When I do a movie recommendation, I usually try to do a few specific things: Channel my passion and love for a movie into an article, which highlights the strengths of the movie, as well as some obvious errors. The intended outcome, though, was always to convince people that the movies talked about were worth a shot. This recommendation will be very different; if you have not seen The Cabin in the Woods, read up until the end of this paragraph, go watch it, and then come back and finish this article. I’ve decided to do it this way, because you’ve probably already seen and liked The Cabin in the Woods, so remaining spoiler-free is redundant, but in the off-chance you have not seen it yet, this is a great movie and you should definitely check it out.
Mostly though, the reasons I absolutely love this movie is about the movie itself, in conjunction with the meta-narrative/self-referential/self-reflecting elements that are present and make the movie feel so unique and great, even after 15 viewings. At base level, this is a neat horror-slasher movie with a great twist; all the massacre and the horror that ensues are planned and co-ordinated by a shady organization that needs to sacrifice people to the ‘old gods’ in order to keep them from rising from their ancient tombs. This works excellently, because it explains why ‘real’ people would make dumb and illogical decisions and get murdered in the most brutal way. Above that, it’s just a neat gimmick that does not grow old and is handled mostly well (except the ending, which on a base level does not work), creating tension and horror moments in circumstances many have not experienced before.
Nonetheless, this movie works as intended, only if you start looking at the meta-narrative and “read between the lines”, which is where things get more interesting. It’s very clear that the movie is an artistic and entertaining reflection on the state of mainstream horror and the business around it; a critique of horror movies, by a horror movie. There are obvious references to this, like Bradley Whitford’s character longing to see the ‘merman’ which ends up killing him (sort of like the passion projects certain creators have that end up destroying their careers), or how these characters start as ‘real’ people with backstories and motivations beyond getting laid and being dumb stereotypes based on the 10 deadly sins, but nonetheless end up being drugged and controlled into being those stereotypes (just like a writer would see their characters being dumbed down and become caricatures of other horror movie character stereotypes). Besides the movie being a critique of other movies and the business around them, it’s also a critique of the fans; the ‘old gods’ craving for these stereotypes to exist and be sacrificed for their amusement, seemingly denying everything else. These elements on their own though are not enough to make the self-referential aspect fun or meaningful; it has to provide perspective and opinion for what it’s referencing. Obviously, perspective and opinion are based on your interpretation, but mine is that we are feeding these ‘old gods’ with the same, lame characters, the same scares, formulas, experiences, as if it’s necessary for their survival or to keep their hunger down and stop them from revolting. There is a character who shares similar points, and who is by far the most interesting in the movie: Marty, the stoner whose weed is so strong, he has become immune to the toxins and control efforts of the shady organization. He has the exact opposite narrative arc from every other teenager character in the movie; he starts as a stereotype-ranting about GPS and can be seen smoking a joint in every freaking scene-but grows into a character, when he understands that his friends are manipulated and that there’s something off about their situation. On base level, he lets the world destroyed out of spite or cowardice; but on the Meta side of things, he lets the old gods revolt because that’s what this industry, the fans and the creators need: A good kick in the balls to wake them up.
Moreover, Marty makes a perfect Segway into another aspect of this movie that works brilliantly: Comedy. The Cabin in the Woods is a hilarious movie. It mixes actual comedy with horror satire and a passion for the genre; for example Marty has some genuinely funny moments like mistaking a wolf for a moose, as well as some Meta moments of hilarity, like Curt being sensible keeping everyone together after shit hits the fan and then drugged into an Alpha-male dumbass who wants to split-up, to which Marty replies “…and that makes what kind of sense?”. These examples show that, this movie was made by funny people with a love for horror movies, obsessing over the minuscule details like we do; the perfect one being Richard Jenkins looking at Japanese 10 year olds-who just defeated and survived their knock-off Ringu curse- and yelling Fuck You to each single one. This is hilarious to look at, a commentary on the pressure each creator feels when others fail to deliver, and what a fan’s reaction would be to watching a horror movie with that scenario; just another showcase of how The Cabin in the Woods uses horror and comedy to create a truly entertaining movie with perspective, depth and meaning behind it.
