What do you get when you combine all of the monsters and horror clichés in history with five coeds out for a weekend of fun, putting them all, neatly, into one ninety-minute movie? You get The Cabin in the Woods–a gross-out cut of original cinema, splattering the genre with fresh blood for the times–that’s what! Yes! Just when you think there’s nothing else new to do, something new gets done like never before! Just when you think veteran vampires, werewolves, sundry slashers, cenobites, killer clowns, and more make originality impossible, make room for a makeover. A who’s who of time-tested tricksters for the task populate this gore fest in force! “Yeah, baby!” To use the words of a Ash (the pioneer of cursed-cabin squatting and homestead horror galore), this one is “groovy” movie and then some! The only bad news is also the good news. After you’ve seen The Cabin in the Woods, you’ve seen it all.
It all begins with the five current staples of horror-film fortune–the human characters themselves, cliched exactly because it is necessary…always. (Yes. No matter how much we complain, we know the movies wouldn’t work without them.) Who are they? “It’s different in every culture, and it has changed over the years, but it has always required youth,” explains The Director. “There must be at least five.” There’s a whore (Anna Hutchison). “She’s corrupted; she dies first.” There’s the athlete (Chris Hemsworth), the scholar (Jesse Williams), and the fool (Franz Kranz). “All suffer and die at the hands of whatever horror they have raised, leaving the last–the virgin (Kristen Connolly–to live or die, as fate decides.”
If all of the characters aren’t enough, the sanguine setting is (you guessed it) a cabin in the woods. Better yet, true to destiny, it’s still the setting, after a backwoods cud-spitting hillbilly gives them directions from a last-stop gas station (that place they always go before the chainsaw massacre, between Wrong Turn and Deliverance, where the barbecue is something extra special). Sounding familiar already? Is this the place where we hope they turn back, in a moment of faux humanity, ready to sacrifice our viewing pleasure? Does our youthful victim fodder ignore the obvious, hopelessly hastening death all for us? Yes, of course!
But wait! Who was that guy atop the apartment saying “the nest is empty” in a special ops radio, as the teens begin their trip to terror? Who is that staff of workers (including Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and Amy Acker) back at the base, in a control room somewhere, monitoring and creating the movie’s plot, betting on the outcome, and rooting for death (along with us, secretly)? Is this just another reality-TV-show horror film, borrowing again from big brother? Or, is it all a part of something much bigger but much less obvious? Once in the cabin, will they all go down in the cellar, into the darkness, after the door flies open on its own, when people with half a brain would refuse? (No, dumbass! It’s not the wind that blew it open inside the cabin! Only dumbass “jocks” in horror films like this think things like that!) What do you think? Do they go? The Evil Dead say, “Yes!”
Adding to the homage, saved with tongue-in-cheek terror, are “controllers” contriving clichés. Yes! When characters are too smart, too thoughtful, too prudish or too anything for horror, these efficient workers solve the problem with the flip of a switch or click of a mouse. Pheromone spray insures athlete/whore sex, after dumb-blonde Dana makes last-minute moves for modesty. Yes! Anna Hutchison, as the whore, bares her natural breasts gratuitously (like a prize for the audience as well as “the jock”), as we expect, all in retro-70s style; as a bonus she happily mounts her jock, saving the movie yet again. (Yes, what horror movie could do without that scene?) Meanwhile, a mist makes the smart jock dumb as well as horny, just in time again.
Is there more? Of course! Imagine the jock wanting to keep the group together and not split up! After having unsafe sex in the woods and losing your girlfriend’s head in the process, what can you expect? Oh how horror films would fall flat with smart athletes low on testosterone, playing it safe with whores and the lives of others? Imagine that! What would whores do in horror films? What would be the purpose of dumbass jocks? Also imagine, as it is here, “the fool” who is really the wisest of the bunch! “I think we should split up,” says the Jock. “Really?” says the fool. Teasing twists like these make viewers, at least for a moment, frustrated or surprised, while deprived of the cliché, offered something more sensible. Ironic? Of course! And yes! It’s even more humorous with the joke on the audience! The motif is that which satisfies us!
Deserving its own paragraph and time for deeper thought (again, for the males) is the topic of Kristen Connolly doing the obligatory panty shot! Yes! She’s all the more sexy at it (maybe even more than “the whore”), precisely because she’s “the virgin.” Virgins, as we all know (wink, wink) aren’t even supposed to show panty; as we all know, they’re too coy for that by nature. With virgins in horror, a glimpse of panty is as gold as a whore’s naked boob in heated sex. (So! What a treat it always is for the horny, mostly male audience, to see that which he shouldn’t!) “The whore’s boobs are expected, but “the virgin’s panties are a gift. Even for target audiences, it can’t make a bad movie good; but, it sure makes it better! Not that The Cabin in the Woods is a bad movie, but you get the point…and the panties too! 😀
In a cameo of zombie vengeance and rotting flesh is Jodelle Ferland (as Patience Buckner)–the undead daughter, tortured and mutilated in life by her own father. (Described by a controller, she is officially a member of the “Redneck Torture Family,” said to be a species distinct from zombies; yes, point the dark-humor arrow here!) Real-life beauty Ferland is the stuff of nightmares as Patience, thanks to makeup magic, complete with sloughing skin, pasty eyes, and a missing arm. Excerpts read from her diary, along with evil veiled in innocence, make her the only monster for whom we feel sorrow, even as she seeks to kill. Although the movie had no use for developing her character in life (it would surely have only slowed the pace), I wanted to know more; Patience’s misguided vengeance as a child gives her living humanity and a mystery to explore. She is one, if not the only one, with whom we can identify and sympathize. Perhaps the story of Patience Buckner is the future of even more original horror cinema? (Wink, wink, Joss Whedon!) 😀
In a welcome small role, worth a ton of applause, is Sigourney Weaver as the mysterious Director! What an excellent touch to round out the horror homage, with no one being a better choice. Yes! Ellen Ripley herself–the first lady of science fiction and horror, self-sufficient to infinity, without a man in sight–cannot be beat! Excellent to the wind-swept, biomechanical dunes of LV-426 and beyond! What’s better is that, in a role many actors of her stature would only walk through, Weaver plays it with enthusiasm and purpose, making the best of her short time on screen. Awesome!
