The Cabin in the Woods has all of the strange theory behind it that you might expect from creative team Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, and for the most part manages to deliver a good time. What you wouldn’t expect is a straight, run of the mill horror film, and the fact that you both do, and don’t get exactly that shouldn’t be especially surprising.
The film, oddly enough, kicks off with a couple of government paper-pusher types going through the routine of their jobs, discussing weekend plans, and setting the stage for our look at a… lo and behold, cabin in the woods. From there we quickly jump to our standard, attractive young people who we know well will ultimately serve as fodder for some manner of machinations aimed at slicing and dicing… or whatever.
One side of the story progresses in typical fashion, but it isn’t allowed to be simple, because we keep cutting back to the sterile environment of the “lab” that is controlling the situation, and the curious mix makes for a unique horror experience.
The plot is frankly somewhat irrelevant. The film is ultimately a kind of meta statement on the genre, its forms and norms, and to an extent the hows and whys of horror. Those in the cabin – played by Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, and Fran Kranz – are horror archetypes, who not only serve their role as horror staples, but are also their own anti-archetypes. The Jock is pointed to as the Jock, and the film will even actually label him so directly, but he’s actually rather a Brain. The Stoner aka The Fool, is the odd man out in the girl department, and serves as comic relief, but he’s also the one figuring things out.
By setting things out so bluntly, the movie not only references the genre itself, but tries to examine how things come together in our usual spins on goofy movies, why these are necessary features, and why they do and don’t work.
Similarly, the movie has its own points to make on the plot progression of horror films, which generally involve people doing stupid things. We not only get a viable, if equally silly, explanation for why people are acting less cautious than they ought to be, but the fun kicks off with a kind of message on creating situations in which all choices are bad anyway. It may seem like there was some good road to choose, but horror films are built around the idea that once you’re caught in the web, it doesn’t really matter what you do. Sure, you think you wouldn’t go out in the dark woods to investigate the scary noise, but the zombies are just coming in after you anyway.
The curious thing about this exposition on horror is that nothing in it is actually scary. Even the routine “jump” moments have no power behind them, because we keep dancing back and forth to Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford (who are perfectly cast) in the control room. Given the analysis we’re being treated to here, it makes you wonder what statement that fact alone might be making.
It’s certainly fun, especially in that same sense that standard horror fare is fun, and it is exactly the kind of “good time with a group” effort that it seems to be paying homage to, but it isn’t scary. It does make countless references to things that are scary, and in rather clever fashion takes a look at what is scary in other cultures. It even poses the form of something scary, within a comment on the changing nature of that which produces fear, simply by giving us the “Big Brother” side of things, because that’s what’s scary now. Indeed, the closest the film comes to being scary is a scene in which the government workers break into an uncomfortable celebration while watching someone die on the big screen.
In the end, it’s nothing if not a unique film, and one that makes it difficult to decide the question of whether or not it “works.” It’s more like a thesis on the genre than a film in its own right, and the positive reaction that you’re going to get from it seems mostly a product of all that you’re going to bring into it with you. On the other hand, even those who normally would not be particularly interested in the genre might be surprised at the fun they have here.
Allowing it to have its head will go a long way, and it falls a bit short in a variety of ways, especially if you think too much, but since I’m talking about a film in the horror genre, I might be speaking unnecessarily there. It’s fun, and few who care to partake of it at all will be overly disappointed, but it didn’t quite get where it was going.
For more analysis of the film, check out the link below to our podcast review.