If anything can be certain in the life of a college student, it is this: it is never a good idea to purchase an eerie, broken down, suspiciously secluded cabin in the woods, regardless of its low, low price or the hopes you have of inviting mixed company to participate in non-Dean Voyles-approved activities on the weekend. Perhaps this Cabin in the Woods might be avoided, as well. The Cabin in the Woods, Hollywood’s most recent horror offering, has a few loose boards and broken windows to account for.
The horror films of the past 40 or so years should have taught us that secluded cabins are (next to the threat of a Japanese monstrosity rising out of a murky river or the presence of a ghostly child) the single most common motif of films like the Friday the 13th and Haunting films.
A Google search yields many more similar films for our consideration, and it is this long tradition of pop horror flicks that inspired director Drew Goddard to create The Cabin in the Woods, a quirky genre-bender that self-consciously points to the age-old conventions of “don’t go into the dark basement alone”-brand frights.
The Cabin in the Woods begins unconventionally, opening on what appears to be an everyday white-collar job, complete with the banter between two co-workers that might be found at any corporate water-cooler. The two men, nonchalantly jibing each other, turn a corner and enter into a large room full of knobs, buttons, and screens; but the audience is too caught up in what is said to notice when surveillance feeds of four young people appear, transitioning into the story proper, the unfortunate tale of the victims of a cruel experiment and sacrifice.
As the two story-lines are woven together, we discover that (spoiler alert!) the carefree weekend of sleaze and boozing planned by our protagonists is actually the concerted effort of a mysterious organization to offer up the stock characters (the whore, the athlete, the scholar, the virgin and the fool, as we find out) to appease diabolic forces which referred to only as “the ancient ones,” a tradition that has continued for a millennia, seemingly explaining the purpose behind the horror genre itself. Following the formula prescribed by countless slasher films over the decades, each of the victims is systematically picked off in the kind of twisted morality play common to the genre.
While this display of violence (at the hands of a ‘family’ of zombies linked to the ubiquitous cryptic journal and accompanying Latin incantation found in the cellar) is certainly disturbing, worse still are the intermittent scenes of laughing workers forming a betting bracket for who will die next. These breaks in the main storyline seem to serve both to provide spurts of comic relief and to make commentary on our tendency to merely consume, rather than grapple with, the atrocities committed on-screen. After hopelessly trying to escape their fates, two young people survive to find an entrance into the facility underneath the cabin, which harbors every imaginable terror, from the more generalized flesh-eating undead to werewolves and killer robots. The final 20 minutes of the movie offer the viewer a coup de grace, replete with enough carnage to unsettle the most hardened of horror buffs.
By the time the credits rolled, I was tired of The Cabin in the Woods. My eyes were bleary from 95 minutes of violence. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the screen, despite my fervent desire to do so. While I could appreciate what Goddard and his co-writer, Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) were aiming to create, a “very loving hate letter” to the modern horror film, I had a difficult time stomaching the excessive violence and unblinking sexual content of the film. In an early scene, a fresh-faced security guard shows disgust as the events of the first murders unfold, asking, “Monsters? Magic? Gods?” “You get used to it,” one of the frumpy white-collar men replies. “Should you?” the new guy shoots back. My answer is a resounding No, but if the young couple sitting behind me with their young son are any indication, too few of us would even bother to entertain the question.