Lionsgate’s wonderful The Cabin in the Woods was released on Friday and looks to have wrangled in about $15 Million for the weekend. While it’s obviously not a record breaking hit, those aren’t terrible numbers either. A Cinemascore of around C indicates that about half the audience loved it and the other half hated it. Fair enough. But for those of you who loved it, I’d encourage you to spread the word to similarly minded friends and horror fans. Every time a new and original horror film is released it’s a crucial moment – the studios are watching. And they know that while horror fans often clamor for new ideas and fresh blood, they often fail to show up at the box office. This is one of the reasons we get so many remakes and sequels.
You’ve already read Mr. Disgusting’s Review and David Harley’s Review, so I figured I would write less of a formal review and more of an informal (super-spoilery) addendum on why I love the film as well. As always, we love you even more when you write your own reviews.
In this R-rated horror film now in theaters everywhere, “A group of friends at a cabin retreat scratch the surface of something so massive and horrific that they can only begin to fathom it as time quickly runs out. If you think you know this story, think again. ‘Cabin in the Woods’ is a mind-blowing horror film that turns the genre inside out.”
Head inside for my spoiler heavy remarks.
If you’ve chosen to click the link above and read my thoughts on the film I’m going to assume that you’ve seen the movie. So not only will I not be recapping the film, I’ll be spoiling the hell out of it as well.
The ideas behind The Cabin In The Woods are plenty. The miracle is how it turns those ideas into a movie.
The Cabin In The Woods isn’t a spoof, it’s not making fun of horror. It is a horror film that also wants to explain why horror films exist. It could have easily been only a commentary on the genre, but why commit itself to being a dry exercise when it could actually be the movie it’s commenting on? I think that’s where part of the genius of this film lies – not in the complicated mechanics of the plot (which are actually spelled out with remarkable simplicity) – but in the tone of the piece itself.
Cabin could have easily been all over the place tonally and it’s a miracle that it isn’t. I mean, if I broke down the film scene by scene and explained it to someone who hadn’t seen it, they would think I was insane. So many elements of the film are almost custom made to clash against each other, yet they don’t. In lesser hands it would be impossible for the opening scene to not feel like it belongs in a different movie, but it belongs here. In fact, all of the scenes in the control room, particularly the tequila celebration when Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford’s Sitterson and Hadley think they’ve got the ritual all sewn up, are potential disasters rendered miraculous. Aside from the fact that the movie is peppered with great dialogue and populated with well written characters – and even aside from its genuinely complex plot mechanics and structure – the true triumph of the film is not how far it goes into its deconstruction (and it’s a marvelous deconstruction) but how satisfied you feel by it on every level.
Let’s take the aforementioned scene at the party in the control room. There are so many elements that are just primed to go careening out of control. The betting pool, the intern, the quiet conflict between Brian White’s Truman and Amy Acker’s Lin. But it’s grounded by two elements: the semi-offscreen battle taking place and its subtext. Right there in that giant screen in the background Kristen Connolly’s Dana is being brutally beaten on the dock. Within an inch of the life she’s fighting for. And you can see it, even if most of the characters in the room are ignoring it – after all, as far as they’re concerned their work is done and it doesn’t matter if she lives or dies. But that visual remaining there never lets you forget that this character you’ve spent most of the movie caring about is in deep trouble. You’re almost anxious for the party scene to cut away fully to the dock so that you can attend to her. It’s a complete and total visual anchor.
The other grounding element of that scene – and every scene featuring Whitford and Jenkins – is the subtext. Why do they feel so relatable when they’re doing such terrible things? Doesn’t that make them terrible people? The fact is you know, hang out with and love people who do terrible things for a living in real life. Some of them are in your family. People work for cigarette companies, oil companies that pollute our planet, people build bombs designed to kill as many people as possible. This isn’t some idea I’ve just happened upon, both times I’ve spoken with Goddard he’s talked about how these people are very much informed by his experience growing up in Los Alamos, New Mexico. A town whose economy is centered around the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where some of the brightest minds in the country have dedicated their professional lives to constructing bigger and better nuclear weapons. Does that make them bad people? It’s not for me to say. In real life these questions aren’t easy to answer at all. But Goddard grew up knowing these people and I can assure you that you know people who do horrible things as well, no matter where you live. It doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t love them, it’s just the way it is. And that’s why these characters don’t feel out of place in the context of what they do or in the film itself.
It’s human nature. Which ultimately is what The Cabin In The Woods is really about. While Goddard’s specific personal experiences may have informed this, it’s not at all about those specific experiences. It’s about the big picture. The Cabin In The Woods is about our desire for blood. And our desire to punish youth. These aren’t straws I’m grasping at and I’m not pretending to have happened upon some wholly original take on the film – Goddard has more than hinted at this himself in various interviews.
We are the Gods that demand the blood of the young. The blood of the athlete, the blood of the fool, the blood of the whore, the blood of the virgin. The Director, as played by Sigourney Weaver, never explains why the Gods desire and demand these things – they just do. There have always been various theories as to why audiences enjoy seeing people killed onscreen. Some of these theories work and some of them don’t make a lick of sense. But there’s no one explanation – and the movie doesn’t pretend that there is. It just is.
It’s also worth noting that while Cabin very much uses the construct of the horror film to discuss this, the horror genre is by far the least harmful byproduct of humanity’s bloodlust. Compared to public executions, stonings, bullfights, wars and the way we use sites like TMZ to systematically exult and tear down youth culture – I’d argue it’s actually a remarkably healthy outlet, and I think the film argues that as well. It’s much less destructive than what happened in the Roman Coliseum. And with the apocalypse at the end it acknowledges that our bloodlust is so deeply ingrained that an attempt to circumvent it would probably do more harm than good. It’s just part of who we are, and if we deny that one component who’s to say that the whole construct of society won’t come tumbling down around it.
The Cabin In The Woods is both a question and an acknowledgment of a core truth. It simultaneously solves its own mystery but leaves it up to you to find the answers (however contradictory that may sound). That it’s able to say so much and leave so much unsaid is part of its genius. That it’s able to go to so many disparate places in 95 minutes and unify their tone into a complete and satisfying movie – that’s the real magic.