by the behind the scenes crew, who tamper not only with the campers' circumstances but with their body chemistry.  Jules has been designated the scenario's bimbo, so Lin has introduced a substance that impairs cognitive function into the dye with which she's recently colored her hair blonde.  Like most of Cabin in the Wood's jokes, however, the film hammers this one in--"dumb blonde, huh?" Hadley says admiringly.  Other jokes, such as Marty's genre-savviness and the frustrations it causes Hadley and Sitterson, or a scene in which Mordecai, the creepy hillbilly who menaces the campers on their way to the cabin, calls the control room to deliver overheated, foreboding oratory only to complain because he's been placed on speakerphone, are initially quite funny but go on for too long, while others take forever to build up--throughout the film the bunker crew refer to Dana as The Virgin even though we know she's had an affair with one of her professors--only to deliver a faint payoff--"We work with what we're given" is Sigourney Weaver's senior director's response to Dana's wordless query at her designation.  In the aggregate, The Cabin in the Woods is a funny film, but its individual jokes are strained, trying too hard to make up for the absence of truly excellent wit.  Though a few come close (the speakerphone scene is my favorite) there isn't a single gag that truly lingers and elicits laughter on the way out of the movie theater.

Even more frustrating is the way the film points out the shallowness of horror tropes, but refuses to replace them with anything deeper.  The five campers have been designated with roles that both correspond to character types found in horror films and are, in the film's universe, components of the ritual.  The more we see of the kids, however, the less those roles seem to suit them.  Dana and Jules have been dubbed, respectively, the Virgin and the Whore, but so far as we can tell both girls are sexually active and neither is very promiscuous--they could just as easily have been given each other's parts.  By the same token, Curt is the Athlete and Holden is the Scholar, even though Curt, as well as being an athelete, is a sociology major on a full academic scholarship, and Holden, as well as being a scholar, is the new star of the football team.  This, however, is as far as the film's characterization goes--it establishes that its characters are not the reductive stereotypes to which they've been assigned, but it tells us nothing about who they are, and doesn't even attempt to make actual people out of them.  It even seems pleased to make use of those stereotypes when they suit its purposes--Marty fits his role, the Fool, to a T, both in the sense that he is a buffoon and in the sense that he sees more than the others, noticing the joints and seams in the scenario and finding his way backstage.

"She's got so much heart," Hadley says of Dana as he watches her struggle for her life against the monsters he's unleashed on her, explaining why, despite the jaded cynicism he's evinced towards his awful job since the beginning of the film, he finds himself rooting for her.  This, however, feels like the film telling us how we should feel rather than an accurate description of Dana, who though suitably appealing does little to set herself apart from the million Final Girls who have come before her.  Inasmuch as she has heart, it's because her role--her role in The Cabin in the Woods, that is, not the scenario-within-the-film--requires her to.  The film may very well be commenting on this fact--Hadley's moment of sentiment is interrupted and replaced by his typical cynicism when his colleagues arrive with alcohol to celebrate the sacrifice's success--but that still leaves us with a protagonist who can't manage to escape or transcend her type despite being in a story that is all about pointing out that that type exists.

The problem, I think, is that Dana shouldn't be the protagonist, and The Cabin in the Woods comes close to reaching this conclusion itself before shaking it off and settling into a story that, for all its quirks, runs along very familiar grooves.  In the first half of the film, we can't help but root for the campers and feel anger towards the bunker crew.  Knowing that someone within the story--someone not monstrous but ordinary and familiar--is orchestrating the kids' gruesome deaths gives those deaths an extra, fresh layer of horror that cuts through the hoariness of the story, and makes the backstage characters' jadedness, and even glee, at their actions seem terribly cruel.  Around the time that Dana and Marty find their way into the bunker, however, we get our missing puzzle piece and learn the reason that they and their friends are being sacrificed.  Which turns out to be the reason for every human sacrifice--to appease the gods and prevent the end of the world.  All over the world facilities like the one we've been watching have been reenacting rituals from their cultures, trying to stave off the Old Ones' awakening, but this year all but the American scenario have failed--the fate of the world depends on Marty and Dana dying (actually just Marty, since as the Virgin Dana may survive so long as she suffers).

