The Cabin In The Woods (2012) review – no spoilers, just exhilaration
The Cabin In The Woods could be any horror movie… or it could be all of them. Archetypes are torn apart in an exhilarating piece of thesis-by-torture.
The Cabin In The Woods
(Drew Goddard, 2012)
See the photo at the top of this page? That’s all I knew of this film before I saw it. That’s all you need to know, too. Just look at the title – The Cabin In The Woods – and see the fear in their eyes. There’s something there, with them, isn’t there? But what could it be? The identity of the ghouls is the least important thing about director/co-writer Drew Goddard and producer/co-writer Joss Whedon’s horror film. What’s important is that there’s something.
I’m currently reading Nightmare Movies, Kim Newman’s heavyweight history of horror. It’s an exhaustive study of how the genre has changed over the decades but essentially stayed the same, each new iteration of terror trying to scare a jaded generation when old methods have lost their ability to shock. With the best of respect to Mr Newman, he needn’t have bothered. The thesis he spent decades honing while sitting in the dark throughout horror movies good, bad and ugly, The Cabin In The Woods achieves in an hour and a half. Part homage, part deconstruction, it’s a wild ride.
And you must watch it before you find out any more. This belongs to a rare class of movie – L.A. Confidential, Children Of Men – that sent me spinning out of the cinema in a state of stupified surprise and electric exhilaration. The rug is pulled in the very first scene; the rest is spent figuring out where Goddard and Whedon have hidden it. Like The Wizard Of Oz, they take us behind the curtain but somehow keep the magic. It’s a hell of a trick. Even the film’s potential Achilles heel – the corny scene-setting, the sometimes second-hand jolts – become a strength. When that rug is pulled, why are you worrying about your feet?
The Cabin In The Woods cogitates (not in a dull academic textbook way, but in that trademark wisecracking Whedon style) on why horror movies exist. Who makes them? How are they put together? Why do we watch them? The reasons are the same as they’ve always been: society grappling with its demons by acting them out, finding metaphors that illuminate our world. Entertainment mixed with schadenfreude. The conclusions are simple but delivered with blinding clarity. Where many horror directors struggle to see the woods for the trees, Goddard and Whedon’s cabin is the perfect vantage point.
So what is the film’s grand statement? What demons are our society grappling with? The film’s surprisingly moral conclusion is that we’ve hit the point where we’re too desensitised. When the classic bogeymen fail to frighten us, the tendency is no longer to move on but to plunge down, into sadism and suffering. The film is a rebuke to the likes of Rob Zombie and the torture-porn generation: find better ideas. And, boy, do Goddard and Whedon have ideas. The film’s final third is an act of breathtaking creative anarchy that, right up to the audacious punchline of its final shot, dares to wipe the slate clean. The Cabin In The Woods is a reminder that horror thrives on shifting the paradigm and, after this, a lot of directors are going to struggle to find funding for the same-old, same-old. It’s time to move on.