Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

by Will Ross

Spoilers Below

As a horror movie, The Cabin in the Woods is a failure. There are few genuinely tense moments (only the wolf scene stands out), and while this can be waved away with a pat answer of  “It’s satirizing formulaic horror movies, of course it’s not going to be scary,” the film lingers too long and (for the most part) too unwinkingly on many of its horror set pieces for them to be ironic. More importantly, making a bad movie doesn’t qualify as a satire of bad movies. The Cabin succeeds when it remembers that it’s not supposed to be taking a stab at horror, but stabbing the genre to death in an apoplectic rage over the industry’s systematic ruining of horror over the last three decades. The limp scares point to another flaw, the shoddy direction, for if horror isn’t scary, it should at least be interesting. But Drew Goddard’s direction is mostly functional, and when he dares to put the camera somewhere not dictated merely by necessity, it is unmotivated at best and actively distracting at worst. Goddard is no Sam Raimi.

Oops, I said it. It’s almost impossible to seriously discuss The Cabin without mentioning its most obvious and important influence, Evil Dead II. That’s at least partly by design, since the titular setting of The Cabin in the Woods isn’t really all that common a horror archetype outside of Sam Raimi’s landmark trilogy. In fact, to call Evil Dead II an “Influence” is an understatement — major conceits and gags are taken wholesale from Raimi’s film, including mockery of an unnecessary incantation recitation and a last-minute action by a severed zombie hand. Even the title card punch line is reused from Raimi’s lesser but still-laudable horror-comedy Drag Me to Hell, albeit with a different setup: Instead of following a moment of overblown terror, it’s ostentatiously plastered over banal chit chat. That setup introduces the distinguishing factor of The Cabin, which rescues it from the irony of criticizing genre formula while nicking its ideas from a film that did it better. Pitting a bureaucrat comedy a la Office Space against schlock horror is a natural, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that way to highlight generic monotony, and that’s why the scary bits’ unscariness are so problematic: Instead of a major tonal contrast between terror and TPS reports, we go from one self-conscious tedium to another. Still, the office segments are terrifically entertaining, as are those of the would-be archetypes when they don’t take themselves seriously, and the intercutting between them makes its points on spectacle ethics.

But the film doesn’t stop there, and eventually the sub-Raimi cabin plot moves into the office halls and unleashes multitudes of American horror tropes against their gatekeepers. What follows is a mess on nearly all of the figurative and literal levels imaginable. But The Cabin is, after all, an attempt to deconstruct horror films as literally as a standard narrative structure will allow, and so its jettison of coherence and cohesiveness in favour of absurdist chaos is at least somewhat apropos (even if the climax strikes me as overlong and not nearly as radical in its execution as it could and should be). As a story we can invest ourselves in, the movie is more or less over by the time the unicorn shows up, for better or for worse.

Anyway, the most memorable thing about The Cabin in the Woods is not its meta-narrative, it’s the movie’s fervent dedication to its thesis of “Fuck the whole system,” which is so pervasive and consistently revolutionary in tone that it’s a wonder it was shown in mainstream cinemas at all. The full breadth of Cabin’s demand for total change isn’t explicit, but though it probably not a literal demand for humanity’s extermination, it doesn’t limit its criticisms to producers and watchers of horror movies; Reality TV, media influence, government deceit, and corporate apathy are only a few of its targets. That distrust of authority and institutions, when taken along with the insistence on total upheaval to achieve change, can’t help but smack of Marxism, and even if it’s a stretch to suggest that co-writer and producer Joss Whedon is a communist (especially after the latter helmed the Avengers mega-blockbuster), such an unflinching condemnation of and refusal to compromise with the system is rare and admirable.


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