I watched The Cabin in the Woods, Joss Whedon's new movie sending up the conventions of the horror genre. It won't rank among Whedon's best works, but I was intrigued (though somewhat saddened) that Whedon returned to the Lovecraftian well in telling his story of the forces manipulating a group of college students at the title location.
The set up, of course, is a horror cliche--shades of The Evil Dead, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and any number of similar films. The trailer makes clear that something else is going on in a mysterious control room beneath the titular cabin. I won't give away the plot too much, but for those who haven't seen the movie consider this your **SPOILER ALERT**. Behind the goings on at the cabin is a cult of the "Ancient Ones," "evil gods" who wait beneath the earth to rise up and reclaim their domain should certain conditions not be met.
It takes little imagination to see in this the Old Ones of Lovecraft, who wait beneath the earth for the stars to come right again, though in their August Derleth-derived form as emissaries of evil. Nor is this the first time that Whedon has used this trope; in Buffy: The Vampire Slayer the Old Ones were the progenitors of the first vampires and also waited beneath the earth for the time when they could reign again, etc. In fact, the mixture of ancient ritual and modern technology had already been done in many permutations in Whedon's other work, especially Buffy and Angel. The movie's sketchy discussion of mind control and free will was also the dominant theme of Dollhouse.
Ultimately, Cabin in the Woods fails because its somewhat interesting idea isn't given enough time to develop and the situation is forced to an unnaturally abrupt conclusion; the other side of the coin, however, is that given more time (as in a TV series), there would be little to distinguish Cabin in the Woods from any random episode of Buffy or Angel or Dollhouse.
If I could sum up the movie in one line, it would be this: The Truman Show meets Rod Serling's Night Gallery.
4/27/2012 02:32:45 am
It fails because it doesn't develop enough? What's to develop that wasn't there?
4/27/2012 02:41:15 am
A lot of Joss Whedon's work makes use of shorthand and shortcuts to imply story that isn't depicted on screen. I felt that unlike some of Whedon's best work, I didn't care about the characters as people rather than puppets in this movie, and for me that meant that the story seemed more mechanical than organic. The ending where the movie strikes the sets and sets the stage on fire didn't feel earned to me mostly because I never connected with the characters--kids or control room operators.
5/7/2012 04:36:01 pm
your articles reads like hipster tripe. just because it's not original doesn't mean it's not good. and it certainly isn't a "failure" of a film. it's raising the bar for horror directors to create something truly new.
Day Late and Dollar Short
7/28/2015 05:26:15 am
I was somewhat surprised you didn't touch on the idea that a number of traditional horror movie tropes were reversed or slightly twisted. I understand that the way this was accomplished in the film may not have been satisfying (pheromones turn Chris Hemsworth into the "Jock" even though we're aware that the only part of the trope he originally embodies is he is muscular and an athlete), but it appears to be a major goal of the film. I feel you have a very profound understanding of the horror genre both in literature and film, and was looking forward to your examination of that.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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