TBTS Reviews: The Cabin in the Woods
You have and have not seen a horror movie like this before. And that’s a good thing. A very good thing.
I wrote briefly about the filmmakers behind The Cabin in the Woods in my 4 Movies You Should Be Excited About and Why post last week. I won’t rehash that stuff here, but I wanted to report on this movie having now seen it in a movie multiplex type place. Cabin is exceedingly difficult to properly review without spoilers. So much of the film depends on its cleverest and most “ah-ha!” moments, so preservation of its surprises is, in my opinion, vital to one’s enjoyment of the story. Thus my review will likely be brief. You are welcome to look elsewhere for a more spoiler-y assessment.
Ostensibly, this movie is about a quintet of youthful archetypes seeking to enjoy a weekend in a remote location. We have the whore, the athlete, the scholar, the fool, and the virgin. As might be expected, they are violently set upon by supernatural forces and find themselves unable to escape. This much we are familiar with. Thanks to decades of cookie-cutter genre horror, we understand the set-up, the pacing, the characters (whose names are ultimately unimportant), the creepy harbinger of impending doom (who is, of course, blithely ignored by our heroes), the setting, and even, more or less, the antagonists. You can probably accurately guess right now which order our heroes will die in, and which will survive.
Where Cabin differs from the approach we all know and love is that there’s actually a reason behind all that transpires. This isn’t simply a story of mindless, grisly murder by a seemingly unstoppable assailant. Sure, other stories have lazily tacked onto their antagonists some kind of revenge storyline, or demonic motivation, or sadistic desire to punish transgressions real and/or imagined. In fact, the very mindlessness of traditional horror killing is often what makes it so scary. The idea that we have no control over these events, that the person/beast/entity cannot be reasoned with, that unfortunate happenstance alone has brought about our demise has heretofore been effectively terrifying.
But Cabin, for the first time in my memory (and I’ve seen a lot of shitty horror), provides a real, plausible reason for all this to be happening (provided you are still able to suspend your disbelief in the supernatural in general). Cabin does knowingly provide a wink-wink back story for, say, the family of zombie hillbillies that first plague our heroes. But beyond this trope, there is an effort afoot that is bigger than our protagonists can possibly imagine. Everything, down to the selection of the protagonists, is deliberate and controlled. Even our five archetypes actually become important in and of themselves. They are manipulated at every turn by an enterprise with a very real and actually very important agenda.
And, my god, but this movie is funny. And not in so much a wisecracking dialogue way (though there is plenty of that; this is Joss Whedon after all). It’s an uncomfortable kind of funny, derived largely from the “ho-hum, another day at the office” attitude of two white-collar, Johnny Paycheck mystery men introduced at the beginning of the movie.
Even bits you can see coming a mile away can still surprise or elicit a chuckle because, again, Cabin is very self-aware. It knows you’ve seen this all before. It knows you’re waiting for X, Y, and Z to happen. But how the events come to pass, and the consequences, are entirely new. I really don’t think Cabin could have been made even 10 years ago. We had to suffer the exponential decline of the genre; watch it finally die before it could be resurrected. We needed to pass through the diseased bowels of Jason/Freddy/Michael tropes, through the rectum of torture porn, and evacuate from the slimy, pungent sphincter of found footage, night vision, and jump-out-go-boo laziness before we could properly enjoy a movie like The Cabin in the Woods.
Just see it. Trust me.