The Cabin in the Woods — Thoughts from a Film Student

I know, I’m late to the party.  What can I say?  I was too scared to see Cabin in the Woods when it came out a month ago, I admit it!  But, I managed to live through it yesterday with the help of a very understanding friend, and I want to share my thoughts with you!  SPOILER ALERT! Don’t read on if you haven’t seen the film and/or don’t want to know what happens in it.

Like many others, I had been hearing a lot of hype about the horror film, and I stayed away from spoilers even though there were teases about a ‘huge twist’ at the end that I was just dying to see.  So, I went in knowing only what was shown in the trailer (plot-wise) and, I have to say, no ‘huge twist’ was found.  I felt the whole thing was fairly predictable, but not in a bad way.

Looking for a weekend away, a group of five college students go away to a secluded cabin in the woods and end up being brutally murdered as part of a ritual sacrifice organized by groups around the world to keep the ancient gods happy.  The film follows in the footsteps of past horror films, but with a playful attitude; the traditional structure of horror films is explicitly played with throughout the film.  The five main characters that unknowingly enter the cabin in the woods are all the stereotypes found in many mainstream Hollywood horror films: the slut, the virgin, the jock, the nerd, and the stoner (or ‘the fool’).  The most important, of course, is the virgin (aka ‘the final girl’), who is traditionally left alive at the end of a horror film.

In The Cabin in the Woods, that role is reserved for Dana, played by Kristen Connolly, who is maybe but not quite a virgin (“we work with what we have” says ‘The Director’).  I rooted for her when things for the group started going south, and I was really hoping she’d be the survivor.I suppose one might say the twist is that, in the end, she doesn’t survive.  In fact, there were no survivors, not even the audience.

Because stoner Marty (Franz Kranz) didn’t die as expected, causing the sacrifice to fail, the original gods of the earth rose up to destroy it.  The horror film, then, is no longer contained to the world established in the film, and reaches out to include the entire planet instead of just the contained community of the film.  Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (both TV action/sci-fi guys), the movie plays with the nature of paying to watch a horror film.  The audience in The Cabin in the Woods watches as two men, Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), manipulate the group of young adults and direct them to their death, even organizing a betting pool over what monster the group will ‘choose’ as their killers (in this case, they chose a masochistic zombie family).  As an audience member, I was horrified: the idea that these men were gleefully watching others die horrible deaths, but, by the end of the film I was forced to question my own participation in these characters’ deaths.

After all, I did pay $8 to watch attractive, young actors pretend to be murdered. Furthermore, the film begins with Sitterson and Hadley, positioning the audience to be somewhat removed from the group of students.  Because of my position as an audience member, especially during the sequences in the cabin, I am placed with the people controlling the sacrifice.  Disgusted as I might feel at the sight of two men flipping switches that trap characters so that they die according to plan, it wouldn’t be a horror movie if nobody died (at least, it wouldn’t be the film I came to see).  The audience is implicated, and so becomes a part of the world of the film.  At the end, when the sacrifice is incomplete and the world is at the mercy of vengeful gods, it wasn’t just all the characters in the film that were left to die, it was the audience as well.

All in all, the movie was pretty decent.  It had a great concept, and a pretty well written script, with a lot of great, twisted, and funny scenes (I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Sitterson and Hadley), but the execution wasn’t all there.  It’s hard to pinpoint why…maybe it’s just the fact that the ending is so depressing.  Still, anything touched by Joss Whedon is better than any other film you’re likely to stumble upon.  Plus, the cast is pretty solid, with Thor hottie Chris Hemsworth as the jock and Dollhouse geek Fran Kranz as the stoner, not to mention The West Wing vet Bradley Whitford, and every actor does their part to make this film more than just another horror flick.

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