AMERICAN HORROR STORY: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
Before it began, I freaked out, imagining that people in the audience were zombies. When it actually started, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Miraculously, the film turned out to be humoristic which helped me cope with the visual atrocity. I discovered that day I could deal with comic horror films. Learning that Joss Whedon - with whom comic relief sense I am very familiar with - had written THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, I knew I would be safe.
Given my tumultuous relationship with the horror genre, I obviously did not put myself through The Cabin in the Woods just for the sake of it. There are two reasons explaining my (masochistic) decision.
The first is that not only The Lonely Cinephile but also my best friend - who is both a big horror movies and Buffy’s fan - told me that Joss Whedon did wonders with this film: “He shows you he commands all the codes of the genre before exploding them” he said to me. His expert and enthusiastic input started to make me wonder if I was not missing on something truly impressive. The second is that I was hoping The Cabin in the Woods would indeed be so mind-blowing it would make forget about Whedon’s disappointing The Avengers. I still felt bad to not have liked it and I wanted to have material to worship Whedon again.
Written and produced by Joss Whedon, The Cabin in the Woods was however directed by Drew Goddard whom Cloverfield was the object of quite a buzz in 2007. Goddard is credited to have collaborated with Whedon in penning the screenplay too. As always, it is difficult to judge how much of each writers words and ideas there are in a script but The Cabin in the Woods is so obviously marked by what constitute the classical Whedon touch that I consider it has mainly his baby. The natural order of things would be for me to now tell you that in consequence, Joss Whedon is the only one responsible for the movie’s flaws. The problem is that it does not have any. Script-wise, The Cabin in the Woods is made out of titanium. Any question asked or issue raised are answered for. Everything leads to the final. And this is exactly what is wrong with it.
Claiming this feels weird, especially as I am writing this review the day after having seen Ridley Scott’s Prometheus which is incredibly complicated and difficult to figure out. I generally need to figure something out of a film, I have to find at least one thing I can think about and over. Otherwise, I feel lost or worse, dumb; and it is not a pleasant sensation to get from looking at a painting or watching a movie.
However, when I understand everything and way too quickly, I am disappointed. In particular when a promotional campaign had been based on the assumption the viewers could NEVER expect the ending. How did they dare making such a wild statement when the clues of what is going to happen are so obvious? Furthermore, there could not possibly be another twist and final otherwise all The Cabin in the Woods would have been is another just another American horror story. Or, to be more accurate, an American horror reprising the history of the gems which have preceded it. Indeed, before its never-seen-before ending, the movie has the specificity of using all the codes and traditional story angles of the genre. Sort of a Scary Movie of horror. With much more finess, of course!
The cabin in the woods is the retreat picked up by a group of university buddy to have a week end of harmless fun in. It has been bought by Curt’s (Chris Hemsworth); or so Curt says. A college star, Curt is undeniably a hunk. However he is not your typical pumped mister popular: on top of being a scholar, he is deeply committed to his girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchinson). Again, appearances are not what they seem with her too as although she has dyed her hair blond at the beginning of the film, she is a medical student. She is the best friend of Dana (Kristen Connolly), the heroin, to whom we are introduced through a none innocent shoot of her opened bedroom window, revealing her in her underwear. Peeping toms, this is what we are going to be for a major party of the film. We won’t be spying on those three only though: the group is completed by Curt’s friend and his doped cousin, respectively named Holden (Jesse Williams) and Marty (Fran Kranz). All together, they represent the typical bunch of American teenagers – or in this case of young adults - that are going to be mercifully slaughtered in an isolated and creepy closed space. Rests to know by who, how and why.
It is in the answers Joss Whedon provided for these three unknowns that the writer had placed all his narrative best cards. I am going to focus on the why as it is and from it that the problem of the film resides. From the very beginning of The Cabin in the Woods, he and the director had decided to reveal to us that the unfortunate happy campers had be chosen to go the cabin by a mysterious organisation that is following and filming each and every of their movements. At this point, the viewer might imagines that they are the unwilling participants of a bloody aimless television game, a cross between The Running Man and Battle Royale; this idea being emphasized by the bets the employees of the firm are taking on which evil creature is going to be unleashed on them. Furthermore, the way the bosses of the project (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) carry their duty, which is by joking and rooting for the massacre of these innocent people, is designed to make us believe that The Cabin in the Woods is a critic of the abusing and dehumanizing reality TV programmes but also of the rising of a Big Brother type of society.
This theme has been used so much in these recent years - lately with the release of The Hungers Games – that it seemed evident it could not be the real why. There had to be more to the story and, of course, there was. However, while we were supposed to not be able to quickly grasp the hidden element of the story, I actually figured it out almost immediately. I am not bragging here as it really pissed me off to be right. I wanted to be surprised but it was impossible for me to not understand what was really going on and what would be the issue of the film for very simple reasons. Knowing Joss Whedon’s universe, the firm could not be a regular enterprise, it could not be anything common and properly human, like Wolfram & Hart in Angel. A television show for demons perhaps but that would have been too easy. I also sensed he could not resist to put mystical motivations behind the ordeal of these kids in the same manner he had to explain the nightmare of being in high school by the fact the particular one of Sunnydale was built on the Hellmouth in Buffy. In short, the why had to be supernatural and mystic. If it weren’t, there would be nothing special about The Cabin in the Woods. It would not even need to exist. Everything had been done before. All was left was the ritual sacrifice joker. Whedon played it, but not right.
Indeed, even if I hadn’t discovered early on by simple deduction the supposedly astonishing twist of the film, Whedon gave way too many clues. Most of them are revealed by the character of Lin, played by Amy Acker who was a regular in Angel. In a nutshell, she intervenes a couple of times to stress the importance of the work the two people in charge are performing, and of – most of all – the outcome of the show. Her constant alarming seriousness coupled with the fact that this horrific “game” is being simultaneously played in every other countries leaves little doubt considering the universal and mystic reason for its existence.
The why is quite easily figured out, rest the hope that the ending would be a bit more surprising. Unfortunately, it is not. Not only Whedon did not cloud the issue enough but he also made – in my opinion – one huge mistake: the marijuana-friendly idiot should have stayed dead. Now that would have been incredibly daring as this kind of character ALWAYS make it through in conventional horror movies. Alright, he does ultimately die but seeing coming back was a huge disappointment for me. It was too conventional and totally expected. From the moment he returned, I felt let down. The final decision he and the heroine make did not woo me as it was prophetized by Marty when they were in the van driving to their deaths.
Now, okay, you got it: I saw it all coming and I was disappointed by the intrigue. But at least, did I enjoy the storytelling and directing? Not very much. I literally spent the movie waiting for genius turn, radical transgressions of the genre which prevented me from simply enjoying the ride. Furthermore, being someone who does not naturally appreciate horror movies, I did not find any rejoice in the graphic and gory scenes. I would however venture to say that they were not terribly inventive. I would have gone with the mer-man too!