For a movie that was shot in 2009, The Cabin in the Woods surprisingly has its finger on 2012 zeitgeist’s pulse. Zombies, The Hunger Games-esque sacrifice, and a Hemsworth brother. But would you expect anything less from a Joss Whedon film?
I will give Whedon and fellow writer Drew Goddard credit for throwing pretty well every horror movie trope at the wall to see what sticks, as Clem Bastow puts it in her favourable review, but I just found it too unreal to suspend my disbelief, if that oxymoron makes sense.
But overall, I thought the premise was a clever one, it just wasn’t executed to my liking (the group of friends I went with all enjoyed it, however). I thought the group of five youths, which we are told are crucial to the story; the spooky setting; and the stereotypical characters (the whore, the virgin, the scholar, the jock and the clown) worked well to lull the audience into a scary movie state of mind. At this point I thought The Cabin in the Woods would be more like Scream; in what way I’m not entirely sure, as I’m still reeling from the violent severing of this idea from my imagination by the second half of the film.
This is where every horror movie villain, with an emphasis on the super natural, comes into play as the characters realise that the “inbred, redneck zombies” aren’t the only terrors they have to deal with: there’s some kind of government body orchestrating the events not just at the cabin, but in similar settings all over the world, whose employees take bets on which villain will be the death of them (head of the operation Hadley has his heart set on meremen. This will later come back to haunt him.) and offer up each fallen archetype as a sacrifice. Any similarities with The Hunger Games (sacrifice! Surveillance! A Hemsworth!) end here, though, when it is revealed that the sacrifices are for anything but the government: they’re to prevent the ancient gods from revolting and overrunning the earth as they did in ancient times.
The voice of reason, Truman (a reference to The Truman Show?), seems to be uncomfortable with his role in the sacrifice, and asks a fellow worker, “Should you really get used to monsters, magic and zombies?” It’s a poignant commentary on our desensitisation to violence: that the government is so willing to offer up five innocent youths as a sacrifice for the greater good is both sickeningly common and, for the sake of the story, noble. This is a sentiment Sigourney Weaver, who makes a fan-boys wet dream surprise appearance as The Director, reiterates at the bitter end.
Proving the virgin stays alive til then (in the vein of Scream’s Sidney Prescott and Halloween’s Laurie Strode, “the virigin’s death is optional, just as long as it’s last” and she—it’s always a she, because women are the ones who should suffer for the rest of their species’ carnal sins, right?—suffers), Dana and stoner Marty (the fact that his pot-smoking cancels out the effect the government’s manipulation has on him could be seen as a pro-stoner statement) piece together the fact that they’re trapped in some kind of “reality show”, and that Dana’s basement reading of a young girls’ diary from 1903 in which her father murders her family was the “choice” the group made as to which villain(s) would come after them. Later, when the two find a loophole and break into the government headquarters, they come face to face with just how many other options they could have “chosen” in the basement.
This is where I think The Cabin in the Woods failed. It was just too much. I loved that they used Anna Hutchison’s Jules as a modern-day Tatum Riley or sorority girl CiCi from Scream and Scream 2, respectively, and Chris Hemsworth, who at the time was a little known Aussie actor, and is now an avenging megastar, as the Janet Leigh or Drew Barrymore of the effort. I also loved that unless the characters “transgress” and buy into the tropes they’ve been manipulated to succumb to, they can’t be punished”. Stoner Marty points this out when he marvels at Jule’s sudden sluttiness and Hemsworth’s Curt’s alpha-male act. I think they could have played a bit more off of this, or the reality TV angle, instead of going the whole hog with government cover-ups, supernatural massacres and ancient god uprisings. Sure, it’s been done before, but I think The Cabin in the Woods had the potential to be the best in this genre. Instead, it’s created a genre of its own. To some, this is better.
*Blanket spoiler alert.
Related: The Hunger Games Review.
Image via IMDb.