Halloween isn’t always about the scares. (Okay, maybe it is.) But every so often, you stumble across a horror flick that does something new with the genre. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard 2012 horror flick The Cabin in the Woods checks all the boxes.
At first glance The Cabin in the Woods boasts a conventional cast of the usual horror movie characters, setting off on the usual ominous venture into the woods. Horror movie veterans can already smell Whedon and Goddard’s Friday the 13th and The Evil Dead influences from here. What the unsuspecting group of rag-tag students don’t know is they are all puppets to a corporation pulling their strings to appease an unknown (but notably powerful) entity. The trick of the game is to torment the victims with horror conventions until their inevitable demise.
This is where things get interesting. The stereotypes are set in place: the dumb blond (Anna Hutchison), her jock boyfriend (a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth), the nerd (Jesse Williams), the fool (Fran Kranz) and the virgin (Kristen Connolly). Each one of them are being watched by hundreds of people, waiting with bated breath for them to slip up and get the axe. Whedon is well-known by now for works that subvert expectations. He created Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a way to negate the dumb blond cheerleader trope, after all. So there’s no surprise here that he and Goddard throw us a curveball by writing a horror movie not about hapless victims, but about us. We are the voyeuristic corporation that sits on the edge of their seats, munching popcorn by the handful, placing bets and yelling at the screen during moments of high tension. This is us, the horror movie viewers, and we must be appeased.
The meta-nature of it all is that we create these grotesque stories to feed our twisted need for escapism. We are the villains in this scenario. When the climax hits and the protagonists figure out the game, the tables are turned. And it’s so wrong and yet so right to watch as the candy shop of every horror movie convention you can ever dream of lets loose against its own creators. “You created these monsters,” Whedon’s taunting whisper caresses your ear, “and now they’re out of control.” Our desire for more blood, more guts, more gore, and more death is rampant. We are a desensitized nation and there is no appeasing when we continually demand more, more, more!
As any horror junkie knows, the biggest rule to abide by is to never give away the ending. And out of respect, I will kindly leave you all hanging on tenterhooks. But I will give you this: The Cabin in the Woods’s epic finale does not disappoint. With all its intellectual layers, the movie as a whole wrinkled my brain and the ending only wraps it all up with a thought-provoking bow.
Most modern horror movies lately plead realism (a la Insidious and Sinister), and then hop on the over-the-top supernatural bandwagon halfway through, leaving their skeptical audiences in the dust. Cabin never pretends to be anything its not. It’s steeped in the supernatural from start to finish, and Whedon and Goddard unapologetically fly their geek flag high.
Is it terrifying? Will it keep you up for nights on end, unable to sleep with the lights off? Maybe not. But it will leave you wondering just what kind of society this is, where we take pleasure in other people’s pain. And maybe that’s the most terrifying horror story of them all.