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The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Thanks go to CB for recommending this one quite some time ago; I had seen it advertised when it came out, but wasn't too impressed and didn't read any reviews, dismissing it from the get-go. After insinuations that I might enjoy it a lot, I recently gave it a go due to having finished my thesis and all that and finally having time for some relaxed watching of horror under the influence. And lo and behold, I have a new favourite movie.

Let's start with the obvious basics: Directed by Drew Goddard and written by him and Joss Whedon (aka He-Who-Gave-Us-Cowboys-in-Outer-Space), The Cabin in the Woods is a well-paced, awesome, intriguing horror movie with a meta-spin to it that makes it all the more enjoyable. Spoilers galore, so if you haven't seen the movie yet, I heartily recommend you get yourself a copy and watch it right now. You can come back after you're done; if you want to particularly enjoy it, watch it at least twice. I've been enjoying it about a dozen times now, and it still brings me joy; whether this demonstrates the quality of the movie or attests to my obsessive-compulsive movie-watching-behaviour or both is another matter entirely.

The Cabin in the Woods
serves us three narratives, which are intertwined with one another, yet can be seen as three single narrative discourses - stories, if you want. Like a tapestry, the movie as a whole consists of these three stories that weave a complex narrative that puts a spin on the typical horror movie story of the 'cabin in the woods' aka 'wood with college kids' variety.

The basic storyline that we get to recognise is exactly that one; a group of young adults goes on vacation in a remote cabin in the woods (you already see that the title has not been chosen for no particular reason!). There simply is no way to describe the setting of this basic, in a way central story, as anything else. So the young people settle in (at THE CABIN IN THE WOODS *dun-dunn-DUN*) and begin to party, and we get treated to the classical stereotypes of the Jock, the Whore, the Final Girl, the Brainy Guy and the Stoner. These stereotypes are gleefully and flawlessly executed, yet partly subverted within the story's world and context(s): The Jock actually is a sociology major, and his 'alpha-male bullshit' is completely mystifying to the Stoner, who continuously observes strange incoherencies within the operative world of the storyline being played out with these young people, and as for Final Girl... I refer to the movie. 

This storyline is being framed by the second narrative, which is about some sort of official (but non-military) facility, where some kind of yearly competition is being held between such facilities all over the world. It isn't entirely clear from the beginning on what kind of competition this is, but it apparently involves messing with people in completely controlled environments. From conversations between the scientists and workers at the facility, for example, we learn that the dye which the ...sexually (more) promiscuous female used to dye her hair blonde had chemicals in it which, being absorbed through the skin, would enter the bloodstream and cause 'lower cognition'. Brilliant. The use of stereotypes within the first narrative frame is actually explained in this second narrative frame - not in an obvious way most of the time, hence my recommendation to re-watch this movie.

Now, pretty much everyone will go 'HUH?' as soon as the second narrative frame appears as a framing device for the first narrative: What on earth are these science-y types doing? And WHY?

...enter third narrative. We only get treated to this in a few instances, but damn. Or possibly 'BUT DAMMN!', to better express my enthusiasm. The third narrative frame is the 'big one', so to speak - it offers explanations for the other two narrative frames. What makes it so special, so awesomely awesome? Easy: ANCIENT GODS. If you're a Lovecraft fan(atic) like myself, the appeal of this should be instantly obvious. In my opinion, any movie that includes humanity-annihilating ancient gods that need to be placated by gruesome sacrifices automatically wins. Even if terribly executed. In The Cabin in the Woods, it is wonderfully executed; the terrible revelation of the end of mankind is being delivered in a truly human scene of ...people being people. It's hilarious and (in-)sane and cool. I might be gushing a bit because, by the darkness and its haunted midnight graves, I absolutely adore this movie, but nonetheless, it's worth watching. Even if you don't share my particular brand of movie obsession.

One really important point is that it's funny - not in the 'Dumb and Dumber'-way, but in the awesome, cheesy horror flick way. It is enjoyable on a similar level as, say, the Evil Dead series. Do not think that it is a campy movie, though - it revels in its humour (which is pretty dark, according to some acquaintances), but it also revels in its horror.

