The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
” You think you know the story.”
Director: Drew Goddard
Cast: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison
Synopsis: Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, where they get more than they bargained for. Together, they must discover the truth behind the cabin in the woods.
If you ever want to add an element of mystery to a well-worn formula, have a man in a crisp white shirt speak into one of those hands-free mouthpieces as he watches unsuspecting people going about their daily business. In The Cabin in the Woods, these people are your typical horror genre victims-in-waiting: Dana (Kristen Connolly), a sweet and conscientious student whose virginal demeanour is offset by the fact that we are introduced to her sans-pants, Curt (Chris Hemsworth), the athletic type, Jules (Anna Hutchison), the hot, slutty one, Holden (Jessie Williams), the decent clean-cut type, and Marty (Fran Kranz), the spaced-out comic relief. As we watch them driving off in their over-sized camping van, heading for a weekend in Curt’s cousin’s remote cabin in the woods, the camera slowly rises to reveal the aforementioned man crouched on the roof of Dana’s apartment and talking into his mouthpiece. Their fates are already sealed, it seems.
On their way, the group stop at a run-down gas station and have an ominous encounter with the obligatory creepy local (Tim DeZarn) before arriving at the cabin. Only this creepy local isn’t quite what he seems, because we later hear him talking on the phone to Hadley (Bradley Whitford) and Sitterson (Richard Jenkins), a couple of techy types in a vast control centre filled with banks of screens and people in lab coats. We met these two earlier, but it’s only around now that the fact that they are controlling what the unwitting kids are experiencing becomes apparent.
The plot unfolds pretty much as you’d expect, apart from the occasional interjections of Hadley and Sitterson as they monitor events from their high-tech hideaway. It has to be said that this element of intrigue is vastly more interesting than the typical stalk-and-slash violence that takes place at the lodge. By reciting a Latin phrase the kids find in a dusty old diary in the cellar of the cabin, the kids resurrect a family of redneck zombies who immediately begin the tiresome task of taking them out one by one.
Self-aware deconstruction of the horror genre probably first manifested itself in 1994 with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, in which the leads from the previous Freddie Krueger movie’s played themselves. A couple of years later Craven refined this technique with the first Scream movie, a knowing nod of the head and wink of the eye towards the horror genre and its fans. Now, with The Cabin in the Woods, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have gone even further by almost subliminally rounding on those fans and blaming them for the genre conventions that restrict its practitioners. It’s undoubtedly clever stuff, even if it does have to take things to the point of ludicrousness in order to make its point, but it lacks the sense of humour of Craven’s work, and feels more than a little mean-spirited. After all, we are the Gods to which the story alludes, greedily demanding and apparently intolerant of even the slightest deviation from the genre norm. When the cabin first comes under attack from the zombies and Curt suggests battening down the hatches and sticking together, Hadley pumps a little bit of stupid gas into the cabin so that Curt changes his mind and suggests they split up. Whedon tells us that that is what we expect from our horror victims, so the writers are forced to play along, and effectively constrained in their creative choice. It’s a bit like being slapped in the face when you hand over your money for the ticket to see the movie.
I’ve seen reviews that rave about The Cabin in the Woods. I’ve even seen one slightly hysterical review that claims horror movies will never be the same, and that ponders over whether anyone will ever be able to make another horror movie. Trust me, they will. They’ll make a lot. And they’ll nearly all be of the variety that The Cabin in the Woods so slyly lampoons. Because, after all, that’s what we demand.