As we know as I’ve covered it many times on this site, the horror genre has a tendency to go through the motions. A horror film comes out and it’s popular and then there are a slew of imitators and eventually the audience gets bored and moves on to the next big thing. This happened when ‘Halloween’ came out in 1978 which kicked off the slew of slasher films in the 80’s. ‘Paranormal Activity’ came out in 2007 and the audience was met with a load of ‘found footage’ rip-offs. Also, in the late 2000’s to 2010’s, there were a lot of ‘ghost’ movies mostly by Blumhouse such as ‘Insidious’ and ‘The Conjuring’ and ‘Sinister’. My point is that horror comes in cycles and that has been true since the 80’s.
One can (arguably) say that the one horror film that really tried to put a new spin on the genre and ironically woke it up again was ‘Scream’ in 1996. ‘Scream’ was successful because it was well-written, well cast, adequately paced, had a decent mystery but above all, it was self-referential and somewhat self-aware. The kids in the film loved horror movies and so survived their own horror movie scenario with their bank of knowledge and adhering to certain tropes as well as breaking a few of the genre clichés.
Also, one can say that no film has quite captured the same sense self-awareness in the plot since ‘Scream’. That is until ‘The Cabin in the Woods’… or I would be saying that if the plot made any sense at all and any good traits were totally ruined by the ending. But let’s not rush ahead.
The plot follows five college students as they travel to the atypical wood cabin in the middle of the woods for a weekend away. Elsewhere, some scientists are preparing for a ritual involving the five protagonists, the outcome of which could decide the fate of mankind. That’s all I want to say for now because the rest of the plot is basically all my talking points.
We’ll start with how I feel about the core concept. The idea is that these students are brought to a remote location and then sacrificed in the style of an 80’s slasher. Each of the protagonists represent the classic stereotypes that also double as targets. There’s the ‘athlete’ or ‘Curt’ who’s played by Chris Hemsworth and the fact that they got Thor in this film is a marvel. HA! There’s your monthly pun, I hope you enjoyed it. OK, although this was released the same year that Hemsworth’s first ‘Thor’ film came out, it was filmed two years before hand.
Who else is there? Curt’s girlfriend is Jules (Anna Hutchison) or ‘the whore’ as she’s affectionately known; the ‘scholar’ Holden (Jesse Williams), the ‘fool’ and weed enthusiast, Marty (Fran Kranz) and of course, there’s the proverbial ‘final girl’, Dana (Kristen Connolly). The plot claims that these five are meant to be college students but I estimate their average age to be around 30 which may have been intentional since we all know that horror movie actors are older than their characters otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed to drink alcohol on camera. If it wasn’t intentional then it was blatantly obvious.
So the point is that these five are being lured to this cabin in the woods so they can be killed in the classic ‘slasher movie’ style that we’ve become accustomed to and everyone has to die otherwise demons will destroy the Earth or something like that. I’m assuming that the film is saying that all the slasher films we’ve seen adhere to that very specific formula for the reason mentioned above and if that were the case then the characters in this film break through the fourth wall with a fucking sledgehammer.
Whilst it might seem like I don’t like this film, I did until the final act. I have mad respect for the premise and the execution (if you’ll excuse the pun). I like the scientists manipulating events to show the horror movie traits that we recognise. Early on in the movie, the five end up at what looks like an abandoned gas station and meet with the typical crazy man who warns them of their fate which they naturally laugh off and continue on their journey.
Once they arrive at the cabin the engineers running the ritual, Sitterson and Hadley (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) manipulate their surroundings to make sure that they end up in the basement where they each find their own significant artifact which triggers its own nightmarish horror and the other departments bet on which the five will pick. In this case, Dana finds an old diary and triggers a family of homicidal hillbilly zombies.
Another thing I like (but I have things to say about it) is that similar labs all over the world are holding their own rituals and the nature of their rituals match their own culture’s taste in horror for example, the Japanese lab centres around young school girls summoning a ghost.
