Saturday at the Movies: The Cabin in the Woods (Spoilers)

Cabin in the Woods posterWe’ve been waiting for The Cabin in the Woods for a few years, right? Filmed three years ago, its release was delayed by the bankruptcy of MGM.

For a certain varieties of geeks, it’s a bit of a dream come true.  Horror fans will find it to be a paean to their favourite genre, with plenty of scares and and gore to be found.  Whedonites (guilty!) will be happy to see Jay Dub’s trademark dialogue and ability to poke holes in genre boxes. In addition, that strange breed of humanity that haunts TV Tropes will probably be all over this like flies on day old watermelon.

Alliance held a screening after Toronto ComicCon in March where a sold out crowd got to watch the film with director Drew Goddard (who is very tall, let me tell you), followed by a Q&A moderated by cinema guru Richard Crouse. That’s how I got to see it. It was uber-fun.

The film is at its core about what’s on the tin. It tells the story of five college students on their way to an old abandoned cabin in the woods. When they get there, horrible things happen. That’s all pretty much common sense, and easily gleanable from the title of the film and a basic knowledge of pop culture. But what follows will be considered spoilers. You can either ignore it and come back after you’ve seen it next weekend (and, yes, if nothing else I say registers, hear this: See it next weekend) or continue on in the interests of scientific inquiry.

So. There are a few reactions when I tell someone I’ve seen The Cabin in the Woods. Many people ask “oh, how was it?” and I reply “very good, make sure you go see it. And ignore the trailer!” Other people shrug because they haven’t heard of the film. I generally don’t tell those people I’ve seen it. Internet savvy types then inquire as to the plot of the film, specifically stuff that digs below the surface of the narrative. Is it true, they say, that the entire thing is a plot to entertain ancient gods? I usually roll my eyes to the heavens and just say  yes, it is, but there’s so much more to it than that.

Because there are. Yes, the scenes with force fields and secret labs are in there. The victims have been chosen and are being manipulated to fulfill certain roles required for the ritual they’re taking part in. Because it is a ritual.  Five victims (a whore, a warrior, a scholar, a  fool, and a virgin) are to be ritually slaughtered after choosing their murderer. These deaths are a sacrifice to placate ancient ones slumbering under the land.What’s interesting is that scenes like this are playing out across the world. In Japan, a class of schoolgirls are about to be eaten by an angry ghost, while other scenarios play out in the background.

The subtext here is very much like that of Inglourious Basterds. The audience in the film (Nazis there, ancient gods here) is representative of the audience who would be drawn to the film. They want blood.  Unlike IB, in Cabin there are rules to the sacrifices. The whore must die first. The virgin must survive so she learns a lesson, or die last. These horror cliches exist, the film says, for a reason. The audience wants to see blood and punishment done in the proper way, and if they don’t, they will rampage across the face of the land. Or complain on internet message boards.

The technicians, played superbly by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, serve as the directors and crew. Is the whore not quite promiscuous enough? Put drugs in her hair dye. Are the victims smartening up? Flood the room with “bad decision gas” so they split up. The film is hilarious as well as horrifying. The technicians hold a party as the victims prepare to select the method of their demise. There’s an intern character played by Whedon favourite Tom Lenk who gets a number of hilarious lines (and several amusing signs).

All of the sub & supertext is easily ignorable. The main plot plays out straightforwardly enough (although I look forward to the inevitable bleating of “I didn’t understand!”s coming from the cheap seats). The end of the film is a half hour long slaughterfest as accumulated horrors are unleashed on those who thought they controlled them. The faux Cenobites are particularly well done. The film is filled with details and there are a number of scenes that will draw audience attention and end up being popular choices for freeze and zooms when the DVD comes out.

Go buy your tickets. This film is a great horror/comedy/musing on the meaning of narrative and a framework of tradition that extends beyond paint by numbers committee building of films.

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