Joss Whedon has done it again. I’ve loved his work ever since Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show I still continue to worship, managed to break the typical conventions set by the numerous horror flicks that emerged from the 70’s onwards. Leave it to Joss to bend and turn your typical run-of-the-mill stories around to make them more compelling, and to challenge the genre. Yes, I am being a little hyperbolic. In his latest collaboration with long-time friend Drew Goddard (Cloverfield, Buffy), he manages to again defy the genre that has seemed to become stale with Cabin in the Woods.
Being a fan of Joss’ work has led me to believe that the movie is not what it seems. Of course, as it turns out, it wasn’t. The screening we had in class was the seventh time I watched the movie. I watched it thrice in theaters. It’s that good. I still squeal a little inside when I see Tom Lenk (Andrew in Buffy) and Sigourney Weaver (Ellen Ripley in the Alien Quadrilogy). I also still get very tempted to shout, “Get away from her, you bitch!” when I see her trying to kill Marty. I think I’ve watched one too many horror movies.
I especially loved the idea of using the typical horror trope of the five friends who go to a remote cabin in the middle of nowhere, where they get killed one by one, but with a catch: everything around them is being controlled by a bunch of sinister people, working for The Director of some company that sacrifices people to appease the Ancient Ones. Throughout the movie we see two perspectives: that of the five friends, and that of the people controlling the situation. Drew Goddard, the director, does a very good job of making us empathize with both parties. Do we want Dana and her friends to live? Of course, because isn’t that what horror movies are for? Friends being picked off one by one, until it’s only the Final Girl who is left standing, with the audience cheering for her victory? On the other hand, do we really want them to live, even if it would mean the death and destruction of the world as we know it? That’s where it gets really tricky. You don’t really know whom to root for.
One other issue raised by the movie is Fatalism, and how it has somehow turned into a convention in horror films, particularly the slasher sub-genre. It almost always seems as if no matter what they do, no matter where they hide, these poor teens still end up getting sliced and diced. The way I see it, the film is somewhat an allusion to the current predicament of the horror genre in Hollywood nowadays. The controllers basically allude to the producers and filmmakers in Hollywood in the way that they try to manipulate and make the victims, in their own little horror movie, act to their liking, seemingly paving the way to their deaths and ultimately sealing their fate. In turn, we, the audience, are actually the Ancient Ones. We want to see a good horror movie, and we don’t like it when things don’t go the way we were accustomed to. Hence, the controllers are actually trying to appease us by giving us what we want, albeit in a very tired and yet sort of foolproof way of a typical horror movie. It’s like one big flipoff to Hollywood and all its worn out glory.
I also like the idea (I never seem to run out of things that I liked about the movie, so forgive me) of how they particularly used the slasher sub-genre in the film, because this is what caters to American audiences. This is the kind of horror film that they’re used to seeing. It’s interesting to note that when we see glimpses of the other countries who were doing the same thing, their “Big Bad” is whatever their culture is accustomed to seeing in a horror film. You get the powder-faced ghost girl in Japan, and a big, hulking Gorilla in Mexico, I think. I wonder what they would’ve shown had the camera panned on, say, Italy, or the Philippines. Italian giallo, and white ladies, perhaps?
Another thing I loved about the movie is how it seemed to really poke fun at the tired genre of slasher films. You get your stereotypical dumb blonde, the Alpha jock, the weird stoner, the nerd, and the virgin, but with a very good twist: they aren’t really their stereotypes; rather, the people in the control room devised a way to make them fit the different stereotypes. That’s pretty genius, if you ask me. And just when you thought that everything is going the way a normal horror movie should go, BAM! the movie sucker punches you so hard you roll over the floor with no idea of what just happened. The movie is very much aware of itself, and uses this knowledge to try to subvert the horror genre, very much like in Buffy and the Scream quadrilogy.
Ultimately, the Cabin in the Woods really works as a spine-chilling, genre-bending movie that will make you see the tiny flicker of hope for the slasher sub-genre that has seemingly become stale. In a good horror movie, in the words of Randy Meeks, all bets are off.