The Cabin in the Woods
Directed by Drew Goddard
Opens April 13
In The Cabin in the Woods, writer-director Drew Goddard and writer-producer Joss Whedon unpack, then dismantle, and finally unbind the horror movie, liberating all its archetypes from the punishing confines (and confining punishments!) of the genre. It's not unlike Funny Games in that it strips the characters of their characterhood, eventually making them instead more like real people battling against imposed archetypes; thus, the filmmakers burden the audience with a greater moral responsibility for the violence done to them. People disdain Michael Haneke for that movie's lecturing; Goddard and Whedon get away with it here because they're careful not to wag their fingers, even though they prove strong critics of genre and viewer. Instead, they laugh a lot—not at horror's clichés but with them, all while remaining aware of their problematic subtexts.
The story starts simply: five college kids head to the woods to stay at a cousin's cabin. But they're not as off-the-grid as they believe: in fact, they are being monitored by a crew of technicians who, from a NASA-like "control room," manipulate the tiniest details of their experience—they can lower the blonde's IQ through her hair dye, or affect the characters' libidos with a pheromone mist—in order to steer the kids toward transgression and its concomitant comeuppance. Working for a "director," they ensure the students will invite their own deaths and fulfill an ancient rite.
Thus do Goddard and Whedon work versions of themselves into the story, picking apart the genre from within before tearing it down. While obviously the product of horror fans—it couldn't otherwise exhibit such ease with the tropes—Cabinrejects horror's usefulness. Climaxing with an apocalypse, the movie voices a surprising misanthropy, suggesting that maybe humanity doesn't deserve to endure if its survival depends upon barbarity. But the real reproof is for the genre: if the scary movie is a modern twist on the old sacrifice-ritual—we offer up fictional characters to placate the demons of our own psyches, or something?—then perhaps, at the very least, we viewers aren't as blameless as we might believe.