The Cabin in the Woods: Burning a Genre to the Ground
Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods is rightly gaining incredible acclaim for turning the horror flick genre on its head with a post-modern take that breaks it down piece by piece in a brilliant twist on the traditional devices.
The film is intelligent, witty, accessible—and still offers satisfying horror moments for those lovers of the genre’s classic moves.
Image courtesy of Lionsgate
So much more than a horror film, The Cabin in the Woods dissects the genre and questions its traditional battle on youth.
From Final Destiny to Nightmare on Elm Street and beyond, the horror genre has long relied on key youth archetypes. It makes it easy to kill them off. After all, these characters are too flat for an audience to get attached to, and they meet their bloody ends as a result of their flaws … so they had it coming, right? It’s a satisfying rationale for a dark kind of entertainment.
Some take it even further. Last House on the Left portrays youth as liberal, countercultural, reckless, and inevitably delinquent. Then it lets Boomer parents dole out gore and destruction on them in the name of “family values.” The gang of youths are bad seeds with prior records with a fresh batch of crimes to add to the list when they show up at the house of a middle-aged married couple. This list includes the murder of the couple’s teen daughter. This makes the suffering and death of the gang satisfying and allows the audience to root for the characters doling out the gore. Right? The justification of the violence in this film—which included horrific fight scenes in which a person’s hand was slowly cut off in a sink trash dispenser and a head that is blown up in a microwave while still attached to the living person—left as bad a taste in my mind as the notorious sexualized rape scene.
So it was about time for someone to step up and ask some questions about the horror genre.
(Spoilers ahead—if you don’t want to know what happens, stop here.)
One of the major threads of the plot of The Cabin in the Woods tracks the degeneration of the main characters from intelligent, multidimensional people into flattened archetypes, thanks to efforts of the jaded but hardworking bureaucrats—two middle-aged men and their team—in a safely removed control room.
The bureaucrats brush off their jobs as the harbingers of death as something that has to be done to satisfy an anonymous outside force (ahem, hungry horror flick audiences?). And besides, they insist, the victims have complete free will; they make the choices that lead to their doom themselves.
But in a closed off world where a team of pros ensure impeccable timing, heavy hormonal triggers and no escape, how much of a chance do a bunch of teens, prepared only for a swim in the lake, really have? It’s a good question for anyone who dreamed of being a ballerina and now sits in a cubicle every day. And it makes it all the more satisfying when the survivors find a hidden entrance into the puppeteers’ fortress, witness the ugly machine behind the plot, and fight back.
Mindblowing horror and sci-fi fan amazingness ensues.
And then, the final face-off. As in real life, once disillusioned, the hero is solicited to “do the right thing” and become complicit to the plot. It’s up to the hero to set the story right and bring it to its proper end.
When the hero refuses, you cheer. And then you watch as that decision brings the world to an end.
I’ll let you go see the movie to fill in the plot holes there.
But seems to me it’s about time for someone to challenge the horror genre and bring it crumbling to the ground. Well played, Whedon. Well played.
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