The Cabin in the Woods is a heartless, hilarious, campy self-satire. It criticizes the very techniques it employs. Owing to a few extended pauses, the sound of your heart beating becomes too loud for you to bear. And then, you’re hit with jump scares that will give you convulsions. It’s a shallow and ridiculously loud piece of work. But it’s also brilliant. I was completely caught off guard.
We have two perspectives on a certain event that’s about to occur, shown in parallel. One shows us the event live- a gang of youths are heading for a cabin in the woods, where they intend to spend their weekend. They’re a generic bunch characterized by archetypes, revealed by the film-maker himself. As the emphasized title obviously suggests, there’s going to be mayhem. In all likelihood, it’ll have supernatural forces at the helm. The other point of view is from a setting similar to Eric Byer’s office in The Bourne Legacy. There’s a huge screen, an array of computers and everyone’s pleasantly buzzing around like worker bees. The cabin and the woods are controlled by a large corporation that consists of scientists and technicians. Now, don’t take all of this at face value.The film cuts between these two perspectives such that the youth gang stands for the audience while the corporation stands for the film-makers. The youngsters are tortured and shocked with jump scares. But the employees of the corporation laugh at being able to successfully elicit these reactions. Is this Drew Goddard’s and Joss Whedon’s criticism of the horror genre? The film-makers evidently see a puppeteer-puppet relationship between horror film-makers and fans of the genre.
A young couple is making out. Cut to corporate executives gathered in front of a big screen watching this prelude to an upcoming act of copulation. The next shot shows them from up close; they’re a bit fidgety. One guy even smacks his lips. ROFL. We’re all voyeurs at a very basic level irrespective of what we do, where we’re from and who we are. Goddard goes on to point out how they exploit this weakness and arrest our attention before finally shocking us with a ghastly creature. It’s only a question of timing.
The corporation is having a hell of a time. They’re betting on people’s lives. This is Goddard and Whedon highlighting human bipolarity. We have a schadenfreude thirst to see other people suffer but at the same time, we also have a desire to share in their glory. These are two opposing forces existing within every one of us.
At one point, the characters swear to stick together. The technicians panic. Then one of them says, “Watch the masterwork.” A chemical is released that makes them decide to split up. It’s a convenient way to ensure that the characters go against their survival instincts by splitting up but the film-makers use it with full awareness to hint at film-making contrivance.
The corporate executives enliven the show with their absurd personalities. Among the two main technicians, one (Richard Jenkins) sways between amusement and annoyance while the other (Bradley Whitford) is hilariously matter-of-fact. He’s the visionary here and has a film-maker’s fetish for mermen. Then, there’s a scientist in denial of her excitement, often apologizing for the ruthless way in which things are done around here. And lastly, the security guard who is sickened by this highly immoral state of affairs but continues to contribute all the same.
I sense an undercurrent of contempt for the present generation. The gang plays Truth-or-Dare. A character known as ‘The Whore’ is dared to tongue the mouth of a dead wolf stuck on the wall. She doesn't flinch. It is this undignified, humiliating act that gains her the popularity she craves for. Self-respect is overridden by the need to be popular, an attribute decided solely by edginess. When the turn of ‘The Virgin’ arrives, she, although inclined to go with Truth, chooses Dare when looked down upon by the alpha male of the group. Peer-pressure? The desperate need for Generation Y to achieve any kind of fame is touched upon by means of ‘The Fool’. Even when his life is in danger, he feels a strange sense of fulfilment on discovering that he’s on a reality TV show. Self-image preservation overrides self-preservation. There’s a line towards the end of the film mocking at the early loss of virginity. I cracked up.
I think it’s ingenious to embed so much within something so outrageous and thrilling. The Cabin in the Woods is a mad explosion of a film.