So, you may have been trying to avoid all the buzz that surrounded The Cabin in the Woods, which, if all you have seen of it is the commercials and online ads, is being marketed as your typical “young people in a creepy cabin in the middle of nowhere surrounded by supernatural evil” kind of movie. However, if you’d been anywhere near the internet before its release on April 13, you would have known that there were tons of people who had seen this movie, either at SXSW or at a more recent screening, and could not talk about it because of the massive secret about the framework of the movie that could not be revealed that there was zero indication of in the ads. A friend told me, between the SXSW premiere and the 13th, that Joss Whedon — the movie’s co-writer and producer — said if the secret to this movie got out, he would hunt that person down in their own home and kill them, or something to that effect. (
Apologies for not finding Joss Whedon saying that exact quote. Not kill, but mock — the “threat” can be seen here.)
Now that the movie has been out for over a week, some of you have seen it, and some of you are planning on it. And some of you might be wondering, as you hear all the hyperbolic statements about “the spoilers” and “the awesome,” what makes this movie so astoundingly great and unique. Don’t worry, I’m going to tell you. However, I’m also going to discuss the whole movie, so if you haven’t seen it, and you’re avoiding spoilers, I strongly urge you to trust me (and everyone else) to see the movie to find out for yourself how great it is. Because after the jump: tons o’ spoilers.
And now: Why The Cabin in the Woods is everyone’s new favorite horror movie.
Remember what I said about how I’m going to spoil this whole movie? That’s happening now, so after this sentence, you cannot get upset about reading spoilers.
Okay, here we go!
The Cabin in the Woods is self-referential in a way that pokes fun at itself for being a self-referential movie. Compared to Scream, itself an homage-slash-parody of classic modern horror movies, Cabin doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously. (I say this as a gigantic fan of the entire Scream series.) Because Scream was a flat-out horror movie. One with comedic moments, but still — a horror movie, no bones about it. Cabin is more along the lines of the Evil Dead movies, with a dash of Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, not because of the title) thrown in to turn what looks like a run-of-the-mill horror movie into something fresher, newer, and a little more lacking in the soul department. Cabin is absolutely soulless, because what you don’t see in the marketing is how this is a movie about why all those other horror movies exist. Why is there always a “stoner”? Why is there always a “virgin”? Why is there always a “whore”? Why is there always a “jock”? And why do they always seem to die in a certain order, and why is the virgin spared? Cabin in the Woods explains this to us: It is what the gods want.
Yes — the gods. Cabin in the Woods is about how the human race has been living in the horror movie universe and sacrificing its young people to the gods to appease them and keep the balance of existence. And who is in charge of running this show, making sure that everything goes according to plan? A nameless corporation, with Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins in charge, with assistance from Amy Acker.
The movie starts like the horror movies with an introduction of the characters who are destined to be viciously murdered. It’s a bright sunny day, everyone is happy, one of them even just dyed her hair blonde! It’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow! And then, we cut to a corporate setting with Whitford and Jenkins … who are talking about basically nothing. That’s when the blood-red titles go up: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. It is hilarious. It’s been said that humor is based on surprise and a little bit of shock, and laughter is the reaction to being shocked. Well, Cabin in the Woods got tons of laughs in the theater — because it was that surprising, over and over again. And then it would scare you to death.
The corporation and the premise are positively sinister, riding on the fact that killing innocent people is just another day at the office. There’s even an office pool, involving every department in the company, in which bets are placed to see what form the killer will take. (The best running joke is Whitford’s obsession with the potential of a murder spree with a merman.) And the way that this is shown is almost like a comedy sketch that is still a part of a real movie that is truly frightening to watch.
Even while Cabin veers into parody territory, it remains faithful to the horror genre by still being an effective horror movie. Yes, all the conventions are there. But our heroes/victims often find themselves one step ahead of the corporation’s tricks and turn those conventions on their heads, albeit temporarily, before the company rolls something else out. But it stays just as scary and suspenseful, staying on course.
And that’s just one way The Cabin in the Woods is so awesome. Here is another: the marketing.
Think of every commercial you’ve seen for this movie. They are commercials for a horror movie. But Joss Whedon is making it, so it’s not going to just be sacrificial lambs in the woods, sent out to slaughter. We get hints that something else is going on, like the creepy gas station attendant who makes a phone call to “someone” about those very lambs. We even saw one shot of a bird flying into the massive electric fence. (Which, by the way, is part of Chris Hemsworth‘s demise in the movie and also kind of sadly hilarious and predictable in a way that you kind of can’t wait for it to happen.) But was there really any indication that this movie was a hybrid of The Hunger Games and Evil Dead, as actor Christopher Mintz-Plasse perfectly put it on Twitter? No way. Not that I could see.
This movie was like the anti-Blair Witch Project, which used the internet brilliantly (in 1999) to create an aura of mystery and keep people guessing about whether or not this movie was even real or fake. At the time, it was a groundbreaking campaign, no matter what you thought of the movie itself. With Cabin, the mystery came as a result of the opposite — the ads were showing you a horror movie, you were paying admission to see a horror movie. But it wasn’t just a horror movie, and when you saw Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins walking around a bleak-looking office building, this was not the movie you saw advertised. The mystery came when you started watching the movie, not before. You didn’t go in wondering what this movie was all about — you went in to see a different movie altogether. The fact that spoilers were not widely leaked is amazing. And yes, some people probably did leak some spoilers (every article I saw had serious warnings on them, and as someone who works for the internet, I spend a buttload of time on the internet), but it wasn’t as if everyone went to see Cabin to confirm things they’d already read. The most distinct thing I heard before seeing it was that there would be an appearance by a major celebrity, and that people were cheering in the theater. One guess was Whedonverse staple Sarah Michelle Gellar. It ended up being the one and only Sigourney Weaver, and boy, did that deliver. Imagine the best possible person in the SFF universe who could be dealing with the wrath of angry, hungry, ancient gods. If your answer isn’t Sigourney Weaver, you need to do some soul searching.
But this movie was also just full of surprises, pretty much from beginning to end. And it gets to such a fever pitch of suspense (example: the Hollywood Squares-inspired Wall of Nightmares) that you remember, “Oh, right! This has been a horror movie this whole time! A really freaky one!”
It’s awesome because it’s incredibly effective and well-done. The script, by Whedon and Drew Goddard, who also directed, is just spot-on and clever, while also being scary and gory without being gratuitously violent. (It is, after all, slasher movie at heart.) One-dimensional characters are given depth and reasons for being there besides dying. Every scene has a purpose. Everything works beautifully in The Cabin in the Woods, and by the time it’s over, you can’t believe what you have just been through. It’s a movie that happens to you, because it hits you over the head with its sexy, beautiful brains.
Seize the day, and go see The Cabin in the Woods. You will not be disappointed. Even if you’ve gotten this far and read all those spoilers.