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The Cabin in the Woods

April 26, 2012

The slasher film has long been thought of as the lowest form of horror film due to its heavy emphasis on gore and it’s usually shallow, contrived plot: A group of young, mostly good-looking, teens go to a remote area in the woods. Now given your knowledge of horror movies, think about who gets killed and in what order. Will the promiscuous vixen who shows her breasts live? Of course not, Friday the 13th reminds us of that. Will the virgin who watched all her friends die survive? You bet your ass she will, nearly every slasher film in existence since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre tells us this. What about the jock boyfriend or the film’s comic relief? Nope and no. Nearly every slasher film reinforces these same conditions over and over again. So then what’s the point of watching slasher films if they are so predictable that we’ve had almost as many films parodying them? Why do horror fans continuously flock to films with such contrived plots and scares? Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods cleverly interrogates audiences with this question, hopefully for the last time.

Five friends decide to embark on a cabin expedition in an isolated area in the woods. As their trip goes on, we began to see that they are, or at least have become, the average slasher film stereotype; Curt the jock (Chris Hemsworth), Jules the slut (Anna Hutchinson), Marty the stoner/comic relief (Fran Kranz), Holden the brain (Jesse Williams) and the virgin, Dana (Kristen Connolly). While doing some heavy drinking and playing a game of Truth or Dare, the basement to the cabin suddenly opens inciting the drunken curious teens to go in. There Dana finds the journal of a sadistic turn of the century family, accidentally chanting the right words to raise them from the dead. As the Zombies arrive intending to wreck havoc on the teens, they begin to realize there’s more going on than just a simple zombie attack and the group must find a way out of the woods to meet their safety.

The Cabin in the Woods plays on nearly every convention and stereotype seen in horror films in the past 40 years, allowing viewers to laugh at its ridiculous parts yet and also shake our heads and question why characters continue make the same mistakes. Yet instead of just leaving characters to make repetitive dumb decisions, The Cabin in the Woods adds a parallel story that becomes a contributing factor to the character’s plight. The group soon realizes they are not alone in the woods and that someone is watching their every move. This someone can also affect the character’s sensibilities.

In a scene after the group is attacked they decide to barricade the house and have to figure out their defense. Leading the pack, Curt advises the group they should stick together to get work done. However, when they enter the next room a disorienting smoke is released and inhaled by Curt making him realize what an odd choice sticking together is, instead suggesting the group split up to cover more ground. Now we as the audience know what a stupid idea this is, Whedon and Goddard know the insanity of the decision, even the characters are aware of it. The beauty of The Cabin in the Woods is that it gives reasons as to why these characters lead themselves into peril and what we as audience members get out of it. And if that includes blood, guts, and breasts, then by all means split up!

The Cabin in the Woods is no doubt an intelligently self-reflexive film that both reinforces stereotypes of the horror genre and also breaks them. However, its biggest flaw is that it tries to do too much and cover too much ground without being able to develop itself thoroughly. You know how on the surface, Inception was a mindblowingly clever film until it’s watched over or even thought deeply about and you begin to realize what a flawed story it was because it’s just too big to be logical? While The Cabin in the Woods isn’t on the same level of bigness, it does become a victim of its own hubris as it tries to include all elements of the horror genre and not just slashers.

Its story falls a bit flat during its final act, despite the fact that it’s possibly the greatest final act of a horror film I’ve ever seen. The Cabin in the Woods is so meticulous about explaining why these characters are making the decisions that they make and the details of their surroundings, yet it never explains why these characters are the “chosen ones” or how they survive certain moments of torture and most of all the world in which these characters exist is never explained and doesn’t necessarily make sense with the parallel story. With a run time barely over an hour and half, it’s understandable why these elements have no depth but from the mind of Whedon and Goddard it could have easily been done.

Regardless, I fell in love with The Cabin in the Woods. As regular patrons of The Cinephiliac know my heart belongs to horror movies. I’m one of those horror fans that see a trailer for an awful looking horror movie and will think, “wow that looks shitty. I can’t wait to see it!” The Cabin in the Woods surprised me by being more than the average slasher and instead is just a great thrilling movie experience, even if horror doesn’t tickle the cockles of your soul. It’s not frightening but you may jump a few times, will no doubt laugh, and you may just learn something, plus if you’re a toker you may just rejoice at the film’s pro pot message. The Cabin in the Woods is good, like if Scream and Cabin Fever made passionate love and you got to videotape it good.

SEE IT. Be creeped out, laugh your ass off, and see it again!

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