I’m not sure what I expected, watching this. Something a bit silly, a bit schlocky, a bit of mindless fun, soon to be forgotten. I was pleasantly surprised.

“The Cabin in the Woods” is a horror/comedy, and on a superficial look seems like it ought to be the ultimate in cliché. I mean, five (young) friends go to an isolated cabin for a weekend away and horrible things happen to them? That is about as generic as it gets. But, this is the whole point of the movie, as they are being set up by a mysterious government organization as sacrifices to ancient gods, in return for leaving the planet in peace and not killing everyone. The sacrifices, we learn, are supposed to be culturally appropriate for each part of the world. Consequently, in the US, culture means the slasher horror tropes that any low budget horror movie gives us – isolation, nasty things that lurk in the dark, and generic type teenagers/young adults of different archetypes – the jock, the whore, the virgin, the nerd and the fool, all dying in various horrible ways. The virgin is, of course, the traditional ‘final girl’, who may or may not die.

The metafictional aspect of the film is what strikes me most. It’s a film about film tropes. The underground organization’s collection of monsters as potential killers is just as much cliché-ridden as the characters themselves, collected not only from myths and legends but from popular films and games. Even though the audience is eventually told that the rituals of different countries are supposed to be culturally based, all the rituals we see seem to reference movies. The ‘Kyoto ritual’ clearly references ‘The Ring’, the ‘Stockholm ritual’ references ‘The Thing’, and so on. The myths and legends of the past have been replaced by horror movies, signifying the replacement of traditional culture with pop culture. I can’t help but wonder if the fact that all these rituals fail on this occasion is meant to signify that when we replace old tales with new, we desensitise ourselves to them and even learn how to overcome them.

The necessity of the organisers to manipulate the victims is another indication of how difficult the governments are having in making these rituals work. The five people do not exactly fit the profiles they have been chosen for, the director at the end says they are just the closest they could come. They begin to dose the characters with drugs to make them malleable before they even come to the cabin, and put drugs in the air once they arrive to increase their susceptibility to suggestion. (This, by the way, is how they manage to make the characters make the stupid decisions so rife in horror movies. So now you know.) They are attempting to push the characters into the parts they have been chosen to play. So, the jock is not particularly dumb, the nerd does not come across as any smarter than anyone else, the whore is not a whore, the virgin has had sex, and the fool is anything but. This too, is an example of the statement the film is making. People aren’t really one-dimensional and they can’t be labelled and put in a box. Trying to do so rarely works out, and certainly doesn’t in this instance.

The script was written by Drew Goddard (who also directed) and Joss Whedon. I found the whole idea to be very clever, taking the stock-standard plot and characters, and making that expectation the whole point of the movie. It thus subverts expectation by starting with what we expect to see, and taking it somewhere very strange and different.

(Spoiler alert) Subversion of expectation lasts right through to the very end. The ‘director’ (a fun cameo by Sigourney Weaver) explains the situation to the two survivors, saying that Marty the ‘fool’ at least has to die to save the world. We might expect that he would heroically sacrifice himself, or that both he and Dana ‘the virgin’ would. It is therefore quite surprising when they say no, if the world’s going to end, so be it. You might argue the morality of their position but I don’t think that’s the point. The point is that we are expecting them to rise to the circumstances and they decline. It’s viciously clever.

It’s fun to watch Chris Hemsworth (Kurt) in what is quite an early role. He really holds his own as part of the ensemble cast and shows the screen presence that we have come to expect from him in roles such as the MCU movies. My other favourite from the victims is Fran Kranz, who played Marty the stoner (‘the fool’). Ironically he is anything but, and is the one who works out what is going on. The government people have been drugging them all before they arrived at the cabin, however in Marty’s case, even though they had treated his marijuana, it seems they missed a stash, and the end result is that Marty is immunized against their influence. Despite his pot-addled pronouncements earlier in the movie, he is ultimately the smart one, and I really enjoyed Kranz’ work bringing him to life. He is probably my favourite character among the victims.

Richard Jenkins (Sitterson) and Bradley Whitford (Hadley) lead the crew at the underground facility that is controlling the sacrifice. Their dialogue is probably the strongest in the whole movie. They manage to be funny when wanted, and deadly serious when required. I have seen both these actors many times before and I always enjoy their performances. They are great here and really carry the facility scenes.

“The Cabin in the Woods” is a funny, clever, satirical poke at horror movies, slasher movies in particular. It is, interestingly, not as gory as you might expect, which I found to be a bonus. It has smart dialogue, competent acting, and an ending that is both nihilistic and absurd. I would recommend it for fans of horror movies. Even if you’re not normally a fan, you could do worse than watch this. It’s a lot of fun.

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