Let's speak of the horror aspect, mh?

Try to remember the last time you thought 'holy shit, that's a scary thought' when watching a horror movie. I don't know about you, oh wonderful readers, but it's been a while for me. Inside (á l'Intérieur) comes to mind, Martyrs. The Living and The Dead. Movies with a decidedly psychological horror-element. Some Cronenberg movies make me uncomfortable (hence my appreciation of the body horror genre). Sometimes a well-crafted horror story can evoke such feelings, or RPG supplements (yes, I am a terrible, neurotic geek for reading roleplaying supplements and rulebooks in my free time [or would that be a nerd]? Last weekend, I re-read my old Kult material. It was awesome). Or newspaper clippings. Or songs. But the average horror movie? Heh. No. **

So, horror in The Cabin in the Woods.

The first narrative frame (the youthful friends on vacation in the eponymous cabin) doesn't hold any horror; in fact, it has quite a humorous mood, which is always a bonus when watching non-psychological horror flicks. I like my violence to be interspersed with humour. That's what made movies like Braindead (Dead Alive for the people among you hailing from the US of A) or Army of Darkness so fucking awesome back when I was a half-human*. That's also what made Shaun of the Dead so awesome. Actually, the first narrative about the beautiful young people can easily be compared to SotD in some regards (don't hate me!). Both movies are full of inside jokes and references to other things from the world of horror - with Shaun of the Dead, it's movies, whereas The Cabin in the Woods generously references books, movies, stories, myths... there are so many shout-outs to the world of horror in general that it's nigh impossible to list even a fraction of them.

Playing SPTR ('SPot The Reference(!)') with this movie as part of a drinking game can prove to be disastrous to people who watch far too many horror movies. I can personally vouch for this. Playing SPTR with The Cabin in the Woods can and will result in the Alien Mother of All Hangovers. Maybe it's me getting old, but ...damn. Don't do it. The last part of the movie - in which the three narrative frames are combined into one; well done, people who came up with this and who I am too lazy to look up right now! Za vas! - is stuffed full with various references. Particularly obvious even to non-horror freaks will be the Hellraiser-esque demon (?), referenced in the credits as Fornicus, Lord of Bondage and Pain, played by one Gregory Zach. Fans of horror will find this movie to be a pleasure just for the possibilities of decoding the shout-outs - and indeed, The Cabin in the Woods gains something from (over-)exposure to other horror movies.

Horror, though. The second narrative frame (with the scientists and their complete control over the surroundings of the characters from narrative frame #1) is steeped in what, for me, makes this a horror movie, not just a funny referencing game in movie form. The ever increasing levels of control and observation installed in our present-day societies leaves a bitter taste when coupled with the (ironic) question of how much these things control our lives, exemplified bluntly (but effectively!) with the whole premise of the movie. Your phone provider is able to track your every move, even if you never use the whole GPS thing; obsessive former lovers can track you with a little bit of tech knowledge, and governments are collecting data tracks of their citizens, just to make sure no one steps out of line. Welcome to dystopia. The Cabin in the Woods takes these all too common fears and translates them into a specific cultural jargon, mocking it. Mocking us, in a way. How would you feel if you were trapped in situations that were controlled from the outside by someone else, manipulating you like a puppet while you think that you are acting out of free will...?

Anyways. Awesome movie. Whoa.

11/10 central themes of sacrifice and slaughter that connect and bind all of mankind under one monstrously divine threat

* ... A child or teenager. 

** ... Maybe there is some kind of desensitivisation in play here? I am not entirely sure. I don't really watch horror movies because they, dunno, horrify me, or make me feel as if fingers of ice started playing a macabre song of suspense and fear with the nerves radiating from my spine like ghostly puppet masters. I watch horror movies because ...I don't really know, actually. I'll think about it. But it's not for the horror, because there rarely is any kind of horror... When a movie comes along that manages to capture my interest and my fantasy, that manages to let me sink into the premise and feel as if I were part of that world with feelings of suspense, I am pretty much sold on it forever.