But, we'll get to those.
The Cabin in the Woods begins with the mundane--a workplace. Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) talking about Hadley's wife and their efforts to have a kid.
Then we get our five (those five images above, but not quite). First we meet our "virgin" Dana (Kristen Connolly), dancing in her underwear. Then our "whore" Jules (Anna Hutchison), and there's a big thing about how she has books for the weekend. Then our "athlete" Curt (Chris Hemsworth), who while he can throw a football clearly knows his books. Then our "scholar" Holden (Jesse Williams), who is apparently just an athlete. Finally, our "fool" Marty (Fran Kranz), a stoner who seems particularly comfortable with the idea of a weekend "off the grid." These are the archetypes and we're going to jump right into SPOILER material, because that's the only way to talk about this film.
Next, the "harbinger" warns them not to go to the cabin. Classic Friday the 13th story beat, there. Later, we will learn from either Hadley or Sitterson (I forget which, offhand) that this is a necessary storybeat in the ritual--they have to choose to go to the cabin, and choose to go to the basement and find... well, an item. There are many.
The whiteboard, so we can get that out of the way--with 28 available monsters and the departments that bet on them being chosen:
|ALIEN BEAST||BIO MED|
|ANGRY MOLESTING TREE||WRANGLERS|
|GIANT SNAKE||INTERNAL LOGISTICS|
|THE BRIDE||DIGITAL ANALYSIS|
|THE SCARECROW FOLK||DATA ARCHIVES|
|ZOMBIE REDNECK TORTORE FAMILY||MAINTENANCE [AND] RONALD THE INTERN|
Ronald the Intern wins the pool, of course, though Curt finds the shell (that will presumably summon the MERMAN, then spends some time on the puzzle ball (that will presumably summon the HELL LORD), Holden finds the musicbox (that will presumably summon the SUGARPLUM FAIRY), Jules finds a wedding dress and necklace (that will presumably summon THE BRIDE), and Marty finds a film strip which summons... I don't know what, Dana speaks up first about what she's found, the diary of Patience Buckner.
(Sidenote: there seem to be monsters in the storage containers later that are not on the list, like a giant spider, or the robot, or whatever has a giant tentacle and grabs Lin (Amy Acker). Far more than 28 boxes. But, they could just cycle through these things, depending on the occasion.)
The key to the ritual, as the Director (Sigourney Weaver) tells Dana, when she balks at being the virgin, "We work with what we have." By this point, we've seen the pheromone mists they use to make sure Jules will be willing to have sex in the woods with Curt--setting the "whore" up as the first sacrifice.
Meanwhile, I gotta say, this movie is hilarious, while still hitting its horror beats. Becca James and Alex McCown at AV Club debated just this past week about whether or not The Cabin in the Woods is a comedy or a horror film.
As if it cannot be both.
As if both are not structurally the same thing. I mean, what is a joke, anyway? The punchline is some unexpected twist on the mundane setup. That's a horror film, too. College students spend the weekend at a cabin--perfectly normal. Weird shit is found in the basement--perfectly normal. That weird shit wakes up ZOMBIE REDNECK TORTURE FAMILY--not so normal. The right context and it's funny. Different context and it's scary. But the structure is the same; set up something normal, then twist it sideways, get a reaction from the audience.
Becca, in that AV Club piece, has this one line I want to mention; she says the film focuses "almost solely on the humor and forget[s] the horror." I disagree, but the next line is important. "In the same way a magic trick loses its ability to amaze once the secret is revealed." See, that is not true for me. I've watched all those Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed specials, and others shows like that. And, then while some of the "magic" may be lost, there is still some serious skill and technique on display, and new tricks and new versions of old tricks to try to figure out. And, yes, I try to figure out magic tricks when I see them. Just like I pick apart movies here in this blog, I pick apart tv shows and books and, yeah, magic tricks. Can't always figure them out, but I try. And, knowing how they work doesn't ruin them. And, the idea that the general public might know how a trick works, or how a particular movie trope works--seriously, so many Chekhov's Guns come across as obvious these days. We've seen so many movies, so many tv shows, read so many books, we can see the beats. We get it when they tell us in this film, "The virgin's death is optional, as long as it's last. The main thing is that she suffers." The thing is, this film is about revealing the magic trick but still making it hit the requisite beats. Whether we accept the ultimate premise or not--the text of horror films as sacrifice to Ancient Ones becomes the subtext of horror films has replaced historical sacrifice--it makes sense. Like watching violence action films instead of actual gladiators in the Coliseum, we watch horror films so we can avoid the horror outside. Or, so we can placate the fears that come naturally to us after millions of years of evolution and humans being far more vulnerable to, well, everything.
Life, especially in the West, has gotten too boring. Too repetitive. We crave excitement, so we bingewatch tv shows, we go out to see movies. Before watching this movie tonight, I was at an Escape Room in downtown Los Angeles (we failed to escape), and last night I was watching some videos about McKamey Manor, where you can "pay" to, well, basically, be tortured for as long as you can last--the record is six hours. People are choosing to go be dragged around, yelled at, fed horrible things, shoved into water near to drowning, and there's a waiting list. There is serious torture going on around the world, some of it on our behalf, and we've got a waiting list to go have it done to ourselves. I almost watched the Saw series this past month of horror films. You know, the heart of the "torture porn" subgenre of horror. There is a great core to that series, actually, about people being forced to appreciate life because we're all so inured to the evils of this world that we obsess about the smallest little things
and we lose focus on the things that matter.
Pardon the trite bullshit.
Or welcome it.
I wrote back on Day 109 about a screenplay I wrote called Fugue that ends with the main character figuring out that she is a character. (Short version, she has already figured out that she came out of a book, but in the end also figures out that she is in a movie.) She turns to the audience at the end of the story and blames them (us) for all of the pain she has gone through. It's one of those scenes that could be entirely silly or entirely powerful, depending on the direction and the performance--not that it will ever be made. But, it's also a big part of what this movies is about, and how I see movies generally. I try (and usually succeed) to get into these things, see the characters as real people, the situations as real situations, and then I still tear it apart in my head, dissect it to see what it means.
Because so much of the day-to-day is repetitive, meaningless bullshit...
Actually, that isn't as true anymore as it seemed, say, when I worked in an office and spent hours entering data into a computer. But, we evolved to do more than sit at desks, sit at tables, sit in cars, stare at screens of varying sizes, and order takeout or pop something in the microwave when we're hungry.
Since, our lives are not as... energetic as they could be in a more primitive setup, we need movies to get our hearts pumping. Romantic comedies to arouse one part of us, horror films to arouse another, actions films to arouse another, dramas to arouse another, and when the genres mix, regardless of what Becca James has to say about it, that just means more parts get aroused. And, that's just great.
As long as the filmmakers don't suck.