I almost can’t write about Cabin in the Woods without giving away Cabin in the Woods. It’s a horror movie. It’s a conspiracy movie. It’s a horror movie about a conspiracy.
Yeah, I think it’s that last one.
Five smart, carefree college students decide to take off for the weekend, going “off the grid,” at a cabin in the woods. They are:
The Nice Girl—Dana (Kristen Connolly)
The New Guy—Holden (Jesse Williams)
The Slut—Jules (Anna Hutchison)
The Jock – Curt (Chris Hemsworth)
The Conspiracy Theorist – Marty (Fran Kranz)
Guess who dies first. Just guess.
You guessed right because you already know the horror movie rules. The sexually active girl dies first. And the movie follows the rules, completely, while from somewhere else, two middle-aged guys in a high-tech lab watch every move our five lambs-to-the-slaughter make on a series of screens, controlling the environment in order to influence our five. The rules, it turns out, are important. And they’re old.
The internet ads for this movie made much of the rules. There were taglines like, “They’re after us. Let’s split up,” and “We’re being watched. Have sex.” Let’s include a couple more.
Go down into the dark cellar by yourself.
If there’s anything with an enigmatic Latin inscription, read it out loud.
If the creepy local at the derelict gas station calls your girlfriend a whore and makes frightening remarks about what’s ahead, go on ahead anyway.
The creepy local, Mordeccai, makes a phone call to the guys in the lab later. As the two lab guys, Hadley and Sitterson (Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, making evil seem as ubiquitous and banal as stale coffee in an office break-room) and Lin, the gal from Chem (Amy Acker) choke back their giggles at his ominous monologing, he says, suspiciously, “Am I on speaker phone?”
Our five primaries seem slightly brighter than the average horror-movie fodder, at least at first, but there is some tension in the ranks, and at least two of them are not behaving normally. Pothead Marty tries to discuss this with Dana. He asks her, “Since when is Curt such an alpha male? And since when does Jules act like a celebutard?” Dana says that they’re just drunk, but Marty isn’t so sure.
The pivotal scene, of course, is in that creepy earthen cellar. The cellar is filled with horror-movie stuff. There are weird porcelain doll heads; a canister of movie film; a jewelry box with a dancing ballerina inside; a dress form with a faded lace dress and a strange pendant; there is a conch shell, a mosaic orb that is a puzzle box, and then there are the more usual things; rusty cutting and slashing tools, animal traps, cobwebs. Each of the five is drawn to something, until they are distracted by Dana, who starts reading from a diary she’s found; kept by the daughter of a family of twisted pain-worshipping cultists who tortured visitors, and finally each other. And the diary ends with… an enigmatic inscription in Latin.
The cellar scene is important, but what is going on under the cellar is even more important. This is a movie about levels, vertical and horizontal; we on the other side of the 4th wall watch the watchers, and through the watchers, watch our primaries. “I’m rooting for that kid,” Hadley says, as Dana thrashes away from a twisted-pain-worshipping-cultist-zombie who’s swinging a bear trap on a chain. The lab-coat guy starts a monologue about her courage, her heart, her purity –and then gets distracted at the thought of making margaritas.
The final act of the movie plays out in scenes so blood-drenched I thought I’d wandered into a “Blade” movie by mistake. That’s okay though; it’s intentional. I wouldn’t have thought that there was a fresh sight gag left with elevators. I was wrong, and the gentle chiming of the elevators in the monolithic facility acts as timing for the catastrophic final sequences, as we reach the big climactic scene at the end. This is also one of the best pro-drug movies I’ve seen in a while. Marty, the pothead, who lights up constantly, (his bong collapses into a coffee travel-mug) is the only one who even comes close to figuring out what is happening. (“I’m on a reality show,” he marvels. “My mom’s going to think I’m such a burn-out.”) But the basic question is, “Why?” Why is it only young people who have to suffer and be killed in this particular way?
Joss Whedon co-wrote this film and directed the second unit. It has Whedonisms all over it; which is to the good as far as I’m concerned. Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel will see many familiar faces on the screen. The final sequence is reminiscent of the UC Sunnydale season of Buffy, with the Initiative. Being Whedon, he can’t resist the whole destiny/free will question. As influenced as they are, do our five employ free will? By doing so, are they heroic, or selfish, since their deaths are purportedly part of a bigger purpose? Are they like Spartacus, or Iphigenia? Well, I don’t know, because I was covering my eyes and peering out between my fingers at that part.
If you like horror movies, I recommend this one.
Some commenters on the internet were worried about whether there were rape scenes. There are not. There is a pretty and sexy sex scene that ends badly (because, let’s review… who dies first?). One internet commenter stated that there is a sexual assault against a dead, taxidermy-ed wolf, but I will leave you do draw your own conclusions.