The Cabin In the Woods – Redefining Horror in the Modern Era
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Directed by Drew Goddard
The lambs have passed through the gate. They are come to the killing floor.
By 2012 the cabin film section of the horror genre was washed out, as was the teen horror movie sub genre in general, overrun with fake blood, predictable storylines and fairly tame monsters. 2012 was also the year the ancient Mayan prophecy claimed the world would end and we would all die and in the two or three years previous the film market was awash with dystopian, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic films. So how do you produce a horror movie that’s in line with the trend for dystopian and apocalyptic stories but that’s also an original story, a story that makes you jump, that makes you wonder, that you can’t quite work out until the last few scenes? Well Cabin in the Woods does a pretty good job.
The film opens with a group of scientists and technicians in an underground facility discussing the fact that an operation by their Swedish counterparts has failed and that it is down to them (USA) or Japan.
Cut to a group of five college students Dana, Jules, Curt, Holden and Marty, who are setting off for a weekend break at Curt’s cousin’s country home (the titular cabin in the woods). Whilst the group spend the day exploring the surround area, swimming in the lake and partying in the cabin, it becomes clear that the technicians and scientists from the opening scene are manipulating the situation, pumping drugs that hinder rational thinking and increase sex drive into the cabin and surrounding woods.
As the evening wears on and the group become more and more intoxicated and game of “truth or dare” leads them to the cellar, which is full of strange artefacts, all of which the scientists have been betting on in the control room. When Dana picks up an old diary and reads a passage from it in Latin, a “zombie redneck torture family” are awakened and begin terrorising the group, picking them off one by one.
By this point it has become clear that the group are part of a ritual which requires human sacrifice to appease Gods known only as the “Ancient Ones” to stop them from rising up and destroying humanity. The group represent five archetypes, the whore, the scholar, the fool, the athlete and the virgin, the whore (Jules) must die first and the virgin (Dana) last, although the virgin may survive, as long as the others die first it doesn’t matter if she lives or dies.
As the night unfolds the Jules, Curt and Marty have been killed, leaving Dana and Holden trying to escape in the RV when Holden is killed, the scientists and technicians begin celebrating believing the ritual to be a success when it turns out Marty is still alive and comes to Dana’s rescue. The two find an elevator shaft under the cabin and decide as they have nowhere else to go to see where it takes them. Once the elevator begins moving they find themselves in amongst a mass of other glass cubes all containing strange and horrifying creatures, they soon realise that the artefacts they found in the cabin correspond to a creature and whatever they pick in the cellar dictates what horror will be unleashed upon them in the woods.
Dana and Marty hide in a control room and set all the creatures free to terrorise the facility before they try to escape and find themselves in an underground temple, below which the “Ancient Ones” reside, where they meet The Director who explains how the ritual is supposed to end and that Dana must shoot Marty before sunrise. The Director is then thrown into the pit below by one of the creatures as Dana and Marty decide maybe it is best for humanity to be wiped out and another species take over, as the “Ancient Ones” rise and the film ends.
Cabin in the Woods fuses the horror and the science fiction genres together, while this is nothing new and has been done countless times before, it focuses on how science/scientific development impacts on free will and how it co-exists alongside religion. It makes a horror film scientific rather than a sci-fi film horrific. It toys with the expectations of the audience by playing with the conventions that we’ve come to expect as typical of the horror genre. Where most modern horror films throw us in at the deep end, trying to shock and scare us senseless within the first fifteen minutes and then spend the rest of the movie trying to keep that kind of pace and falling flat. Instead Cabin in the Woods slowly builds up the back story, drip feeding the audience little bits of information about what’s happening, who the scientists are and why its all happening in the first place. It creates a puzzle for horror fans to try and solve before the end, trying to figure out which conventions have been messed with and how everything fits together.
In most “cabin-in-the-woods” type story lines the teenagers/youths are portrayed as stupid, they get themselves into these situations by making bad decisions, the run further into danger rather than away from it. Whereas in Cabin in the Woods the students aren’t portrayed as being particularly stupid or reckless, they are all intelligent, high achieving college students, just a group of kids who get caught up in something they have no control over. Even Marty who fulfils the archetype of the “fool” in the ritual is shown to be very smart, he is the first one to figure out what is going on in the woods. They are a group it is fun to spend time with, they’re developed characters who you will to outsmart the zombies, you will them to escape rather than will them to get caught because you’re tired of all their idiocy and just want them to stop talking.
Critically acclaimed the world over, Cabin in the Woods manages to fit into the Hollywood trend of dystopian/apocalyptic films that was present at the beginning of the decade, whilst still staying true to the horror genre and at the same time examining what it is about the horror genre that makes us as horror fans tick.
I’m sorry I let you get attacked by a werewolf and then ended the world.
By Kat Lawson