The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Words is the ultimate meta monster movie. It lovingly explains exactly why all those countless teenagers in all those terrible creature features movies had to die, and does so in amusing — yet horrifying — fashion.

Directed by Drew Goddard and written by Goddard and Joss Whedon, The Cabin in the Woods presents itself as a standard college-kids-on-vacation-of-doom scenario. There’s the jock, the scholar, the beautiful blonde, the stoner, and the virgin, all of whom are headed out to a relative’s cabin in the woods. There are portents of doom of course — including a crazy old guy at a gas station who actually shouts portents of doom — but they’re all ignored.

The cabin, far from civilization and radiating an Evil Dead aura gets creepier and creepier as our protagonists explore it. There are one-way glass mirrors inside the cabin, a vicious wolf head mounted on the wall, and a general sense that this is the sort of place Jason Voorhees might like to hangout in.

Then they venture into the cabin’s basement where they discover all manner of strange curios. An ancient diary. A fortune telling machine. A conch shell. A unicorn. A ballerina music box. At a glance, each seems harmless and yet each is tied to a terrible, and murderous, future, because the cabin in the woods is not at all what it seems.

A secret facility dedicated to something … psychological research .. is revealed early in the movie. The operators of the facility — scientists, security personel, even janitors — seem to be manipulating events in the cabin, though choice is clearly a factor: the staff bet on the outcome of the scenario.

It’s dark humor, but it all points to something far more terrible.

“Yes, you had ‘Zombies.’ But this is ‘Zombie Redneck Torture Family. Entirely separate thing. It’s like the difference between an elephant and an elephant seal.” — Sitterson

At the surface, The Cabin in the Woods is a run-of-the-mill horror film who’s monstrous antagonists are ripped from horror movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes.

What makes the movie is how it deftly manipulates its premise. We all know what’s going to happen — there’s a logic to such things that we’ve seen in Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Grudge. People must make stupid decisions, and then they must be punished. The big question for The Cabin in the Woods is … why?

I won’t answer that now; the movie’s good enough that if you haven’t seen it, you deserve to experience the reveal for yourself. Suffice it to say it’s worth the price of admission.

I loved how the movie manipulated the viewers’ expectations, throwing off the standard musical audio queues by inserting monster attacks when you didn’t expect them. Just when you’d expect the movie to slow down to give the campers a chance to catch their breath and contemplate their doom, it hits you again, killing off the heroes with gleeful extravagance.

This being a Joss Whedon film, you’d be safe in assuming that there’s going to fast, funny dialogue a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Avengers. And there certainly is. Whedon and co-writer/director Drew Goddard crafted great lines here like “People in this town drive in a very counterintuitive manner” and “Ok, I’m drawing a line in the [bleeping] sand here. Do not read the Latin!”. Both are delivered by Marty, the film’s obligatory stoner and the only one who has half a clue as to what’s going on.

There’s just a glimpse of the larger movie. While the camper’s dialogue is pretty run of the mile (save when Marty’s struggling to understand things) but I loved the banter of the technicians of The Facility. They’re just white lab coated workers, going about their business unleashing horrible evil on the world, but they do it with flair and … with purpose.

“Cleanse them. Cleanse the world of their ignorance and sin. Bathe them in the crimson of… [pauses] Am I on speakerphone?” — Mordecai

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The single best part of The Cabin in the Woods is that it’s not just a monster movie, it’s every monster movie. The curios in the basement are connected to monsters stored in The Facility, and they’re released based on what ever horror the campers pick.

Moreover, the death of the campers is part of a ritual meant to prevent the rising of the Old Ones, ancient gods who once ruled the earth, and now accept annual sacrifices in return to their continued slumber.

It’s a great premise, and it finally makes sense of all those idiot Friday the 13th sequels that brought Jason back to life with a random bolt of lightning. Jason had to come back, or else the world would be destroyed! Who cares how he came back, what’s important is that the sacrifice happened.

The dungeon beneath the facility is crammed with monsters. As an old school monster and horror movie fan it was easy to see the inspiration: Dawn of the Dead, Hellraiser, Terminator, Evil Dead, The Howling and many more. We get to see many of them close up, first as the two surviving campers infiltrate The Facility, and again when they free the monsters to feast upon their captors.

It was a hell of a lot of fun to see these creatures for the first time; it was even better the second time when you knew it was coming and could look for things you didn’t see the first time around.

The Cabin in the Woods is so enticing because it shows glimpses into all of these alternate story lines. As viewers, it’s easy for us to imagine how they’d play out because we’ve already seen those movies.

It’s a niche film that’s best enjoyed by people who have the cinematic background to enjoy it, but it’s a damn good niche film. If you love creature features, you have to see it, preferably more than once.