Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard’s and Joss Whedon’s horror opus is a movie that I should absolutely adore. It’s by two of the best creators of all time taking their pass at once of the most time tested concepts of all time with a great twist. Unfortunately it’s not that. Instead it is a film that I constantly go back to, not because I think it’s an amazing film, but because I can’t figure out if I like the film or not.
Despite Joss Whedon being one of my favorite creators I don’t like everything he’s done. Firefly and Serenity among them. He sometimes runs with ideas that sound good on paper but are missing some connective tissue. In other words he falls into the trap of trying to be too clever for his own good. Drew Goddard has had a better track record, but isn’t perfect.
To back up and in case you haven’t seen the film, it follows a group of teens who get trapped in a cabin in the woods and are subjected to horror beyond their imagination. Unbeknownst to them they are in fact part of a ritualistic experiment by a sinister group who are using them as a ritualistic killing in order to prolong the earth. Creative and common horrors abound.
On the whole it is a good movie. It has this incredibly infections energy. The dialogue is so sharp, and the acting is great. Though poor baby Chris Hemsworth can’t keep an American accent to save his life, literally. The one big problem is in the setup. Much of the movie is about the teens acting irrationally and out of character, but we don’t get an amazing sense of who they are beforehand. It wants to be a tight film, and I respect that, but it comes at the cost of being told a character is acting weird instead of being shown. Also the whole dang budget is on screen. It’s both wonderful and leads to some poorly aged effects. They’re noticeable, but don’t distract from the point of the film.
The film is primarily a satire setup to mock the industry that birthed the ever more gruesome and elaborate horror films. Constant talk of please those with certain mandatory events, and a checklist of scares to get along with a whole system outside that’s setup to run the scenarios with nary a hitch in design. Though it also makes fun of those tropes, specifically the horror arch-types, in how they need a whole system just to make it work. They have to pump chemicals into the body, force rational scenarios out the window, and bend a person to fit a mold instead of finding someone the mold fits. It’s unrealistic, even video gamey.
I think the reason this film always gets under my skin is how it feels like it should change every time you watch it. The nature of the scares the movie creates, having the teens select their own doom and then showing us the whole treasure trove of horrors they could have dealt with makes it feel too safe in spots (I’m not saying the whole film is safe, but making the primary threat in the cabin red neck zombies feels far too standard and boring when you have Wolf bats and giant snakes and discount pin-head). I want it to change when I watch. The teens pick and I wish every time that it could change just like— Until Dawn, a cinematic survival horror game released onto the PS4 in 2015 and is exactly that!
Until Dawn, it’s spiritual sequel the Man of Medan and Little Hope (which I haven’t played yet but am hype too) feel like the successor to what Cabin in the Woods was trying to accomplish. Though Cabin in the Woods has a far harsher take on humanity and what humanity wants (why do you think the character who said our modern world should end just so happens to be the reason it does), but Until Dawns family tries the same thing but with the added interactivity and inherent replay-ability. Though they are not better stories they are what everything right that Cabin in the Woods fails at. It provides our chosen fears when we want and how we want. We want monsters, not bureaucracy.
Yeah, that might seem odd to say, but once the monsters start coming it is all too clear that they aren’t the threat in Cabin in the Woods. Instead it’s the systems. The teens were twisted and changed to fit what society needed from them. Two literal middle-aged white men (which I can’t help but see as author inserts for Whedon, an aged master, and Goddard, a strong up-incomer), placating their bosses by manipulating those younger than them is not a coincidence. Just like how the after-party they throw once they think they won is used to show how easy people can just accept brutality. They’ve accepted that they need to do all of this elaborate sacrifice just for those who want it (of course this gets tricky for an analogy because the world does literally end because the audience of evil gods is not happy, but the point stands).
I’ve watched this movie a bunch of times because I never got it. The first time I thought it was fine. I had seen Avengers of course but thought it odd the superhero guy was doing a horror thing. The second time, after watching a few horror movies, it felt shallow. This time, however, now that I have watched Buffy multiple times and know what Whedon is about and have watched more horror films, I can see what the goal was. It’s a Cabin in the Woods because that is what audiences wanted, but not what they needed. They need something that will shake up the status quo, push the boundaries of what can be horror and action all while being pretty quick witted. It’s honestly surprising someone like Blumhouse hasn’t thrown all their money at Whedon to do carte blanche. It’s a good movie about things. I just wonder how I’ll feel about it next time I watch it.
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