The Cabin in the Woods, the newly-released movie co-written by producer Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard, is frustrating in that it both demands and defies discussion. Believe me, I very much want to dissect it, but like Fight Club the first rule of The Cabin in the Woods is that you do not talk about The Cabin in the Woods. The less you know the better.
So if you’re even thinking that you might see it–and if you’re at all a fan of horror films or even the idea of horror films, you should–log off the Internet right now and just go. We’ll catch up later.
(MILD SPOILERS AHEAD)
The Cabin in the Woods, from its generic title to its premise of five young people heading into the dark forest for a weekend of sin, sounds like every scary flick you’ve ever seen. Which is precisely the point.
But if you’ve seen any of its advertising you already know that there’s more going on. That’s not a spoiler. The very first scene features the office drones who are orchestrating the messy deaths of these doomed kids. That’s the what. The why is something else.
If this sounds more like the Scream franchise with its knowing winks at genre conventions, that’s closer to the truth. But not even Ghostface and friends are as “meta” as The Cabin in the Woods. This is a movie that wants to explain why those kids behave so stupidly and why we want to watch them die.
It’s worth saying that this is not all that frightening. Oh, there are jump scares and rushing torrents of blood, but as we start right off knowing that the scenario is artificial, it doesn’t grab you by the throat in the way that even the first Scream did. It’s okay, that’s not the goal.
I don’t want to oversell this as the best horror film ever. (“Apotheosis” is closer to the mark.) The characters are thin by design. The conclusions reached are not that deep. Still, it’s an experience I wholeheartedly recommend, and the sooner the better.
Okay, have you seen it yet? Good, because now I’m going to give away the whole thing. You have been warned.
(TOTAL SPOILERS AHEAD)
While there are plenty of obvious references to famous fright flicks–notably The Evil Dead and Hellraiser–The Cabin in the Woods left me thinking of other possible influences. One was an old Doctor Who storyline called “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy” in which the characters performed a never-ending cavalcade of deadly acts to appease an audience of evil gods. Here the suggestion is that the show has been going on since our world began, with movies about cannibal zombie rednecks only the latest iteration of our propensity for telling tales about the butchery of the young.
The Cabin in the Woods argues that we have become too inured to this sort of thing, and that perhaps it’s time to wash off the chalkboard and start fresh. Moments after the lead office worker remarks how he’s almost rooting for the spunky “virgin” to win, he’s obliviously popping the champagne in celebration as the monitors in the background show her being relentlessly attacked by a beartrap-wielding zombie giant.
There’s a boardgame called Betrayal at the House on the Hill in which the players enter a spooky mansion and start fiddling with stuff until they set off one of a myriad of random scenarios based on horror tropes. The Cabin in the Woods called to mind what would happen if the staff of Wolfram & Hart* sat down for a game of Betrayal. Sure enough, the halls would soon run red with their own blood.
The last 20 minutes of The Cabin in the Woods, in which literally all hell breaks loose, are monstrously entertaining. I want to go again right away just to get a better look at the vast menagerie of creatures slashing and swallowing the hapless salarymen. While the money shot of the movie might be the Cube-like image of the terrible underground zoo, my favorite moment is when all of those elevator doors open and every nightmare ever emerges.
*The demonic law firm seen in Whedon’s TV series Angel. Goddard contributed a number of scripts for that show.