It’s November 1st. While many people use today as the start of a personal challenge (I think it’s related to growing 100,000 mustaches in the course of the month), a great many also use it as the day to disassemble their Halloween decorations. With that in mind, today’s Procrastrospection is not only the most recent movie I’ve reviewed thus far, but it’s a movie that takes apart the horror genre, and does so very well.
Cabin in the Woods (2012)
When you find yourself in the need of a thorough dismantling of genre tropes, it can sometimes be hard to find a satire that pokes fun at, while clearly showing love for, the genre in question. Simon Pegg managed to do so with both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and the tag team of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard do it with Cabin in the Woods. Not only do we get to see many of the stereotypical slasher movie moments, but we get to see them ripped apart and analyzed. And, in the universe of Cabin in the Woods, we get to see exactly why the characters do the stupid things we’ve come to expect when faced with evil in a remote location.
In fact, as the movie starts out, we’re greeted with the truth, at least for this particular horror universe. An shady organization is working with similar groups across the world, for a result we aren’t quite aware of yet. In fact, all we know at first is that other countries are failing, putting pressure on Steve Hadley (Bradley Whitford, at his most Bradley Whitford-est) and Gary Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) to come through. They clearly can’t do it alone, and most of the shots in the facility involve the two of them, plus Chemical Department tech Wendy Lin (Amy Acker) and security guard Daniel Truman (Brian White). Clearly, there’s something very important and shady and powerful going on, and over the course of the film, we eventually are told about the organization’s true purpose. They need to assemble a specific group (basically, the cookie-cutter roles played throughout the vast majority of slasher movies), and then ensure that said group falls victim to a ritual that leads to the group being killed off, all to keep some mysterious Ancient Ones from awakening and destroying the world.
Our group in question is formed of Jules the Whore (Anna Hutchison), Holden the Scholar (Jesse Williams), Curt the Athlete (Chris Hemsworth), Dana the Virgin (Kristen Connolly), and Marty the Fool (Fran Kranz). Those titles aren’t known to the characters themselves, of course, but they’re what the secret organization uses to ensure that they’ve got the exact right combination of sacrifices for the Ancient Ones. And, as the film progresses, those archetypes are brought out even more, along with the concept that the victims need to select the form of their personal destroyers.
Part of the joy in watching Cabin in the Woods is seeing how it takes apart the American slasher film. And let’s be clear, the group that is formed is specifically based on the American style. After all, when we get a glimpse of what is happening in the Japanese ritual, we’re presented with a very different style of group, but one that makes a lot of sense if you’re familiar with Japanese horror. One can only assume that the other failed rituals tied into their specific cultures styles of horror as well.
It’s also fun to see the characters try to rebel against the roles that they’ve been cast into, only for the organization behind it all to turn things back on their heads, and reinforce the stereotypes. After all, none of the characters really fit the roles they were cast into prior to visiting the titular cabin, but we discover that the organization has been manipulating them even before they left for their weekend trip. Actually, I take that back. One character does pretty well fit his stereotypical role, and that’s Marty. Marty has a lighter (although far more paranoid) worldview than the rest, and it may be those elements that allowed him to throw a monkey wrench into the system.
Because, yes, of course, there is a monkey wrench. When dealing with the levels of evil that the organization clearly is, there’s too high of a chance for failure, and when Dana and Marty find their way into the facility, all hell truly does break lose. This leads to the most obvious example of another piece of joy within the film, which is trying to spot all of the references to other horror movies. Of course, there are plenty of nods throughout the film, pretty much right from the opening scene, but it’s great to watch as Dana and Marty are traveling in their glass-walled elevator, seeing all of the monstrosities that are clear homages to other films through the entire trip.
One thing that Cabin in the Woods does well is to present a believable world for the genre that it resides in, while then setting up the stumbling blocks to poke loving fun at the genre itself. The characters separate from each other, in true horror fashion, but do so because they are coerced by a gas (a gas which, notably, doesn’t really affect Marty). Hadley and Sitterson celebrate their victory too early, thinking that they’re in the clear, forgetting that what appears to be the end of the troubles is generally just the beginning. The Final Girl is the only one with the power to stop everything from happening, and yet, in this case, she takes a different option, potentially creating a bigger evil than anything that had been dealt with before.
From the way that it plays with the genre tropes to the way that it clearly shows it’s affections for horror itself, Cabin in the Woods sets itself apart from other attempts to skewer the genre. It presents a horrific tale, while also keeping tongue planted firmly in cheek, to acknowledge just how silly some of the elements needed to make a good scare truly are. And, perhaps the best thing, Cabin in the Woods doesn’t pull any punches. The deaths are gruesome, there are buckets of blood, and nobody deserving escapes a final justice.
Although I still wonder exactly who, or what, “Kevin” was.