Since we're constantly ahead of the campers in our understanding of their story--first knowing that they are in a horror story scenario, then realizing the reason for that scenario before they do--it's hard not to feel unreasonably angry at Marty and Dana's determination to survive, and at the things they do to achieve that end.  When Dana releases all of the nightmare creatures stored in the bunker (a component of the ritual is that each group of campers chooses, through its actions, which monster will hunt them, and there is a wide selection to choose from) and sics them on the staff, the result is one of the film's most bloody, and weirdly exhilarating, sequences, as wave after wave of increasingly bizarre monsters are unleashed to deal imaginative deaths to office workers, maintenance personnel, and HR bigwigs.  But knowing what we do, it's also an almost villainous act--Dana's actions not only lead to dozens, perhaps hundreds, of unnecessary deaths, they also hasten the end of the world.

There is, yet again, a sense that The Cabin in the Woods is aware of this, and that if only the film had leaned a little bit further into this reading the result might have a much more interesting story.  After all, it's almost possible to read the film as Hadley, Sitterson, and Lin's story, a horror narrative of a different but no less compelling type.  The speakerphone scene is played for laughs, but Mordecai's dire warnings of looming disaster are aimed as much at his colleagues as they are at the campers, and they go unheeded.  The backstage plot could have been a horror story about hubris, about the arrogance of people whose power over the circumstances of other people's lives has blinded them to their own vulnerability and lack of control.  In broad strokes, this is what happens, but the final act of the film is too brisk, too preoccupied with inventive slaughter, and still too invested in Dana and Marty as protagonists while relegating Hadley, Sitterson, and Lin to comic relief (and then canon fodder) to work as their story.  Though interesting hints are raised that something more is going on behind the scenes--several near-misses before the true disaster are blamed on orders from upstairs, and someone appears to be sabotaging at least the American scenario and possibly the others as well--and though a few lines towards the end of the film, and Marty and Dana's uncaring nihilism when the purpose of the sacrifice required of them finally sinks in, suggest a theme of inter-generational strife, neither of these ideas are developed.  If The Cabin in the Woods is intended as a story in which the scenario operators are the protagonists and Marty and Dana are the villains, it is a rather shapeless one.  And more's the pity, as far as I'm concerned.

There is, quite obviously, a very large component here of blaming The Cabin in the Woods for not being the film I wanted it to be.  Goddard and Whedon set out to make a metafictional horror comedy that comments on the genre's tropes by employing them, and in this they succeeded.  (It should also be said that I might have been more appreciative of this success as its own accomplishment if I were a bigger fan of horror films.)  Much as I try to stop myself from chiding them for being short on ambition, though, I can't help but dwell on how much potential lay in their premise--a secret organization dedicated to defending the earth from ancient, evil gods with a menagerie of magical nightmare creatures at their disposal, who lure a bunch of kids to a secluded location to become part of their sacrifice ritual only for the kids to turn the tables, and the aforementioned menagerie of monsters, on them.  Once you know The Cabin in the Woods's twist it's impossible not to think of the film like this, and to have used this rich vein of story for little more than a metafictional gag seems like a criminal waste.  I wanted more time in the facility, more interactions between the campers and the bunker crew, more information about the organization running this show, more questioning of Marty and Dana's choices.  (Of course, maybe I'm only saying this because "underground facility that is also a wacky, surreal workplace and has become overrun by horrors while a menacing female voice booms on the PA" puts me in mind of Portal, which does a better job of blending humor and menace than The Cabin in the Woods and even feels like a more compelling story.)  The Cabin in the Woods is a funny, clever film, but it isn't nearly funny enough, or nearly clever enough, to make up for the loss of that story.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


In case you were wondering what the recent dearth of posts was down to.  Of course, now that mere trivialities such as ownership and mortgages have been dealt with, it's time to scale the peaks of renovating, decorating, moving...