Synopsis: A rambunctious group of five college friends steal away for a weekend of debauchery in an isolated country cabin, only to be attacked by horrific supernatural creatures in a night of endless terror and bloodshed. Sound familiar? Just wait. As the teens begin to exhibit standard horror movie behavior, a group of technicians in a control room are scrutinizing, and sometimes even controlling, every move the terrified kids make! With their efforts continually thwarted by the all powerful eye in the sky, do they have any chance of escape?
eyelights: its spin on cabin slasher tropes. the dialogues. the basic premise. the humour. the cameo appearance.
eyesores: its generic main characters. the incessant pot humour.
“We offer in humility and fear, for the blessed peace of your eternal slumber. As it ever was…”
Man, I’d heard a lot about ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ ever since it came out in 2012. The Joss Whedon-produced film was talked about a fair bit in some circles and I kept being told that I should see it. And yet, no one dared to tell me much about it; just see it, they said, as though it held secrets best left unrevealed. Some even hesitated to call it a horror film.
I was utterly confused.
Since I thought it was a Whedon film (turns out he only produced it, and co-wrote it with director Drew Goddard) I was convinced that it would be a quality product; whether you like his output or not, you have to admit that he has a flair for dialogues and characters. And most of his output has a modicum of cleverness, class and style. He’s certainly no hack.
It took years, but I finally got around to it. It had been on my shelf for a long time, and was at the top of my list all along. But sometimes life takes you in unexpected places; whenever I was sure I would get around to it, it slowly got nudged out of the running. The whole time I managed to keep from hearing anything revealing about it, so I watched it fresh.
Let me start by saying that, if you haven’t yet seen ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, you should probably stop reading now. Just see the darned movie. Make sure that you have a properly set up surround sound system to get the full effect, but just rent it, buy it or go see it in your local art house cinema when it plays there. If you like multifaceted horror films, you’ll like this.
Go watch it now.
And come back later.
‘The Cabin in the Woods’ essentially takes the cabin movie tropes and spins them on their head. It is said that Whedon and Goddard made the movie (after writing the script in a mere three days!) as a statement against the torture porn genre that had overtaken horror cinema in the last decade. Their intention was to critique and revitalize the horror genre all in one go.
In my estimation, they succeeded.
While their creation is by no means perfect, they managed to deconstruct the genre all the while giving it an extra layer. In picking apart (and poking fun at) its trite conventions, they gave it an unexpected purposefulness: We can now suspend our disbelief to some degree while watching a cabin movie because this picture justifies their meaningless existence.
But it will be impossible to watch one without thinking of ‘The Cabin in the Woods’.
Whedon and Goddard had fun at the genre’s expense, but also at the audience’s, shattering expectations – beginning with the opening sequence, which they purposely designed to throw people off. They wanted people to think that they had walked into the wrong cinema. Since it was on home video, I knew I had the right movie, but I was certainly baffled; it must have worked.
Then, out of nowhere, came the title – to a thunderous sound.
It was unusual, a brain tease. I was truly wondering what was going on.
With this, Whedon and Goddard sent a clear message that they were going to destabilize us. And yet they suddenly tossed us into the quaintest of all horror film scenarios: a bunch of college students preparing for a weekend at a secluded cabin. It seems quite generic and déjà vu, but in reality we are being coddled into believing it’s just going to be another “one of those”.
Until the youth leave, that is.
And then we realize that the men in the opening sequence are involved in this story somehow: they have an agent positioned on the girls’ apartment roof checking in to home base. The first impression is “WTF?”. Thankfully, in the compound there is a new security guard, and the men explain some of what’s going on to him – which in turn serves as backgrounder for us.
But Whedon and Goddard don’t give it all up. We discover what’s going on in only a piecemeal fashion, as the picture develops. All we really know is that they are monitoring everything, and that there are cameras everywhere in and around the cabin. For reasons that we don’t quite understand, they’re also manipulating the events. And they apparently do this every year.
What the heck is going on?
I loved discovering that the whole thing is a contrivance, a ritual that these people subject young adults to once a year to appease the gods, that the characters are manipulated into archetypes through discreet means (like chemicals in their hair dye, pheromones prayed in the woods as they walk by, processed weed, …etc.). After all, people aren’t actually like that in real life.
I loved how the youth are manipulated into choosing their own demise, after a cellar door blows open and they are drawn into the basement to investigate. They find myriad trinkets there and, amusingly, the people in the control room place bets on what their choice will be. To release tension. Because, let’s face it: the fate of the world rests on the night’s outcome.
And these people, jaded though they may be, are anxiety-ridden.
I loved that, on some of the other monitors, we see the other participating countries’ experiments – including a Japanese one that reminded me of ‘Ringu‘ to some degree. I didn’t pick up on the other references, if any, but it was fun to see these other attempts taking place (everyone around the world pitches in to appease the gods – but they don’t all succeed).
I loved all the monsters that we see at the end. They were all c-grade creations, but there are so many of them: the creativity that was tossed into this sequence is simply astounding – they could have made 40 movies with all of these instead of just the one. And just for that end sequence, at that. I liked that many of them reference creatures from other films, like ‘Hellraiser‘.
It’s a well-thought out picture filled with terrific dialogues and humour and that knows the genre extremely well, playing on audience expectations. But it’s not for the faint of heart: it can be gruesome. In fact, the end is quite literally a bloodbath – nearly of ‘Braindead‘ proportions. Thankfully, the filmmakers chose to not focus on many of these violent deaths.
Instead, they focused on the carnage.
Well played, sirs.
My only issues with the film, aside for triteness of the cabin sequences, is the sheer amount of reefer jokes/references (like, give it a rest, already!), the fact that the youth sustain massive injuries but carry on with ease (isn’t this supposed to be “real”) and the fact that some the CGI (ex: the flying eagle as they drive to the cabin) wasn’t especially realistic.
But it didn’t deter from my enjoyment too much.
What makes ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ succeed where other cabin movies fail, is that the real story is behind the scenes. That’s what’s intriguing. The rest is standard fare, run-of-the-mill slasher stuff. But it’s surface only: this picture more like ‘Evil Dead‘ meets ‘Cube‘.
What’s terrific is that they easily could have made prequels or spin-offs of this picture, but chose instead to scuttle that with a dramatic ending; Whedon and Goddard went all out. And in so doing, they created one of the (if not the) most memorable films of the genre.
“An army of nightmares, huh? Let’s get this party started.”
I’m glad that I finally saw it.
Date of viewing: October 22, 2015