The Cabin in the Woods is simultaneously a safe genre film and an ambitious experiment. It’s difficult to explain why without spoiling the majority of the plot, so I won’t pull any punches. Consider yourself warned. As Daniel Plainview might say, “There will be spoilers! And Oil!”
The film has two stories that run parallel to one another. The first begins with the traditional horror flick dream team gearing up for a weekend at an isolated cabin where they will have plenty of room to drink, bang and be dismembered. There’s the alpha-jock (Fred), the girl who listens to New Order (Velma, who spends her first scene strutting around in panties and thank you god for this magical gift), the dead eyed stoner (Shaggy), the party girl (Daphne), and their companion. (Scooby. I guess. This analogy sort of fell apart halfway through.)
The second and more intriguing of the two introduces us to a few government lab flunkies in a secret-looking compound discussing and executing an important but mysterious project. The two stories converge at the nexus of a third factor, ancient gods demanding blood tribute. “Huh?” Yeah, “huh,” because a movie that set itself up as Evil Dead 4 just got tangled up in intergovernmental conspiracy and mythology.
The breakdown: Back in the day, the “ancients,” mighty forerunners to humans, who we half remember as the gods of old, agreed to stop terrorizing humanity on the condition that once a year five young people be offered up for suffering and sacrifice. The specifics of the ritual dictate that the young people be offered up in the context of what we know as the modern horror movie. This explains Texas Chainsaw. This explains Evil Dead, Friday the 13th and a hundred more slashers that swindle us out of five to ten dollars once a year on October 31st. They were all part of a government project to offer sacrifice to the gods. This makes A Cabin in the Woods both an unofficial prequel to every horror flick ever made and a sequel to every myth and/or legend featuring gods demanding corpses. There isn’t a lot of time to develop characters with all of this going on, so you don’t really care who lives or dies. But hey, that’s clearly Pinhead from the Hellraiser movies over there! (Though they don’t call him that.) There’s the girl from The Ring, there’s a werewolf, and there are three different varieties of zombie! (Yes, there are different kinds. As the film tells us, “hillbilly torture zombies” are not the same things as traditional George A. Romero stumblers.)
It’s funny. Scream already broke the horror formula down to its most basic components years ago. We’ve been down to the marrow, but Cabin aspires to go even deeper by inventing new branches of the archetype to explore. In doing so, it breathes new life into a genre that really should have been bagged and tagged some time ago.
Looking through the prism of metaphor, one almost wonders whether the fresh elements were “invented” at all. Perhaps the nubile spring breakers, ripe for the slaughter, are the common, cliche’ ridden horror film. Perhaps the government agents in the lab are the studios and producers, detachedly formulating the most gruesome ways to mutilate their tributes, the way that will best appease the mighty gods of the universe. The critics.
It only just occurred to me that Cabin shared a few common factors with The Hunger Games. Think of the young folk being offered up to an audience for violent death by stabbing or bludgeoning. I wonder if people will scoff at this movie for ripping off every horror film ever made the way THG was torn apart for its resemblance to Battle Royale. There is a difference between parody and derivation, granted, but it’s a thought.
Next up: Avengers.