It’s tough to say if Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s meta-horror film will be remembered as the genre re-defining parody that Scream was in 1996 or a peculiar cult film separate from the current wave of torture-porn Saw movies. It’s hard to say which films will stay alive in the popular consciousness and shape others. Cabin in the Woods, regardless of its legacy, is certainly its own monster.
This monsters turns against its own genre, revealing a nefarious villain that’s been here since the inception of horror films.
In Cabin in the Woods, every horror film situation ever brought to the screen has actually been created by an organization bent on spilling the blood of innocent teenagers. It’s a high-concept premise, re-framing every slasher movie enjoyed by audiences as part of some grander, carefully structured scheme.
At a pivotal point in the film, a room is revealed that contains every magical, technological, supernatural, and mutant creature trapped and ready to be deployed by said organization. It’s a dream-like sequence, with each creature imprisoned in a see-through box, rotating *around one another like glass elevators from some obscene version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Even when they’re released on the antagonists of the film, however, these are not the true monsters. The organization that detains and sets them on unsuspecting young adults isn’t, either. They’re just a complex studio carefully putting together a well-worn mousetrap of a narrative for movie-going audiences.The true villains are the underworld-dwelling elder gods that need to be fed. By satiating these sleeping gods with sexy, entertaining sacrificial lamb, the organization makes sure they don’t rise up and destroy the world.
In short, the elder gods and true villains are a pretty thinly-veiled portrait of us, the viewers of slasher fair.
We, the audiences who shell out cash repeatedly for a chance to see some poor girl get her bloody comeuppance for sneaking into the wrong isolated haunted house to make out with a guy, are the ones who support these horror movies. The audience members are the gods who demand three-dimensional human beings boiled down to flat, stereotypical characters so that their deaths feel less personal. The sacrifice of nubile women and headstrong men satisfy our ancient, throw-them-to-the-lions desires. Sometimes, if the deaths are corny and the movie is cheesy enough, we laugh.
Take, for instance, the scene in which Jules (Anna Hutchison) is the first among her friends to die. She can’t just be slaughtered by the zombie rednecks randomly; the organization has to catch her having sex with her boyfriend. Otherwise depicted as an interesting, funny person, the technicians have to drug Jules with pheromone spray, her roofie’d “dumb blond” hair dye, and put her in a fully-controlled forest make-out pad with mood lighting so that she’ll be killed in the most conventional way possible. Her death is sobering. In the grand tradition of sexually active characters being punished in horror movies, Jules has been manipulated to become an exaggerated caricature and is killed for it.
And all this means that Cabin in the Woods thinks the gods have pretty poor taste. Or at least taste that could afford to be more discerning.
When Dana (Kristen Connolly) lets loose the collection of other world serial killers on the technicians of the organization that’s killed her camping friends, the blood that flows is so over-the-top, it’s comical. “Let’s get this party started,” she says, pounding the button that releases the nightmares and splatters thick layers of blood over the walls, floor, and ceiling. It’s funny, dark, completely over-the-top, and does nothing to entertain the gods down below.
The mass slaughter of the organization’s members is the take down of the traditional horror mechanisms key to a basic slasher movie. The god-viewers expect a pattern, which this isn’t.
Dana’s remaining friends have to die. That’s what the narrative of “x amount of teenagers get trapped in x and pay the price” has lead us to expect, and that’s what we want. The story turns in on itself, though. Even Dana isn’t a traditional, pure heroine because her beliefs, by the end of the film, fall prey to human flaw, unusual for the fictional women who tend to survive being stalked by creatures of the night.
It’s not a crime for the gods to be satisfied. The people killed on-screen are, of course, fictional. It’s a crime, however, if this fictional reaping is devoid of passion or involvement. The viewers, gods or monsters, aren’t creepy because they want someone dead, they’re creepy because they don’t want any other kind of story that will make them dead. A story where uninteresting, tropic people are isolated, haunted, and killed remains with no chance of deviation. We can dream bigger.
The survivors of the massacre darkly joke that maybe it’s better if humanity is killed by the ruling gods if it means the chance of being replaced by something better. I agree. Maybe it’s all right for horror conventions to die if it means there’s a better, more complex story out there.
Cabin in the Woods is an indictment of audience apathy and a demand for better films in the genre. The gods that rise up against humans at the end of the movie don’t necessarily indicate a dark ending. They’re just viewers who hunger for something more than the film studio organizations that feed them now provides.