‘Marmite’ is one word to describe The Cabin in the Woods. You simply either love it or hate it. Many people hate it, however, because they don’t understand it. I think some filmophiles (who have never seen a slasher film in their life) see a critically acclaimed film and decide to watch it, without understanding all the strange in-jokes and postmodernism. The first step to understanding The Cabin in the Woods is to understand that the film has been made for horror fanatics. If you’re not a horror fan and if you’ve never seen a slasher film, then you won’t understand The Cabin in the Woods and will find yourself baffled at the peculiar carnage that graces your screen. Conversely, if you hate horror films then you may find yourself liking The Cabin in the Woods, as it is also a criticism of the genre. Basically you need to have seen a few slasher films before to understand the brilliance!
I should probably warn you here that this post is going to contain quite a few humongous spoilers, as I’ll be talking explicitly about the ending, which is something you most definitely do not want spoiling! So for those of you, who haven’t seen it, toddle off now and watch it (preferably in blu-ray, but I won’t hold it against you if you don’t) and immediately come back here and read this wonderful piece of Pulitzer prize winning literature.
The rest of you are welcome to stay... I don’t blame you if you hate The Cabin in the Woods, because a lot of it went over my head when I first saw it. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. However, after I let it sink in for a few hours I came to the conclusion that it was a masterpiece and here’s why...
You could never predict what was going to happen before the film started. If you could, you were either Drew Goddard or Joss Whedon or... God! This is an unusual thing for the horror genre, which often seems to follow the same blueprint and conventions. The slasher film, Reeker for example is a perfect illustration of a clichéd slasher, and one which The Cabin in the Woods perfectly criticises. The Cabin in the Woods plays with the clichés, right down to its uninspiring title. The film even begins on a familiar note with opening credits on a black background awash with images of sacrifices and such. Horror nerds should already be yawning at this point until the film jarringly cuts to a couple of amusing office workers having a banal conversation about door knobs or something. It’s almost as if the reel accidently changed, but no. It’s Whedon and Goddard perfectly playing with our expectations on the genre.
This unpredictability only increases as the film goes on which ends with the apocalypse, which I’m sure no one ever saw coming. Of course we’re introduced to a familiar slasher-movie setting and characters, but we also get strange inter-cuts of people in a control room who are manipulating every situation. These people represent the script writers, which leads on to my next point.
The characters are more symbolic than you realise
Sigourney Weaver beautifully sums up the slasher archetypes at the end: The whore, the athlete, the scholar, the fool and the virgin. However, did you notice that their characters changed as the film went on? Before the friends go to the cabin you’ll notice the virgin talking about how she had sex with a teacher, the fool talking about conspiracy theories that are actually true to the film, the athlete talking about sociology books, the scholar without his glasses and the whore mentioning dyeing her hair blonde. However, the people in the control room use mood enhancing drugs on the group in order to transform them into stereotypical slasher drones. The whore snogs a wolf, the athlete acts like a prat and the scholar starts wearing glasses. The only two who seem to be unaffected by the chemicals are the virgin and fool. Subsequently they’re the last to go.
As this diagram perfectly illustrates, the people in the control room are the writers, trying to create a generic slasher film, because it’s the formula that works the best. It’s almost like a ritual, eh? Sigourney is of course the director, the Gods watching are us, the audience. We demand the blood of these characters because it’s in our nature to.
There are also little quirks throughout the film that give a nod to how clichéd horror films can be. One of my favourites is perhaps the subtlest. When Dana stabs a zombified Buckner with a knife, the control room people press a button which lets off a small electric shock, causing Dana to drop the knife. This is of course a fantastic way of illustrating how characters in horror films always annoyingly drop a weapon after killing a villain, which of course they’ll be needing later!
It breaks convention
The Cabin in the Woods becomes seriously unconventional once the fool comes back to save Dana. Dana is being brutally bashed by a vicious zombie which resembles the finale of a typical horror film, whilst the control room people all have a party because they've completed their task of creating a conventional slasher flick. Matyr, however turns out to be alive which breaks the formula and angers the Gods. What follows is one of the craziest scenes of creative carnage I’ve ever seen, as all the hideous creatures break loose.
When ‘the fool’ doesn’t die at the end, the audience isn’t happy which is symbolised by a large hand breaking through the cabin. The Director even mentions at the end that ‘The Fool’ has 5 minutes to die before sunrise (or before the theatre lights come on) otherwise the God’s will wreak havoc and destroy the world. However, ‘The Fool’ decides to live and even says that “It’s time to give someone else a chance” possibly referring to the fact that it’s time horror films became more original. The world ending symbolises the audience verbally bashing the film because it doesn’t follow the horror conventions they’re used to.
Perhaps this is why some people hate The Cabin in the Woods. It’s simply too different for them. I think The Cabin in the Woods is simply one of the greatest slasher films ever! Why? Because it’s basically every slasher film ever made and much more. I’d encourage everyone to give it another chance and read more into it. Embrace it and you’ll love it!