Some Thoughts on Joss Whedon’s ‘The Cabin in the Woods’

The Cabin in the Woods is not a horror movie. The Cabin in the Woods is every horror movie.

Q: How much did I like The Cabin in the Woods?
A: I liked it Firefly+1

Not sure if I have the energy to wrestle my thoughts into a fully formed review of the new Joss Whedon/Drew Goddard joint, so just a quick note to express my profound appreciation for the movie and to encourage anyone who enjoys horror movies to see it in the theater. I would encourage everyone else to see it as well but it IS a horror movie at heart, and Whedon/Goddard enthusiastically (and bloodily) embrace the gory and deeply misogynistic core of the slasher genre before turning its conventions completely on their head. In other words, it’s quite violent, and if you don’t dig that kind of thing it will probably turn you off long before you can get to the genre-bending.

And with that be aware — SPOILERS AHEAD.

I loved the film’s embrace of the Lovecraftian cosmology of the Great Old Ones — Lovecraft’s race of malevolent, prehistoric gods. The way the film is structured (i.e., that these ancient horrors lie below all other horrors) quite literally demonstrates the degree to which Lovecraft’s work is the wellspring from which all other horror genres flow.

Sometime around the time when the last girl was being killed on the dock it occurred to me that we — not just the audience of this film, and not just horror audiences in general but all audiences, ever, anywhere — are the Great Old Ones Who Must Be Appeased. This is the kind of ‘implicating the audience’ thing that Michael Haneke does with a sledgehammer in films like Funny Games, but here it was done very cleverly, with a touch that is sly and deft. Brilliant.

Given all of the horror genres that are directly homaged in the film I expected a more overt shout-out to Evil Dead 1 and 2, the great ur-texts of the cabin in the woods genre.

Joss Whedon as always is saved by his wicked sense of humor. So many funny, funny moments in this film. It really comes close to being a horror/comedy but the comedy is not really in the slapstick style of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 but instead is his more cerebral, ironic humor. One favorite: the nod to this classic anti-drug ad. Also style points for the severed arm and the Merman.

I say above that Whedon is saved by his sense of humor because the jokes all felt like Joss jokes. Co-writer Drew Goddard’s previous solo film writing credit was Cloverfield, a movie utterly devoid of humor except the inadvertent kind.

Most people seem to know Bradley Whitford from The West Wing but I know him from The Good Guys, a short-lived action/comedy cop buddy show that ran on Fox for couple of seasons. Funny show, streaming right now on Netflix Instant. Also stars Tom Hanks’s kid Colin.

Just some of the specific films I saw referenced in The Cabin in the Woods:
Hellraiser
Texas Chainsaw Massacre/The Hills Have Eyes
Night of the Living Dead/Dawn of the Dead/zombies, etc.
All slasher pics
Cube (an under-appreciated little gem, at least the first one)
Evil Dead 1 and 2
Cabin Fever
Wolfen/The Howling/American Werewolf in London/Dog Soldiers
J. Horror (especially The Ring and The Grudge)
All creature features/monster movies
It (? maybe that was more of a John Wayne Gacy killer clown rather than a Pennywise evil clown)
The Mummy
There are many more, I’m sure.

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