Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2009/2012)

Director: Drew Goddard              

Writers: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard

Genre: Horror-Comedy


Dana (Kristen Connolly) – “The Virgin” just getting out of a bad relationship
Jules (Anna Hutchinson) – Dana’s roommate

Curt (Chris Hemsworth) – Jules’ boyfriend

Holden (Jesse Williams) – Jules teammate and potential love interest for Dana
Marty (Fran Kranz) – Jules’ stoner friend

Sitterson (Richard Jenkens) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) – Project managers

Lin (Amy Acker) – Project chemist

Truman (Brian White) – Security guard

Synopsis: Five college friends spend the weekend at cabin in the woods. Shit happens. People die. Others watch. A genre is upended.

The Ramble:

(Spoiler warnings)

The movie The Cabin in the Woods will likely be compared to the most is Scream (I’d toss in Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon as well). The comparison is understandable – clever dialogue, riffs on classic horror films and nods to the genre’s tropes- but there is a key difference which only becomes clear in the film’s climax. Scream was an homage, a love letter, an attempt to update a forgotten genre. Cabin is an intervention.

Whedon and Goddard clearly love the genre. A glance at the blackboard proves that, a hellacious elevator ride confirms it, and the furious third act is carnage that only a true fan could have conjured. But being fans does not make them uncritical – if anything it makes their criticism sharper.

The movie’s title is its first joke, a stunningly unoriginal title that evokes untold numbers of horror films, yet the first scene completely upends audience expectations by revealing that the events of the film are being orchestrated by a pair of middle managers. As the movie unfolds, we watch these two manipulate events to craft the perfect horror standard. They are our filmmakers, walking us through The Formula, where the only variable allowed is the instrument of their victims’ demise. They speak of what is allowed by those Above, and having to satiate those Below. The children must die to appease the Elder Gods, but it is not enough that they die – they must die in entertaining ways, as prescribed by the ritual.

But who are the Old Ones? Is it Cthulu? Azathoth? The Star Mother?

No. It is us.

The fans are the ones Hadley and Sitterson must appease. We are the ones who watch. We are the ones that demand the deaths of the actors, the adherence to convention, and if the beast is not fed, we will show our displeasure.

Scream reveled in The Formula, and largely stuck to it even as it was mocked. Cabin mocks those who stick to the formula and, in its ending, shows that the conventions are not worth saving.

In truth this can be applied well beyond the horror genre. Much of our entertainment is kept safe and formulaic, and decisions are made by corporate heads rather than artists. There is far more interest today in wringing every last dime out of 20 year old franchises than making something original, and original ideas struggle to get a chance unless they have franchise potential themselves.

And the truth is the fans ask for it. WE ask for it. When was the last time Sam Raimi or Bruce Campbell gave an interview without being asked about Evil Dead 4? How often does a fan say “Mr. Raimi, please make something I have never seen before?”   Hell, people are already asking Whedon about The Cabin In the Woods 2, completely oblivious to the irony.