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Cabin in the Woods, The

Entry updated 12 April 2018. Tagged: Film.

Film (2012). Lionsgate presents a Mutant Enemy production in association with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and United Artists. Directed by Drew Goddard. Written by Goddard and Joss Whedon. Cast includes Amy Acker, Kristen Connolly, Tim DeZarn, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Richard Jenkins, Fran Kranz, Sigourney Weaver, Brian J White, Bradley Whitford and Jesse Williams. 95 minutes. Colour.

The Clichés of "slasher" Cinema are subjected to playful Postmodern critique in this Horror in SF Satire from the writing team that worked together on the Television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) and Angel (1999-2004).

Why are Women in SF so often subjected to the dramatic one-two of sinful Sex and violent death? Whether correlated with the darker impulses of human behaviour (see Psychology), the depredations of a patriarchal society (see Feminism) or the transition of nomadic or Neolithic cultures to the emergent edge of civilization (see Anthropology), the practice of murdering fertile women may seem pervasive – but is usually (in the latter case) described as having occurred before the advent of written records or as having been the province of more "barbaric" cultures than those of the Imperialist historians describing the performance. The archaeological record indicates that the sacrifice of human beings is more likely to be connected to Slavery and to the taking of captives as War booty than to the Gender of the victims. Writing duo Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods is his directorial debut) and Joss Whedon inspect the death-as-spectacle trope in the light of its importance to the emergence of horror franchises such as Nightmare on Elm Street (1984-2010) and Saw (2004-2010).

"It's a serious critique of what we love and what we don't about horror movies," Whedon said in an interview with Total Film. "I love being scared. I love that mixture of thrill, of horror, that objectification/identification thing of wanting definitely for the people to be all right but at the same time hoping they'll go somewhere dark and face something awful. The things that I don't like are kids acting like idiots, the devolution of the horror movie into torture porn and into a long series of sadistic comeuppances."

The commentary is rendered as reality conspiracy. White-coated Scientists Sitterson (Jenkins) and Hadley (Whitford) preside over a team of underground technicians whose aim is to draw victims into a Godgame dedicated to satiating the appetites of chthonic entities who are the ages-old Secret Masters of planet earth. Similar danse macabre – the pope, emperor, king, child, and labourer archetypes of medieval tradition are here commuted to whore, athlete, scholar, fool and virgin – are carried out at other facilities around the globe according to local custom: this provides Goddard and Whedon with an opportunity to send up Swedish sobriety, Japanese schoolgirl tropes and so on, and thereby to display Whedon's usual facility for ventriloquizing Fan Language through characters. As long as one of these global offerings to the gods (see Gods and Demons) of down below goes off, the End of the World is averted. American college students Dana Polk (Connolly), the "virgin" and, therefore, according to the rules of the genre, the "final girl", Curt Vaughan (Hemsworth; the "athlete"), Jules Louden (Hutchison; the "whore" who dies as soon as she exposes her breasts), "scholar" Holden McCrea (Williams) and dope-smoking free-thinker Marty Mikalski (Kranz) – a character similar in register to that of Zeke Tyler from The Faculty (1998) and, indeed, to a great many similar characters in American high-school movies – all start the film by adhering to the clichés of the form but gradually begin to deviate from the railroaded idiocy of their roles as the Technology of the presiding technicians – a holographic containment field around the cabin, Drugs in Louden's blonde hair dye that make her dumb, pheromones, trapdoors, surveillance and the like – begins to go awry. This is counterpointed with the failure of the corresponding rituals around the world, and a fair degree of Humour is derived from the interplay of filmography and Fandom, and from Hadley and Sitterson's growing comprehension of impending doom, but the film never quite succeeds at being both scary and ironic. If there is any point to postmodernity (accounts differ) it is about who owns or delivers the constructed narrative and what they derive from it, and about what kind of moribund or frightening truth is revealed when that process is undermined. Sigourney Weaver is (as usual) convincing in her role as "The Director" – a kind of precursor to her depiction of the Villain Alexandra in the television series The Defenders (2017) – but the off-stage unknowability of the chthonic entities here arouses none of the intensely lyrical subjectivity of H P Lovecraft's protagonists in the face of cosmic time, or the connotations of Holocaust attendant to the appearance of the lost daughter in Hideo Nakata's Ring (2000), or even the existential implications of Cube (1997). Dana and Marty share a spliff at the end of the movie and decide that humanity is not worth saving. Would that the vastations of planet earth were so easy to shrug off.

A more serious examination of the historical containment of the sexuality of young women occurs in The VVitch: A New-England Folktale (2015). [MD]


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