Saying this movie has the bloodiest scene of mass carnage and death on film during it’s year of release is the understatement of the decade, rather than the year. The body count is uncountable, but a holocaust for sure! In just moments, in the elevator scene alone, The Cabin in the Woods spills more blood and dismembers more bodies than all of its classic creatures have collectively before. Yes! This bloodbath keeps it grisly and anything but clean, literally painting the walls red! The Guiness Book should, indeed, list this one for holding the record!
Related to special effects is another outstanding thing about Cabin. Its use of mostly practical effects, rather than those of the visual, CGI variety, make it more easily connect to the icons it loves as well as to the eyes and senses of viewers. In the movie’s bonus bluray documentary, An Army of Nightmares: Makeup & Animatronic Effects, director Drew Goddard tells how devoted he is to practical effects, and how much they contribute to the movie’s realism. (Yes, indeed!) Latex creations with animatronic movements are really there, on screen, for the actors as much as the audience. They fill a space physically, as well as mentally, and are second to none in bringing monsters to life; yet, they are a lost art in most films today. Goddard knows this and uses practical effects in Cabin, he explains, as much as possible, using CGI only in cases where needed monsters and/or effects simply couldn’t be achieved in practical ways. Also necessitating CGI was the need for more monsters to fill a larger space than expected, within a shorter time period available for production. The end result is nothing less than a labor of love–a true spectacle, with generous nostalgia, from a time when monsters were as real as they are in Cabin. Yes! Once again, the movie is a metaphor beyond the story itself. Excellent, again!
Oh, and who are the Ancient Ones? Who are the mysterious demons who live beneath us, perhaps? Or, are they really the gods (our gods from the past, long forgotten), here since time immemorial, appeased only by the sacrifice of five stereotyped characters at the core of their existence? Do we really have only until sunrise to offer them blood and hope they take it, instead of all the world? Do a virgin (or what we have to “work with”) and a pot-smoking fool hold the future of mankind in their free will and selfish youth? If so, will they make the right decision? And, what is the right decision? Is our time really up? Is it time for a change, as “the fool” wisely suggests? Does something else deserve to take our place? These are all questions that finally make The Cabin in the Woods even more than the mindless monotony it parodies, raising it, yet again, above our lower expectations. A metaphysical end transcending its destiny is, perhaps, its capstone achievement, making it more than a monument to mediocrity it mimics.
In the movie’s bonus bluray documentary, We Are Not Who We Are: Making The Cabin in the Woods, director Drew Goddard asks a question that lingers, without a good answer. It’s a question he says they (himself and Joss Whedon) were interested in, related to themes at the heart of [The Cabin in the Woods]: “What is it about watching kids get killed that we, as a people, enjoy?” Yes! What is it about that? After all, horror repeats the theme, with the same five characters, always young, with little attempt to alter even their stereotypes, regardless of the plot. The whore, the athlete, the scholar, the fool, and sometimes the virgin sacrifice their blood to our delight, appeasing us, hopefully. Just like The Ancient Ones, we are otherwise poised to destroy the world. The only difference is that the world we might destroy, as a collective, is that of horror cinema’s future, via ending the profits made by those who make the movies. Hogwash, you say? But how finicky we are about our clichés!
“I don’t think you can set out to subvert a genre; I think you have to set out to embrace the genre.” ~ Drew Goddard/Director of The Cabin in the Woods
Yes! What is it about those college kids that make them such the perfect victims? Is it because the college whores have natural breasts that are always bared, for at least one gratuitous scene before sex and death? Is it because mostly men watch horror, and men like sex and death? We may never know the answers, but we will always like horror…and sex!
The Cabin in the Woods is a horror film that uses, very cleverly, all of the greatest clichés and monsters in the genre, making a movie more original than anything before it. (With its array of interlocking elevator cubes, it even throws in some sci-fi for good measure.) Yes! A love letter to horror has never been written so well, with such passion and purpose. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have penned it perfectly, turning horror on its head, threatening originality forevermore! As said in the movie, these monsters don’t come from nightmares; nightmares come from them (with every one present here). And, from nightmares, The Cabin in the Woods also comes, killing its competition–what’s more with a bloodbath victory! Even The Ancient Ones would be proud! 😀
“We’re talking about the agonizing death of every soul on the planet…including you.”