Cabin In The Woods
Ok, so there wasn’t much of a stoppage here as there was a slight delay, but hey I figure going to the movies is almost a requisite activity when in Hollywood, especially when the film in question looks likely to not even get an Australian cinematic release.
That film is of course Cabin In The Woodsl the already delayed horror picture from fan favorite Joss Whedon that has been gathering a lot of hype as it sat in a studio archive awaiting release and then gathered even more when it hit at SXSW earlier in the year and exceeded even gather generous expectations. If it weren’t for a certain superhero picture Cabin is the only movie you would have been hearing about over the past month, and yet you wouldn’t have heard much in the way of detail because each and every review opens by saying “Don’t read me! The movie is best left as a surprise.” Normally I am a fan of this approach and abided by their warnings completely but after seeing the film I feel that they maybe oversold the twist; that its both not so secret and that the film isn’t so reliant on it being a surprise. Just in case though consider yourself now warned, I will be discussing the film entire from here on out so step forward at your own discretion; reading further is akin to orating an old section of Latin or solving a strange puzzle ball, it’s dangerous.
(Edit: news just Broke that the film will see an Aus release this year…on DVD. It’s not a movie that requires a big screen experience but I would recommend that you give it a look on one if you happen to be in a civilized land, it is already a classic)
Everyone may be saying “oh no, don’t ruin the twist!” in their intros but the introductory scene of the film goes and does just that anyway. By now you know that it is a meta-horror movie, couple that with the opening credits’ depiction of violent sacrifices through the ages and that banal banter in the office environment becomes practically as potent in plot as any full synopsis would be. Despite knowing nothing about the films approach (besides it being better not to know) I guessed the ’twist’ before we had even met the main character but it didn’t matter a bit that i did because the film itself isn’t actually trying to keep it a secret. The camera doesn’t burst out of the woods and into the city like a certain Shymalan movie, we’re intercutting to the offices throughout; hell the actual twist even comes a good twenty minutes before the close, though that I won’t spoil.
In a way i feel that It is almost necessary to go into the film knowing what it is about if you want to get the most from it, there are an innumerable amount of slight changes and character beats that you will only pick up if you are looking through an informed eye. For example the film first introduces us to it’s teens through an extended packing sequence – which is wonderful, some of Whedon’s finer work; subtly written but full of flavor and funny as all hell – and this had me thinking that while the characters all appeared to be cliches on the surface they had actually already displayed far too much depth and far too complex a display of personality for your average horror movie. Later on a point is made of this and had I not chosen to cognate on that trait at that time this reveal wouldn’t have meant nearly as much to me.
So here are the spoilers, in case you kept reading anyway: Cabin is a generic horror movie because the writers want it to be, because they are playing with the tropes and expectations that one has when they enter the cinema to see such a film, only in this case those writers aren’t real, they’re a part of the story. The film then deconstructs the genre in a rather complicated way, but it also does this so very cleverly, the script coming up with answers to questions about Horror that we hadn’t even thought to ask: some of these are a little heavy handed, all the talk of chemical injections is a little much, while others are disarmingly simple – such as the almost unseen zap that runs through the knife when its wielder is first out of danger, causing them to drop it without realizing – but all of them are great observations explained in intelligent and humorous ways.
One of the things that I loved about its approach to this skewering was that while the film is one of the funniest that i’ve seen all year, it never treats its premise like a joke; horror films have been spoofed before, in fact they were the first of the genres to be targeted specifically, but this is no Scary Movie or Shriek (whatever happened to that movie?), instead it treats it’s characters and premise like a drama would. One of its only flaws is that i feel like it could have taken this further, all the way into the realm of tragedy. Having the two survivors appeal to the puppeteers, and thus us in the audience, in a meaningful manner could have melted hearts as Joss is known to do, but instead we are only given hints at this hurt. Though of course any such scene could have given the film a seriousness that would have harmed the humor and would definitely have imbued it with a stronger moral stance, something that it certainly seemed not to want to stress. Cabin never faults nor questions our desire for these slasher flicks, it just accepts our bloodlust and perhaps even answers it.
Though it would have worked well enough as an empty experience Cabin delivers a daring amount of intellectual content for its genre. Firstly I love when writers utilize the not oft tried technique of mis-en-abyme and “Cabin” came through for me in this regard big time, abyming not it’s own story but a genre as a whole. When they first arrive at the Cabin the college kids spread out and start admiring their quarters, one of the guys finds in his room a gruesome painting of peasants butchering a large lamb. It disgusts him so he takes it down to look away, in it’s place appears a one way window into the next room, occupied by the shy and stripping female student that he has been set-up with. The man is torn, he is turned off by the painting and turned on by the girl ( as she is by him when they change rooms and he too takes off his clothes) and yet it’s not an easy choice for them, they struggle and eventually decide to put the painting back up, more comfortable with external blood than an exposed body. Sex is wrong but violence, that’s ok; that’s what our love of horror movies does say.
As well as observing our reaction to horror Cabinalso analyses it. The corpse craving Cthulhu that the writers wish to sate is civilization, we are the ones begging for blood and we are the ones that would blow up if ever we were refused it. These sacrifices set up by the puppeteers -or writers/directors in our world- are made so that we can let off steam, these people are killed so that others don’t have to be. In this way the film purports a position opposite to popular conception, people often say that violent films, shows and games grow our sociopathic tendencies and strengthen our taste for slaughter but Woodssays instead that by exposthey’re to virtual violence they satiate our viciousness vicariously, so that our reality can stay safe. These college kids are, as so strongly depicted in that prominent painting, a sacrificial lamb (lambs are by nomenclature young and youth is a prominent feature in the film) put up for slaughter so that the rest of us can survive.
This analysis is all far dryer than how it is done in the film itself though, and much less entertaining. Even without the internal interludes that set up the theme work this would have been a great film, re-cut as a straight horror it would have been a success because it is written so damn well and all of the actors are so amazing, I didn’t want a one of them to die. That is manages to have both of these elements together makes the movie magical and what happens when the two combine raises it to the level of masterpiece. I don’t normally like horror, but I loved this celebration of it in nearly every way. Well done Whedon, boo studios.