But, beyond being an excellent horror movie with ‘inside’ commentary and comedy, The Cabin in the Woods is probably the ultimate fan movie. It is jam-packed with references to classic horror tropes, like the slasher-movie formula of five or more teens (all representing a deadly sin) get brutally murdered by an undying, supernatural entity like Jason from Friday the 13th. It’s lovingly playful of these tropes and willing to ‘mock’ them; the obvious example being that the ‘director’ of the shady corporation behind the sacrifices is-of course- Sigourney fucking Weaver (who was competing with Jamie Lee Curtis for that role, so the intention is pretty clear). Beyond that, it’s the way Jenkins and Whitford’s characters can’t stand Mordecai (the crazy, sexist and delusional-but never violent- store owner who “warns” the teens, yet always enjoys the knowledge they are heading towards their doom), as many of us have rolled our eyes when this character appears, but then start laughing at his insanity-just as Whitford and Jenkins do. It’s this love of horror movie tropes, clichés, characters and the way we react to them, which were major considerations in writing and directing this movie, that glue it together and make it so enjoyable and fun; oh, and the orgasmic amount of cameos and fan service from other horror movie iconic characters. There’s so many instantly recognizable cameos from so many iconic villains and monsters: from not-Penniwise the Clown to not-Hellraiser, the movie is just filled to the brim with many of our favorite characters, which result in one of the best scenes in the movie-the elevator scene where all the monsters come out to play-and one of the most entertaining ones as well.
Unfortunately, the movie is not without flaws; but, instead of writing down a list of nit-picking grievances, I want to focus on the error that bothered me from my first viewing: Plot-holes. The movie is filled with them, and while some can be written off as homages to similar plot-holes in other horror movies, I don’t accept that; you can excuse the-sometimes-bad acting as an homage and the dated CGI as a product of its time, but certain plot-holes are egregious like Marty knowing how to “re-wire” the elevator and take him and Dana down in the facility. It is bad because it is never explained how he has that knowledge, but it’s frustrating because it could have been explained by making him an engineering student, and it would have given him a bit more character, which brings me to my actual issue: the first act. It is, by far, the worst part of the movie; it’s slow, tries to establish characters by giving each one 10 seconds to introduce themselves and not that fun to go through. Surprisingly, I wanted more of that; more time for the characters to be introduced and grow-so the change to stereotypes is more striking-, more ‘real’ time spent with them (meaning time spent with them as friends that doesn’t result in a joke or a way to advance the plot) and likewise with the characters in the shady organization that organizes all of this-so that they matter more to us. They also get a couple of seconds to ‘show’ they are characters, by talking about boring life stuff, but it’s not enough for them to become characters.
The Cabin in the Woods is a weird movie; in some regards it has not aged well. CGI elements are dated, but most importantly, its critique of an industry that serves a tired and ancient formula is no longer true: From Get out to Hereditary, A quiet place, The Babadook and It follows (just to name a few), we are in a golden era for horror movies. The beauty of it is that this was its hope! This does not mean that the movie is unwatchable now; it is still hilarious, poignant and thoughtful; its critique-and love- of the industry, the way horror movies are made, and the fandom around it, is still nuanced and delightful today, as it was in 2011. For me, if I was to summarize why I love this movie so much, I would point to one scene: The Jules and Curt sex scene in the woods. On base level it is hilarious and creepy; the way all of these grown men wait anxiously for these drugged teenagers to ‘get it on’ is disturbing, but also funny (due to the way it is presented). On the Meta-level though, it is poignant and terrifying; these characters are twisted and manipulated into becoming stereotypes, having sex in brightly light forests for our pleasure, while their ‘creators’ are watching in silence and discomfort. However, if you dig deep enough, you start getting uncomfortable yourself; Jules is a passionate person, who loves acting and never misses a chance to show it, yet her role is relegated to ‘flashing her boobs for our pleasure and then dying horribly’ because she is fit and sexually attractive. Similarly, Curt is a sociology-major, yet he is strong and athletic so he is ‘made’ into the ‘jog’, becoming the alpha male and acting stupid. All of these because, the ‘creators’ are forced to sacrifice these characters, these people for our demands, for our need to watch blood and boobs. Now replace the names Jules and Curt, with Anne Hutchison and Chris Hemsworth; replace the old men looking at two teens having sex with the audience or a film crew. This is what I love about this movie: It loves the genre, the characters, the clichés, but it is highly critical of them and what they actually are. That is why, the movie will not age, and that is why it can be used to create similar projects for other genres, and that is why I think The Cabin in the Woods is one of my favorite movies ever made.