The Cabin In The Woods (2012)

The Cabin In The Woods first published by Little White Lies

“This is awesome!”

So declares Curt (Chris Hemsworth), as he first enters his cousin’s old log cabin for a weekend of fun with four college friends, sounding not unlike some drivelling cine-blogger reviewing his own movie. This oaken edifice, furnished with all the familiar accoutrements of backwoods American gothic, is indeed all at once heaven and hell for a fanboy, as its classic combination of an isolated sylvan setting, creaky doors, animals’ heads mounted on walls, trapdoors and the crystal lake out back, all scream one thing: “You. Are. All. Going. To. Die!”

Though squeamish about spiders, Curt’s girlfriend Jules (Anne Hutchison) also has to admit that the cabin “is kind of cool”. Not even the macabre painting found in one of the upstairs bedrooms, nor indeed the two-way mirror concealed beneath it, gives Dana (Kristen Connolly) and Holden (Jesse Williams) too much pause.

It is only when, later that evening, the five coeds have ventured down to the dark cellar, and discovered a hoard of ancient curiosities/subgenre props (broken dolls, a locket, an old diary, a music box, film reels, even a Hellraiser-style ‘lament configuration’), that paranoid stoner Marty (Fran Kranz) begins expressing real misgivings about all these ominous clichés: “Guys, I’m not sure it’s awesome to be down here.”

The Cabin In The Woods wastes no time in taking us to self-consciously standard horror territory, to a degree that even these young coeds seem to recognise, however much they may have ignored the warnings of the creepy guy at the gas station and, like lambs to the slaughter, headed off in their Mystery Machine-like transport to the ‘old Buckner place’.

Yet coming from the collaborative brains of Joss Buffy Whedon and Drew Lost Goddard – with the latter also debuting as a director – you can be sure that there will be puckish postmodernism at play here. And sure enough, Cabin… is a film that all at once makes, shakes, bakes, has and eats its horror cake, but with more than enough good humour to ensure that all its meta-monstrosity never gains too much weight. For if Dana and her pals are seen gradually starting to feel entrapped in a hoary horror scenario, and to conform, even against their own nature, to ready-made genre stereotypes (the dumb blonde, the jock, the virgin, ‘Shaggy’ etc), then we are way ahead of them in the game. After all, we were introduced in the film’s very first scene to a pair of jovial suits (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford) who, working with a large crew of technicians in a brutalist facility, are regularly shown observing, manipulating and stage-managing everything that happens to our famous five while, even before that, the opening credits sequence had broadly hinted at where this human puppetshow might eventually be leading.

Enter Goddard’s film expecting twists aplenty (an expectation aroused in part by its marketing campaign), and you may well find yourself the most surprised by just how early in the piece it is that all the conceptual smoke and mirrors are revealed. But this does not prevent Cabin… from being a fun popcorn horror, replete with savvy lines, human evil of a hilariously banal variety, and a veritable breakout of gory creature-feature mayhem in its final act. At the same time, the office politics in Cabin… might be regarded as an allegory of the events that led to the recent credit crunch, as the banking community proved only too happy to sacrifice innocents to a system whose underlying rot could not be kept in the dark forever.

Yet the film is also an ingeniously plotted and witty reflex on the horror genre itself, as well as its voyeuristic audience and its cathartic function. For in choosing to view horrific entertainments, are we not all, as bloodthirsty customers of others’ staged suffering and death, seeking ritualised, vicarious placation of the primal drives and monstrous desires that we fear may lie buried and dormant deep within ourselves? Oh yes we are, and ain’t it just cool and awesome…

Anticipation: Goddard + Whedon = wild horror curveball? Great poster, too.

Enjoyment: Cabin fever! Monster mayhem! Just another busy day at the office…

In retrospect: Clever meta-horror, with plenty of hyuks to match the yuks.

© Anton Bitel