Hello Readers! Ready to get “cabinated” once again? But of course you are! After all, you have arrived at this post on your own accord! Today for your reading pleasure, I have my review of Cabin in the Woods, a horror-spoof by writer turned director Drew Goddard. Goddard was a staff writer for numerous television shows including Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Alias, Angel and Lost. And….I have not seen a whole episode of any of these shows. Not even “Buffy,” although I have seen parts of one or two episodes. Hmm, maybe I can turn to the film “Cloverfield” to understand Goddard’s pre-Cabin in the Woods influences. He did write that script as well. But…nope! Didn’t see that film either. Alas, I can only base my opinion of this guy’s work on this film alone. But he’ll be happy to know that I enjoyed his film thoroughly. As director and co-writer (written with Joss Whedon), Goddard shines brilliantly.
So, how should I categorize this “haunted cabin” story? Answer: I cannot.
How best should I analyze this film according to the various themes that I have extracted from a collection of haunted cabin stories (See my original article: Beyond the House – An Examination of Hauntings Within Alternate Structures – Part 1 – Cabins.) Answer: Not very well.
In both of the two preceding questions, I lump Cabin in the Woods into a category I call “Haunted Cabins.” Is this a “Haunted Cabin” film? Answer: Probably not.
Cabin in the Woods is a film that regurgitates common themes and tropes in order to mock basic horror formulas. And it does so in such an effective, creative and hilarious way. Whereas some of the themes from my article bear out in this film, they do so ever so consciously with tongue-in-cheek purpose. Five teens spend a horrifying weekend at a cabin in the woods, so the “isolation” theme from my article qualifies. How about my “Outposts on the Edge of The Unknown” theme? Does the cabin in this story serve its occupants as a temporary and fragile refuge against all the horror that exists in the woods, only to give in to the encroaching terror by the film’s end? Not really. For the cabin and its surrounding woods, and the tunneling road that leads to its domain; all of this is, in effect, is a controlled environment; a laboratory that manufactures all things “fear.” Evil Dead, meet The Hunger Games!
The college-aged kids out there in that cabin are being watched and manipulated by an underground organization. By “underground”, I mean “secretive, etc.” Also I mean under the ground, under the grass and soil, underneath the grounds where the horror plays out. In this hidden den beneath the earth, there are men in suits and ties and women in business dress. There are computers and giant viewing screens. And there is a menagerie of creatures familiar to horror films – Ghosts, scary clowns, flying abominations, werewolves, zombies, vampires, etc. When the kids find a book and read a passage that will raise the dead; the men and women of this organization open a hatch that releases zombies into the woodsy environment, although they could have chosen any of the ghoulish, walking tropes. But the zombies matched the predicament the kids put themselves in. It’s sort of a “choose your own adventure” scenario, although the kids don’t realize that they are part of a twisted game. They are the sacrificial lambs! (Watch the film for an understanding of how this plays out.)
Throughout the movie, the people of this organization watch these kids from concealed video cameras and listen to their conversations via hidden microphones. They inject gases into their environment which, when ingested, alter their behavior. They pump in pheromones that turn some of these kids into sex-crazed maniacs (Hey! Many horror films have sex-crazed kids!) They release “mind-numbing” gases causing the kids to make dumb decisions, such as splitting up when things are getting very nasty. (Hey! Kids in horror films are always getting separated!)
See what’s happening here? This organization is creating a horror movie by trotting out the tropes. They even destroy the mountain-road tunnel that leads outside the parameters of the controlled environment; thereby ensuring that one of my discovered themes plays out – the “isolation theme” (Thank you Goddard et. al for helping me save face!)
All in all, this is a highly creative platform for spoofing horror films. And five years ago, I didn’t think so. Back then when I first saw this film, I thought “I get it, but ‘meh!’” I guess I didn’t get it after all. I knew it was a spoof film, but I thought it over-complicated and not funny. I’m glad I often revisit films before writing up reviews. Had I not watched it again, this review would be entirely different. It’s not supposed to be “laugh- out-loud” hilarious, although I did just that during one scene. It’s tongue-in-cheek humor.
Now is this a haunted house (cabin) film? For certain, it does not meet my first standard – “house as an entity” – as specified in my article Social Theory and Haunted Houses. What about my second standard – “House as a neutral platform that enables ghosts to show off their antics.” If I had to pick from the two, it would be this second criterion. But it’s not a platform for ghosts. Instead it’s an arena for the “puppeteers” that control the environment, which includes not only the cabin but the woods and roads as well. The puppeteers are the Roman nobel class and the kids are the gladiators. They are the “folks from the Capitol” and the kids are the contestants of The Hunger Games. With such examples, I bet you’re having a difficult time comparing this movie to a haunted house film! I hear ya. Oh well. It does, however, fit well in my series about cabins. At least “sort of” well?
Anyway, I have one more cabin piece for ya! Stay tuned for an account where real authors spend time in a “real” haunted cabin. Until next time stay “cabinated!”
* images from rashmanly.com , 2014afo.wordpress.com, and alchetron.com