Usually the “meta” thing pisses me off, especially in horror movies. Thanks to Wes Craven’s Scream and its success, movies being blatantly self aware became huge. What bugs me about the “meta” phase is that films like Scream were using its self-awareness as a crutch. It relied solely on “meta” to hopefully provide humour and intelligence to the film. The thing was, the meta humour was so obvious and felt like that hipster pointing out flaws in Friday the 13th or Halloween that you just want to punch. Why bring up the aging meta humour in Scream? What does this have to do with Cabin In The Woods? Well Cabin did self-aware properly.
The Cabin In The Woods was written by Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Firefly) and co-written/directed by Drew Goddard (Cloverfield). The film was completed in 2009, but was put on the shelf for three years until its release in 2012. It revolves around a group of college students who go to a cabin in the woods (name check!) and during their stay at the cabin, evil creatures come out and bad things happen. As familiar as that sounds, just wait. As the kids try to fight this off, a group of technicians are in a room controlling everything from the kids’ moves to the monsters that come out.
Dissecting the Slasher Genre
The point of Cabin is to dissect the slasher genre, which is done to perfection. Using the technicians, the stereotypical characters, and the lab where the “horror” is created, the movie shows off how homogenized slasher movies have become over the years.
Take a look at the first half hour: in this time, we learn that the kids have been drugged and lured into this controlled environment for them to be killed. This is done using actors, such as the nut at the gas station, and drugging various things, such as Jules’ hair dye to turn these kids into the typical slasher characters. Marty, the stoner, notices this right away since this isn’t how his friends usually act. The technicians rig the game a little bit to make sure things go smoothly by controlling the environment they are in. The two technicians, Sitterson and Hadley, do this by releasing gas in the air or lighting a small area, or opening doors so that events can happen sooner and as planned. For example, the two men light up a part of the dark forest and release a gas in order to persuade two of the characters to have sex and have the one classified as the whore die.
This all really shows how clichéd the horror genre has become without spelling it out for the audience like Scream did. Through subtle nods to the classic tropes, we get to see how predictable and tired the slasher genre has become, to a point where it has almost become standard protocol for all of these events to happen. With all of this shown to us in a darkly comedic way, it feels like Whedon and Goddard are trying to make a point about the state of horror these days. For example, Sitterson and Hadley reveal that there are lab technicians just like them in different countries such as Japan, which like the American lab, are starting to fail. The monsters are being defeated, everyone who is supposed to die isn’t dying and is becoming suspicious of the activity. This rebellion against the normal could symbolize how audiences and fans are growing tired of the same slasher every time and that going against convention at times isn’t always a bad thing.
A Method To Their Madness
*WARNING: This section that has MAJOR SPOILERS involving the finale of the film so if you have yet to see the film and wish to remain unspoiled, please skip to the next section titled ‘Honouring The Slasher Genre’*
What is the meaning behind the lab forcing these kids to be killed by various horror monsters through typical slasher conventions? Why is all of this happening? In the last ten minutes, it’s revealed that all of this is a major ritual that has been around for centuries. As explained by the awesome Sigourney Weaver, the world was once ruled by Dark Gods. In order to prevent them from returning to this world again, we must sacrifice the blood of a whore, an athlete, a scholar, a fool and (depending on the circumstances) a virgin. If the blood of these five are not sent to the gods, they will rise up and destroy the world. As dorky and nerdy as that sounds, it actually fits and is a metaphor for a bigger picture. It represents the rich tradition behind the horror and slasher genre. No matter how much one may change things, the basic formula is still there. Characters go out somewhere and, through unusual circumstances, are brutally killed for our entertainment; it will always be the same. It doesn’t matter if your film is as thought-provoking as The Shining or as fun as Friday the 13th, these films follow a typical formula that has never significantly changed over the years and probably never will change. This is both the highest compliment and the highest fault of horror. It may be a longstanding formula, but as the years go on it comes off as tiresome for general audiences to see the same thing over and over again.
Honouring the Slasher Genre
While dissecting the clIchés of traditional horror, Cabin also delves into some of the best of the genre, including our favourite iconic villains, the gratuitous violence, and the fun of an audience. There are some beautiful scenes that pay homage to the great monsters of horror, including a scene where the technicians set up a betting board with monster names such as Deadites and the molesting tree from The Evil Dead, clowns like Pennywise from It, and creepy twins like those from The Shining.
There is also a scene where a parade of iconic monsters appear out of nowhere. This scene was hands down awesome. The over-the-top gore and violence, the random creatures that came out (including a Reaver from Joss Whedon’s Firefly), and the fun intensity of it really paid tribute to the wonderfully vicious spirit of horror films and the reasons we love them so much.
The lab technicians can also be seen as equally energetic as a horror movie audience. The best example of this are when everyone is sitting around watching the monitors as Curt and Jules are about to have sex in the woods, an essential moment in horror. When Jules pulls away, the technicians all release a collective sigh of disappointment. Whedon and Goddard may be criticizing some aspects of horror, but they lovingly embrace a lot of others including the gratuitous nature of the film and its audience.
The Cabin In The Woods is brilliant. While being completely self aware about itself, the film uses its meta humour to not just pay homage to the great slashers and their icons, but also criticize the homogenization of the genre. Its an excellent look at horror and the direction it is heading thanks to its intelligent screenplay that acts as an analytical essay and bold take on the horror film.