Dear fine film folks, here is another feature to look for in The Film Tome, "Analysis." Different from a review, this examines a particularly buzzed about film and could focus on any one of its primary draws. The film itself will have a moment in the spotlight, but a particular function or appeal of the film might be the main topic. Expect these only as often as great and/or important films arise and when I feel there is much more to be said than in a review.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
(SPOILER ALERT!: I will not waste any time getting into spoiler territory in this segment of "Analysis." I will be exploring "The Cabin in the Woods," a film that is especially sensitive to give aways. If you have not seen this film I recommend you stop reading by the next paragraph. Here's my short review where I largely steer clear of giving away too much. Once you've seen the film, or if you know this is a film you will not see, feel free to continue reading.)
I like film equations. Here's one for this film:
"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (or < insert favorite road-trip horror film>
Or something like that...
Here is a film for fans of horror and geeks of the genre. It takes so many of the now-clichéd conventions of these film types, puts them front and center, gives a reason for their occurrence, and then destroys itself! It's one helluva experience.
THE FACILITY WORKERS
The film begins with two workers, Hadley and Sitterson (played by Bradley Whitford and Richarch Jenkins), at an unknown facility. They talk about weekend plans, but it becomes clear that they've still got a job to do before they can enjoy some time off. They are working, but we are not sure what they are working at or whom they are working for (It's here, as they drive in a cart to their station, that we get the awesome freeze-frame smash-title: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. Reminiscent of exploitation films of the '70s & '80s.). They reach their "control room" and begin. It would appear that they are in control...
Five friends prepare to leave for a weekend stay at someone's relative's cabin. Isn't that always the case? You see, that's the point. Every cliché is intentional. Writer/director Drew Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon were fed up with the same old story time and time again. "The Cabin in the Woods" is an exposé on the American horror film and perhaps nothing is more obvious of this facet than the five stock characters:
The Whore - Jules
The Athlete - Curt
The Scholar - Holden
The Fool - Marty
The Virgin - Dana
They load up in the RV and they're off!
THE TWO TALES
The rest of the film switches back and forth between the facility workers and the teens looking for a good time, not unlike "The Truman Show" where we see both Truman's exploits in his artificial world and the efforts of Christof in the control center. The former is a pawn, the latter is the hand. Of course, hands work best when they have an all-seeing eye. Both "The Cabin in the Woods" and "The Truman Show" take time to show us the extent to which the subjects are under surveillance. ("The Hunger Games" is another recent example of this, though the players are aware of the artifice from the get go.) The subjects are largely left in the dark. We are next in line because we do not know as much as those in control, but we can still see both sides of the camera.
We learn that this road trip is far from random. In fact, the facility workers have been prepping the subjects weeks in advance. The hair dye Jules (The Whore) used prior to the film's start has been tampered with to include a behavior-altering chemical. She made herself into a blonde (and, unknowingly, literally into a dumb slut).
When the five arrive to the cabin in the woods they are further subjected to chemicals that have an affect on their behaviors. In one scene a hormone-raging scent is released in the forest. In another, after they've decided to stay together, gas from a vent leads Curt to propose they split up. Obviously, these are all attempts to poke the ribs of one of the most bewildering aspects of horror movies new and old: the sheer stupidity of the characters. (I think of the "Wheel of Fish" segment from UHF... "You're so stupid!") I was first a bit irked at the manipulation involved, but the whole point is that nothing like this would occur without some treatment. Nobody is that stupid.
Among the most fascinating elements is that Hadley and Sitterson will not "punish" the five unless they "There has to be choice," one of them explains. "Free will is always an option." (I could not help but think of "The Sims" video game, where you can have experiences awfully close to those found in this movie, where you can actually go into the options menu and turn off "Free Will.") For example, the Whore does not get her punishment until she fornicates and sheds her clothes. Think about how each dies. It is a direct result of a compromising themselves, actions all relevant to their archetype.
It would appear that Hadley and Sitterson have taken upon themselves a godlike role in this universe...
We briefly see this whiteboard partway through the film. The facility workers all take bets on what nemesis the teens will summon. This is based entirely on their meddling in the cellar (again, due to their choices). At one point all five are on the verge of calling in different atrocities (i.e. one is discovering an antique journal, another is fumbling with a con-shell), but it's the redneck zombie family that wins the lucky lotto! Upon reading the Latin curse from a journal ("You so stupid!") the ranging undead become unearthed on their own accord. Looking at the whiteboard we can only imagine what the other baddies would be like. The awesomeness of this film is that we do not have to imagine... (Thanks to Badass Digest for the pic as seen in "The Cabin in the Woods: The Official Visual Companion.")
Fast forward and our two still-living protagonists, the Fool and the Virgin, stumble into an elevator found tucked away in the cabin's bunker. This was the elevator that brought the now disassembled redneck zombie family to haunt the teens in the first place. They begin their descent from the cabin in the woods, commencing arguably the best sequence of the film. They begin seeing the things nightmare are made of, each in an elevator of their own. They movie up and down, left and right, passing We get a faraway shot of all the elevators and it is too much to possible take in. It is something we would love to get on a poster someday. reminiscent of the hangar of doors in "Monster's Inc." (or if you're a gamer, the beginning of "Portal 2" or the start of the second chapter of "The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay) of the /Filmcast their guest mentioned how rad it would have been to have gotten the rights to use all the iconic characters from horror films over the years... Imagine having Freddy, Jason, Frankenstein, Dracula, Pinhead, and company coming out of those elevators. While that would have made the film even more meta, I have to say I love the characters and creatures that did emerge. Some generic stuff, but a whole lot of creativity. They take over the facility, attacking guards and workers alike. I particularly like the guy getting gored by the unicorn. (If you have played "Oblivion" you know those suckers put up a fight).
Brad Brevet over at Rope of Silicon has a worthy read entitled, "How I Wish 'The Cabin in the Woods' Had Ended." The film's finale was a bit too sudden for my liking, but what he proposes is a pretty intriguing and ballsy concept. It would probably never happen, but boy, it would be boss.
I feel that "The Cabin in the Woods" is not open to as much interpretation as you would believe. As you can deduce from the analysis above it is quite clear that this meta-experiment (a rousing success in my book) is commenting on horror films. We are left to merely plug characters in where they fit.
The five teens are simply who they are: Unfortunate characters that are sacrificed for the sake of the story.
Hadley, Sitterson, and company are essentially the men behind the curtain. While they have a place in the same world as the horrors they conjure, they are obviously stand-ins for Hollywood executives and producers. They pull all the strings to ensure what typically happens in horror films happens to the next batch of usual subjects.
The woman (Weaver) they meet at the end is listed as "The Director" in the credits. She oversees the project and is responsible for all pieces and elements to come together. She must make sure the sacrifice is worthy just as a director must make sure his film is worthy to be seen.
That leaves "the big, angry gods." We only need to look in the mirror to see who those beings are. Us, the consumers. Conventional horror films are churned out by the studios because they are what audiences demand. The customers are always right after all. As long as we go see these "sacrifices," they will continue to be made. It would appear to be an endless cycle, but I believe "The Cabin in the Woods" has thrown a wrench in the system. Remember how I said it destroys itself? It brings the genre down with it.