Mixing splatter and hilarity, the surprising Cabin in the Woods makes a good case for post-modern horror. Consider first, if you will, the ingenious poster for the long-delayed project: There’s a basemented cabin (not in the woods) suspended in blank white space, whose naked architectonics reveal that the structure can be manipulated like Rubik’s cube, twisted this way and that.
And so it is with the hybridized story lines: every cliché from a collection of 20-plus years of horror films, from tired re-treads (Wolf Man, The Thing) to torture-porn to “ghost” stories to memory tricks (Identity et. al..) to haunted houses, and, of course, cabins in the woods.
Now the new Cabin, which seems to have (but does not) the same old stuff: a gaggle of college-age stereotypes (the slattern, the stoner, the intellectual, the virgin) spend time in an uncle’s cabin, which proves to be rife with everything from the undead to lycanthropes to axe-wielding maniacs.
We know, from example, that several will be bloodily whacked, and that the “best two” will be saved. Blood will flow like beer at the Mercury Bar, and familiar scares will be served up every five minutes.
The audience is made aware that this stuff is deliberate, self-conscious, aware of itself. The movie knows its (presumably young) audiences know this stuff. So what will happen here? Will crawling flesh-eaters snarl and salivate? Will undead rise from unmarked graves and stumble toward victims? Will wolfmen bound and leap toward nubile, barely undressed gorgeous college babes?
But wait. Because, potential audience members, from far above in the ionosphere, a huge satellite, is beaming images from the cabin elsewhere on the planet. Yes, folks, like a reality show. Or, in this case, a science lab peopled by good character actors (the great Richard Jenkins and a plump Bradley Whitford of The West Wing), plus the usual low-rent extras.
It turns out that these white-coated types are controlling what and who’s going on, monster-wise, in the cabin. (If our collegians become too active, Thorazine is pumped into the cabin.) These kids are being treated like lab rats, controlled from above.
Is this, then, political allegory? Are we all just pawns? Did the Republicans win the presidency? And who is controlling the folks in the lab? Who’s the CEO? And what’s the lab-talk about using the kids for sacrifice? Is this, then, religious allegory?
This isn’t your big sister’s horror-movie anymore. And why is the collegians’ blood pouring into the lab? Aren’t the scientists corporate lackeys? Or are they high priests? Meanwhile Central Casting types are dying by the usual time-honored horror-movie devices.
Engineered by Joss Whedon (The Avengers), directed by Drew Goddard (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), this movie comes close to suggesting the kind of world we all now live in, instead of quaint one of previous cabin film–post-modern, as we say.
Only wait. There’s more, because near the end, the movie goes off the grid by going over the top: too many monsters, too much gore. And, of course, then the CEO shows up, a cameo by a Big Star, playing the One Who Rules All. (We won’t tell you who, but her hubby is from Hawai’i. So There.) What can I say? Cabin in the Woods is a real surprise.