If you’ve known me for more than, say, 5 minutes, you know I’m a devoted Joss Whedon fan. Since they won’t let us line up for The Avengers yet, I recently joined some friends to see The Cabin in the Woods, the long-delayed horror film Whedon co-wrote with director (and Buffyverse alum) Drew Goddard. Which brings me to my new – and hopefully ongoing – feature, The Critical List.
WARNING – CABIN IN THE WOODS SPOILERS AHEAD!! IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT, YOU PROBABLY WON’T KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT! SO GO SEE IT!! THIS’LL BE HERE WHEN YOU GET BACK!
1. It deconstructs an entire genre……then reconstructs it, turns it sideways and draws a mustache on it. Cabin isn’t just about winking self-awareness of horror tropes. It’s about why those tropes exist, and what it means that we enjoy them. Whedon doesn’t blend as many genres here as he did with his TV shows – not enough time! – but he puts what he has under one hell of a crazy microscope.
2. It continues the Lovecraftian mythology that emerged on Buffy & Angel. It could, in fact, take place in that universe, and many fans have pointed out the similarity between it and Buffy‘s season 4 “Initiative” storyline. Whedon loves the idea that ancient, powerful forces are manipulating us to their own ends, when they’re not actively seeking to destroy us. Our puny human efforts to appease them are never of much use, and fighting them is a noble, doomed cause.
3. It’s a lot deeper than it looks. While you’re laughing at the unicorn attack (which really happens) and playing “spot-the-copyrighted-horror-villain-knockoff,” you’re also chewing on some serious questions. Why do we enjoy watching others suffer, even when the suffering is fictional? What social roles are we pushed into, and what ones do we choose? Is it ever OK to do something evil for the sake of a greater good? Is that “greater good” really so great – or good? How much free will do we have, and what are we obligated to do with it? Those issues are all over Whedon’s original work. They’ll probably turn up in Avengers, too, albeit under layers of special effects.
4. It has surprisingly broad appeal. Horror fans can enjoy the creep factor and general mayhem, film theorists can dig into the genre commentary, philosophers can debate the Big Issues, Whedon cultists can revel in seeing Fred, Topher and Andrew in the same movie. The only thing missing is a tortured love story for the romantics, although the Buffyverse contained enough of that for several lifetimes, IMO.
5. Its evil is banal – and hilarious. The corporate drones who terrorize our heroes/victims are just guys who drink coffee and play around with the speakerphone. Sure, they place bets on how the kids are going to die, and cheer on the carnage, but they’re just letting off steam – kind of like the audience. They remind me a little of Sunnydale’s Mayor Wilkins, who could chuckle over the antics of Marmaduke while plotting apocalyptic destruction.
6. It never quite does what you expect. I kept developing theories about where Cabin was headed, only to have them erased 30 seconds later. Eventually, I remembered one of the cardinal rules of Whedon’s stories: You never really know what’s going to happen, yet it all somehow makes sense in the end.
So, seriously, go see this movie. Then…..Avengers Assemble!
- Loey Lockerby