The engineer manipulation is probably my favourite aspect and one of the most relatable moments is after Jules is killed and Curt escapes. He returns to the cabin comes up with a rational plan being to stay together but the engineers pump a gas into the cabin that makes everyone act super irrational and so the all spilt up and the zombies have a better chance of getting at them.
By far, the best death is Curt’s. It shouldn’t have been filmed that way, it’s super funny. After Jules is killed and Marty is attacked, Dana, Curt and Holden decide to leave in the RV but once they reach the tunnel, Sitterson realises that the explosion that blocks the tunnel and stops them from leaving hasn’t happened yet so he has to rush to make that happen. It does happen and the trio are forced to retreat. Curt reckons he can jump the massive gap between their location and the road they entered on with his dirt bike. Once he makes the jump, the film goes slow motion and there’s some really triumphant music and just when you think he’s going to make it (which we all know he won’t), he slams into a forcefield and falls to his death. I laughed so loud that I’m sure my neighbours think I’m weird.
What don’t I like?
The overall question of how this all came to be is still an overarching question. How did this bizarre ritual start? Also, the rules seem really loose. The same ritual takes place at the same time every year all over the world to appease ‘The Ancient Ones’ but only one of the rituals needs to successful to avoid Armageddon and even then it’s established that the ‘virgin’ or the ‘final girl’ doesn’t have to die. As long as the whore dies first and the other three are killed, the world is safe for another year. Who made up these rules? Unless the Ancient Ones delivered these rules by mail, it seems some experimentation would be needed but the consequences of getting it wrong are so dire.
After Holden is killed, the whole complex celebrates being alive but it’s quickly brought to the engineer’s attention that Marty is still alive after having a pair of sheers thrust into his back and they don’t have long left. After saving Dana from a zombie, Marty takes her to an underground elevator that he conveniently found offscreen when everyone else thought he was dead. He can also conveniently fiddle with the wires and make the elevator go down. Why they would want to do this, I don’t know. It’s clear this is the area where the zombies came from and even acknowledge it themselves.
Underground, they’re taken through a gigantic warehouse of sorts where all of the nightmarish, cosmic horrors are kept for deployment. So, does facility have one of these? Anyway, security realise what’s happening and corner the pair where they make the first of several awful decisions. Granted, if they’re cornered by a load of armed guards whose employers want them dead, giving themselves up probably isn’t going to end well, but releasing all the horrific monstrosities? Was that also a good option? Once they reach the ancient’s temple after Dana kills Sitterson and doesn’t seem that bothered about it, they meet ‘The Director’ and holy shit! It’s Sigourney Weaver! This is another ‘in it just to say she’s in it’ cases such as her appearance in ‘Paul (2011)’. She’s onscreen for about five minutes where she explains how fucked everyone is unless Dana kills Marty. Why does Dana have to kill Marty? The rules are so flimsy, why can’t The Director kill Marty? Does it honestly matter? I thought as long as everyone but the final girl is dead, then the Ancient Ones are cool?
Regardless, after Dana is mauled by a Werewolf but it’s killed by Marty and The Director is killed by a wandering zombie, both Dana and Marty decide that humanity isn’t worth saving so share a joint as the Ancient’s rise and the film ends. Erm…. What?
‘The Cabin in the Woods’ was completed in 2009 and slated for release in 2010 but kept getting delayed. Eventually, the film premiered at ‘Butt-Numb-A-Thon’ in December 2011 but got a worldwide release in 2012, bringing home $66.5 Million against a $30 Million budget. Although the return wasn’t that impressive, critics and audiences adored this film with a rating of 92% making it one of the more favourable horror movies in recent years.
Honestly, the film was good up to when Dana and Marty go down in the elevator and especially when they end up in the temple at the very end. OK, so you’ve both collectively decided for the other seven billion people on the planet that they’re not worth it. Thanks, guys. I think the line is, ‘It’s time someone else had a turn’ or something like that and I’m thinking, I know humans can be shitbags but are a load of evil, ancient demons going to run the world any better after they’ve exterminated humanity? What The Director and her employees were doing wasn’t very nice but it was for the benefit of everyone…
Why does that sound familiar?
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