Rated R for horror gore, nudity, drug use, and language. It's got a little bit of everything because it is a commentary on a little bit of everything. Now that we hear a lot more of Joss Whedon's secret philosophy, the stuff with Jules comes across as a little bit more gross. But if you can separate the art from the artist, it really does feel in line with stuff that you would see in a Dimension horror movie. It has people indulging in vice and feeling the consequences of those vices via means of horror movie morality. R.
DIRECTOR: Drew Goddard
Oh, I wish that I lived in a world where it was okay to show my high school English class an R rated movie. Okay, I really don't. That would be a world of excess and bad choices. But I'm about to teach my unit on archetypes and tropes! It's also almost Halloween! What an amazing convergence of kismet to be able to show The Cabin in the Woods and then to talk about ancient archetypes! Alas, I guess I'll have to save this idea if I become a college professor one day. (I probably won't, but it's a nice thought.)
The Cabin in the Woods is one of those special movies that almost exists outside of reality. For years, it was shelved. I think it was due to movie studios being bought and sold, coupled with timing and a lack of understanding of marketing. Studio politics are weird to me. I'm always going to low-key gripe about how the studio system works. I was about to say that maybe it was meant to be, but I instantly reverse that decision. The Cabin in the Woods got kind of buried because of those studio politics when, really, it should have been the Get Out of its day. Both movies are absolutely phenomenal horror movies that are fun, but also are fundamentally think pieces that force the audience to engage in a way that seems contrary to the horror genre. These are genius films and it's a crime that these films were treated the way that they were. Yeah, The Cabin in the Woods has a pretty solid cult following, but a lot of that comes from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer / Joss Whedon stans that just can't get enough of Whedon's unique voice and storytelling style. Lord knows that I was once one of them. (Honestly, since Age of Ultron, as much as I love that movie, I kind of got off the Joss Whedon train because he just seemed so angry after that moment.)
But The Cabin in the Woods does more for education in terms of archetypes than I think any other movie does. It's metacriticism is so on point that it took what horror nerds would chat about in dark basements and made it part of an educated vernacular. It made Monster Theory a commonplace idea without actually saying the phrase "Monster Theory." (Note: It should be stated right now that I did my graduate thesis on Monster Theory and Locke & Key, so I'm going out of my way to sound pretentious. It's fun to wax poetic!) While a lot of the metatext is fairly surface level, like why we always have the nerd, the stoner, the trollop, and the jock as our archetypes, coupling these archetypes with the various tropes is super fun. I know that 2020 has inspired all kinds of use of the whiteboard meme from The Cabin in the Woods, but we get little hints of all of the many scenarios that Whedon and Goddard had cooked up. Sure, having the Redneck Religious Zombies may be the closest nod to the OG Cabin-in-the-Woods movie, The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, (it's a crime, by the way, that I'm getting to The Evil Dead after The Cabin in the Woods and Army of Darkness considering how many references I'm making to the progenitor of these films), but it also seems like this villain might be the one that Joss Whedon might have been the most vocal about. I mean, the guy is aggressively an atheist (yet has some wonderful characters of faith on Firefly), so having this zealot murderfest really feels a bit on brand, so I approve. But the tease that every horror movie is simply a shifting of trope upon archetype is great. The clear nod to Hellraiser is particularly successful. While there are variety in tone, the films serve to placate ancient beings starved for gruesome entertainment...
That has to be the read on this, right? The Cabin in the Woods has a big reveal. The reason that all these horror tropes keep on getting repeated throughout history is that the Ancient Ones, old-time gods who can destroy humanity on a whim, find our suffering to be some form of screwed up entertainment. I will stipulate that I'm not a horror nut, but I can also go to bat and say that horror movies are extremely entertaining. And, the thing is, they absolutely should not be. People who are appalled at horror probably have every moral ground for their distaste in the genre. But horror fans need their tropes. Yeah, we like tropes to be subverted from time-to-time, but there's something absolutely appealing about movies like Friday the 13th or Halloween. We love what we love and absolutely hate what we hate. (Maybe not me. I happen to be enlightened and better than everyone I know.) That makes us the old gods of this world. To get even deeper into the meta narrative of it all, the characters of The Cabin in the Woods are fictional. As much as we're supposed to be invested in them as real people, they are fictional. We only tolerate the movie as long as there is killing going on. When the killing stops, the credits roll. When Dana chooses to not kill Marty, the killing has stopped. The giant hand leaves no room for doubt that this world is over. The movie has ended. We have shut the film off with the suspense satiated.
Now I'm going to talk about something kind of gross, but it is something that keeps on popping in my head every time I watch the movie. The bad guys are kind of right, right? I don't want to be a "Thanos was right" kind of individual because those people are too much. I'm more of a "I get Killmonger" kind of guy myself. But the heroes of the movie are actually the people in the underground bunker. (See, I can't even feel comfortable saying that.) Whedon and Goddard make the people in the bunker hilarious, but kind of villainous at the same time. They bet on the most inhumane things, creating a Dead Pool for the employees. They ogle Jules and treat her as a sex object. They, without a doubt, manipulate four American children (not considering all of the other countries involved in this Lovecraftian agreement) into getting murdered horribly, chemically forcing them to obey their wills. They are bad people. But also, what is the alternative? It's not a hypothetical ending, like the ending of Ready or Not. It's a very real "We have evidence that the world is going to end a bloody death" if they don't do what they do. It's a Doctor Who scenario, where the morality is weighed against the practicality. When Dana decides not to kill Marty, mainly because Marty is the most evolved soul here, she kind of reads as a bad guy from a lot of angles. I mean, I applaud Dana's choice. It's the one that leaves her soul intact. But it is an ugly bit of a philosophy hypothetical.
Also, is The Cabin in the Woods supposed to be Joss Whedon's intended tone and message for Buffy Season Four? For those not in the know, Buffy Season Four is rough. Yeah, it has that awesome episode "Hush", but it suffers the same thing a lot of high school set shows do when they mosey on down to college. To couple an already awkward transition, they added this secret underground government organization that captured monsters. The short version of the summary is that it doesn't work, both in world and for the audience. It's kind of a dumb plot. But The Cabin in the Woods feels like what Buffy was shooting for. There might have actually been something going on with that and it could have been glorious. But The Cabin in the Woods almost thrives because it is the only movie that has made government agencies that captures monsters actually seem cool. I don't want to think about the annoying part of every Resident Evil game. Those stories are great until the underground lab is explored. But Goddard, through the inserting of the best casting choices ever, made the secret lab work and work well.
The Cabin in the Woods is a work of genius. Yeah, I wish I could go back to the halcyon days when Joss Whedon wasn't persona non grata. But he is and all I can do is appreciate the product and try to divorce him from it. Regardless, Goddard is still pretty well respected in my book and this movie rules.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.