Cabin in the Woods is now out on Blu-Ray and DVD, meaning I finally have enough of a reason to splurge about it all over again without fear of spoiling people now that they all have a chance to see it. If you recall, I mentioned in my review that it was one of my favorite films of 2012, and it still is. However, due to the amount of secrets and surprises found in the film, I couldn’t really explain “why” exactly it was so good without giving anything away. Well, now I can! Cue the maniacal laughter! This is my in-depth, insanely spoiler-filled analysis of Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods!
First, a refresher on the plot: Cabin in the Woods follows a group of five archetypal teenagers going, where else, to a cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway. And as these things usually go, a horde of redneck torture zombies starts to kill them off one by one. Does this premise by any chance sound familiar? Well it should: It’s The Evil Dead all over again. But unlike all those kinds of movies, we have ourselves a twist.
Turns out, there’s a secret laboratory under the cabin where a team of what appears to be technicians and scientists of all sorts are monitoring and sometimes even controlling all of the events that go on upstairs. That alone should be enough to surprise every audience expecting another run-of-the-mill horror movie, but that’s only scratching the surface. There’s way more going on underneath the surface. Literally.
It turns out, the biggest surprise in the film is actually the reasoning for the monitoring. The scientists are killing the teenagers off as part of a ritual-sacrifice to appease some sort of ancient, Lovecraftian demon-god. If they don’t keep up with the sacrifices, the Ancient Ones will rise and bring death to the whole world. Okay! Now we’re definitely getting somewhere! But there’s just one thing missing: What is the movie about, on a thematic level? What is the point in telling this story? What is the meaning behind it?
There are plenty of theories and interpretations of Cabin in the Woods that I’ve read, most of which seem entirely plausible. I won’t bother re-stating them because you should look them up and discover them for yourself (Or better yet, figure out your own interpretation! It’s more fun!), but I honestly can’t see how anyone can’t see things from the perspective that I viewed the film in. If you remember my review, I called the movie a “commentary on the nature of cliches and formula storytelling themselves.” To elaborate on that rather vague point, what I meant by that is this…
Let’s go back a bit and look at the “ritual” that the scientists are forced to partake in. To give a more detailed explanation, the Ancient Ones are very specific with the blood they want and the order they want it given to them. This is where the character archetypes come into play: The Ancient Ones require the blood of an Athlete, an Intellect, a Fool, a Whore, and a Virgin. If you translate those roles into the language of horror films, you get: The Jock, the Nerd, the Comic-Relief, the Naughty Girl, and the Nice Girl.
Now this is where the movie gets interesting. One of the characters, the Comic-Relief, upon realizing that he’s part of a ritual-sacrifice, asks something along the lines of “Why couldn’t they just get a stone table and a fancy dagger? Why all of this? Why the Cabin? Why the deceit? Why us?” All these questions and more can be answered with this scene earlier in the film that makes the symbolism incredibly apparent.
When the Naughty Girl character begins to have sex with the Jock, one of the scientists watching (Bradley Whitford) pleads for a glimpse at her breasts. The security guard on the side asks why it’s so important for the girl’s breasts to be seen, to which the other scientist replies, “We’re not the only ones watching.” He implies the Elder God to the guard, and then says a line that should tip everyone off on the movie’s meaning. “Gotta keep the customer satisfied.”
Think about it. What’s another word for a ritual? A ceremony? Nope. A tradition? You’re getting warmer. A potato? Uh…are you stoned? Okay, stop right there. Here’s the real answer: A “formula”. Not just a sacrificial formula, but a storytelling formula.
Cabin in the Woods is about more than just deconstructing horror movie tropes. It’s about finding out why we use those tropes and why we avoid originality not just in storytelling, but in our own culture. If everything taking place upstairs in the Cabin area is a representation of the movies, then that means that the scientists downstairs that control everything using a wide range of contrivances in order to maintain a specific formula are representative of the creators–or more specifically, the filmmakers.
And who are the creators trying to please? No, not an ancient Elder God, like the movie is saying on a surface level. Rather, they’re trying to please us, the demanding audience. The creators see the audience as a destructive force that could obliterate their creation (a.k.a., the world upstairs). They think that the best way to pacify that audience is by playing it safe and adhering to a formula that the audience knows by heart and is familiar to them.
That alone is an incredible statement on the relationship between creator and audience. But, just like everything else in the movie, it gets crazier.
The film’s finale has, at this point, become infamous for being one of the most completely bat-shit bonkers scenes put to film in recent memory. The Virgin and Comic-Relief characters end up discovering an elevator that leads to the “stable” of monsters and the facility underneath. They think they are saving their lives by putting an end to the facility and its stable of monsters by letting them loose and allowing them to wreak havoc on everything and anyone in the facility so they can escape. But here’s the biggest twist of them all: They fail. By refusing to adhere to the ritual, they end up not just dooming their own lives, but causing the apocalypse. The Ancient Ones rise from their slumber and it’s implied that everything is destroyed in their wake.
Knowing what each of these elements represent, all the pieces start to come together. When the movie ends up refusing to adhere to the formula by resisting the contrivances and stereotypes assigned to them, the audience attacks with a stronger emotional response. And in doing so, the movie isn’t given a chance to “live”.
So is Cabin in the Woods just a deconstruction of the horror genre? Or is it a scathing indictment on the amorphous masses that refuse for their media to push the envelope; instead requiring undemanding, unoriginal works of art in order to be satisfy their need for consumption over culture?
And if this theory still hasn’t convinced you, keep in mind that the character in charge of the underground facility played by Sigourney Weaver is literally credited as “The Director”.
That is all. If you liked this article and would like to read more, you can do so by clicking the following links: CinEffect on BlogSpot, CinEffect on Tumblr, my own personal tumblr, and my Twitter account @CGRunyon where you can follow me for more reviews, articles, and other random thoughts about what I like. Also be sure to follow my two friends who help out with CinEffect with their own reviews or podcast cohosting sessions: @TBBucs20 & @ThatGuyBrady.
See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to blow on this very mysterious-looking conch shell. Bye!