The Cabin in the Woods is about as meta as horror gets

First things first – don’t make the mistake I did and read the Wikipedia plot summary for The Cabin in the Woods before seeing it. I told myself “I’ll never see this but I’m curious what all the hype is about,” and I regretted that decision as soon as the movie started. Luckily, the twist was revealed within the first 30 minutes. But I still wish I’d gone in cold, and I hope you did too.

Hopefully that means you’re reading this as someone who didn’t know what to expect, and hopefully you enjoyed it as much as I did. If you’re also a Joss Whedon fan like I am, his fingerprints are all over this. (“From you! I learned it from watching you!” is a funny line, even if it is a total non-sequitur.) And despite his current press, Whedon still manages to write a compelling heroine and provide a neat twist on the horror cliche of the virginal final girl.

Actually, the entire movie is a sublime twist on the genre. I really enjoyed the way Whedon and co-writer/director Drew Goddard turned what others would label cliche – sex kills, disfigured baby dolls are creepy, a spell causes zombies to rise from their graves – into archetype. It’s essentially Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces for horror fans. It’s also incredibly meta with the lab technicians – who (twist!) are revealed to be controlling everything our teens go through – acting as audience surrogates, and even rooting for the things I imagine horror audiences root for, in this case boobs and/or gory kills.

And there are plenty of gory kills, especially later in the film (as the image above clearly demonstrates, The Cabin in the Woods emphasizes the horror more than the comedy). Honestly, for a movie that was sometimes very tongue in cheek, I found some parts genuinely scary. I guess the reason horror movie tropes have been used so much they’ve become cliche: they are still scary.

And Whedon and Goddard certainly know the genre. There’s an overhead tracking shot at the beginning that’s reminiscent of The Shining. Some of the POV have the same voyeuristic feel that John Carpenter went for in Halloween. They do a decent parody of the “happy ending” of a J horror movie. And there’s almost an unbearable fake-out involving whether or not a taxidermied wolf’s head will come to life and bite the face off one of the teens. That scene is the first one so far this Shocktober that had me absolutely on tenterhooks.

Of the three horror movies I’ve seen so far, I definitely enjoyed this one the most. It’s in the same vein as Scream or True Lies in that it humorously but lovingly deconstruct a genre while still giving its fans what they paid to see. I never thought of myself as a horror fan before, but I enjoyed seeing the genre’s standard beats in a new light so much that I even had some outbursts at the last three gory kills. Maybe Shocktober Returns will make a fan of me yet . . .

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