Why I Loved, Loved, Loved, Loved Cabin in the Woods

If you haven’t seen Cabin in the Woods yet, go see it. Don’t read this blog post. Don’t read anything else about it. Don’t watch the trailer. Shun all articles, comments, advertisements, and even headlines that mention it. Just go get it all up in your sense organs and take it in. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, and you (yes, YOU) need to watch it.

If you haven’t, go away. Now.

There are spoilers ahead.

Click away if you haven’t seen it. This is the Internet. I’m sure you can find something else to read.

Alright, is it just us? Have we all here seen the movie? Cool. Guys, I loved this film. Loved, loved, loved it. Here’s why:

I will now imagine every conventional horror movie being expertly manipulated by Josh from The West Wing.

Cabin in the Woods isn’t a spoof or a parody like the Scream movies. It doesn’t ask the audience to laugh at other horror movies, or love them less. It’s not biting the hand that feeds it. Instead, Cabin provides a backstory for just about every other horror movie ever made. It takes tired genre tropes and turns them into something we can actually appreciate by turning them into plot points. Instead of skewering cliches, it provides a reason for them. Why are horror movies the way they are? Because the Ancient Gods say so, that’s why. Why do people make stupid decisions? Because of pheromone gas. Why do the characters fall into such neat archetypes? Because of poison hair dye and spiked weed.

The next time I see horror characters who are badly drawn, who make stupid decisions, or who generally fall into easy stereotypes, I’m just going to assume it’s because Josh from The West Wing and his coterie of murderous poindexters are pulling all the strings, substituting common sense and depth of personality with the ritualistic motions of the horror genre.

It fire’s Checkhov’s gun gleefully into the air, again and again and again.

As soon as I saw the Hellraiser-esque ball puzzle in the basement scene, I couldn’t help grinning. I knew exactly what would happen if someone solved the puzzle, and (by implication) what all the other things in the basement did. My suspicions were confirmed moments later with the shot of the whiteboard that listed a plethora of horror monsters and baddies. I had to admit, I was a little tiny bit disappointed when the baddies turned out to be “just” some shambling corpses, and understood Bradley Whitford’s disappointment when he said that he wanted to see a merman.

The ending, though, completely reversed my earlier disappointment. If anything, it was only because of my disappointment earlier at not seeing a giant snake or werewolf that made me so ebullient when they appeared later. Cabin in the Woods is one of those few movies that satisfied all of my expectations and didn’t leave me exhausted. It knew when to overload the audience with horrors, and also when to stop, creating, and then masterfully satisfying, audience desire.

It’s a movie that gives us a good damn look at all of the awesome carnage.

I don’t hate shakycams or fast edits if they’re used well (I don’t hate anything if it’s used well, actually) but unstill cameras and rapid chopping have become all too common in movies. I loved the camerawork in Cabin. The frame actually stayed put from time to time, and instead of giving us brief and frenetic looks at the action or various monsters, director Drew Goddard let us have a good, long look at everything that was happening. When the menagerie of horrors sprung from the elevators toward the end, I was immensely happy that we got to actually see them. Goddard didn’t just give us a brief flash of monstrous action- he lingered on the beasts and the gore lovingly, serving up a beautiful, bloody feast for the audience.

Speaking of the audience…

The Ancient Gods are us.

At least, that’s what I think. The white-shirted manipulators ominously say “we’re not the only ones watching.” No, not at all. The Ancient Gods are. They demand a certain amount of satisfaction, titillation, conflict, gore, sacrifice, messiness, and all in a prescribed formula. They are us. They are the producers who want movies packaged in a particular way, and the audience who wants certain expectations met. If the manipulators (i.e., the film makers) fail, their world falls apart. Box office receipts plummet, audiences walk away unsatisfied, and a giant fist rises from the ground, rage-quitting the world in anger. The Ancient Gods for whom film makers create elaborate, cruel, blood-soaked illusions are those of us sitting in the theater seats who demand new sacrifices year after year. Those sacrifices must follow a certain pattern, they must be of a certain type, they must follow rules. Otherwise, the Ancient Gods, the audience, will not be assuaged.

I, though, walked away from Cabin in the Woods immensely pleased. Mr. Goddard, Mr. Whedon- your sacrifice is acceptable.

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