Warning: It is impossible to meaningfully review this film without spoilers. Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers galore.
There are many ways to deconstruct film tropes
. Straight-up parody
, as in the 'Scary Movie
' movies, simply sends them up by injecting over-the-top absurdity
into their repetition. Less absurd fare which might better be described as homage
, such as the 'Scream
' movies, knowingly invokes the conventions of the genre while displaying them to a degree, with characters who are aware that they match horror film archetypes making note of the fact even while the killer is picking them off, with some faithfulness to the origin material. And then we come to this year's offering -- pun
intended (if you've seen the film). Unlike some other films I've reviewed here
, this one is definitely enough worth watching that I'll try to avoid disclosing spoiler
-type details, beyond what is already spoiled by the trailers. And likely what makes it worth watching is that it bears the indelible fingerprints of producer/co-writer Joss Whedon
, and director/other co-writer Drew Goddard.
The film begins with the foreboding conversation of some techie types as they wander from a break room to what seems like a futuristic factory control room, prepping up for things to go down. Their discussion touches upon fertility (one of the techies is planning a family) -- and darkly hints at the manipulation of certain events around the world. If you walked in during this conversation, you might well wonder whether you've wandered into the wrong theater, but in due course, we are shown the ingredients for our main course: five college friends head up to the titular remote and foreboding cabin
in the woods
. Even before they set out for the trip, it is clear that some ominous (and, obviously, powerful) outside force has manipulated their travel agenda to this end. There is Curt, the studly jock
(played by Chris Hemsworth, more famously seen recently as Thor
), who was invited to this cabin by a 'cousin
' whom he'd never before heard of; Jules, the whore
(played by Anna Hutchison); the contrasting 'virgin
' Dana (played by Kristen Connolly); Holden, who is (how to convey this delicately....) well, let's be honest here, he's simply "the black guy" (played by Jesse Williams) -- the film tries to paint him out as 'the scholar' of the bunch, perhaps because some tropes are too controversial to be spoken aloud.... but, no, really, he's 'the black guy'; and lastly, and it turns out quite importantly, we've got Marty, the 'fool' pothead
(played by Fran Kranz). But, here's the thing, in meeting these people, they don't fall especially readily into those standard archetypes. Our 'jock' is intelligent and conscientious, a sociology
student able to quote Russian philosophy; our 'whore' is a faithful partner in a committed relationship; our 'nerd' is commented to be a fine athlete as well; and our 'virgin' is not one at all.
On the way up to the woods, the gang encounters the creepy proprietor of a derelict gas station, who darkly hints that they might not be coming back from their trip. He sends them on their way, and then makes an ominous phone call about 'lambs to the killing floor' and such. The gang of five reach the cabin -- an unmistakable homage to the one from The Evil Dead
films -- and commence to partying. But things begin to get strange. Their personalities slowly begin to shift -- Jules has recently dyed her hair blonde and (thanks, we find out, to chemicals planted in the dye) seems to drop a few notches in intelligence, and begins acting like a sex-kitten (which alarms Marty, who has known her since they were kids).
Before long, a passageway happens to pop open, luring them into the basement, stocked with sundry evil artifacts
. And here is where this review will begin to get a wee bit spoilerish
-- perhaps not so much that it isn't beyond what's given away in the advertising, but I start to warn here naetheless. For, in fact, those basement artifacts are designed to draw the attention of different members of the group, and doubly serve to invoke specific outcomes. To be clear, whichever artifact the group selects determines which monster will be unleashed upon them; the technicians in the secret underground complex control the scenery, but the group unwittingly choose the monster themselves. And choose they do; Curt fiddles with an object reminiscent of the puzzle box in Hellraiser
, and comes close to blowing a conch
, but it is Dana who notches the unwitting summoning by reading from a 1903 diary recounting a tale of the Buckner family, the "zombie redneck torture family" of the whiteboard discussed more below.
And, as this cliche rolls in, so do others. The jock and the whore have sex in the woods; the whore is attacked and killed by zombies; the rest of the cabin guests decide to split up and head to their rooms. Cliched and stupid actions reflective of feeble minds it would seem -- but not naturally, not at all. Instead, the nerdy white-collar technicians hidden deep beneath the house use mind-altering gases, pheromones
, subliminal messages
, and other means and substances to cause the cabin-dwellers to act according to what is obviously an elaborate plan. To make 'the jock' act like a dumb jock and suggest that they split up instead of sticking together. To make 'the whore' act like a whore. The only one who gets that something weird is happening, who hears the suggestions being whispered, is paranoid stoner Marty -- and even he can't be sure that his senses are reliable.
Incidentally, the goings-on in this cabin are not the only 'operation' of concern to the lab technician-types. Monitors in their complex show for example a group of young Japanese schoolgirls vying against a creepy long-haired ghost-spirit. It is suggested that similar operations are being carried out all over the world, and that the Japanese run an historically more successful rival operation to the American operation underway. But still, when the Japanese schoolgirls succeed in subduing their ghost-tormentor with no fatalities, great discord riles the American group.
SPOILERS GALORE BEYOND THIS POINT
This is where the spoilers begin. Okay, seriously, if you have not seen this film, don't read this. Go see it. It's worth seeing, and you'll enjoy it more for the twist ending.
And, as long as we're discussing spoilers, there is a book available, The Cabin in the Woods: The Official Visual Companion
, which contains even more spoilers than you could get by seeing the film; in addition to the complete script (including parts which were cut before filming), the book describes horrors not seen in the film itself.
The white board:
This is not so big of a spoiler that simply showing it to you here will spoil anything. With the group having arrived at the cabin, the employees in the complex below set up a betting pool, with different departments (and some individual employees) taking odds on which one the group will 'choose' (the choice being made as soon as one of the kids completes the activation of one of the artifacts in the basement. You can find images of the infamous betting board online
, but here you go:
And because the group 'picked' the Zombie Redneck Torture Family by that being the first artifact to be activated, the Maintenence Department splits the betting pool with Ronald the Intern. Once the group have gone their separate ways in the night, Marty is grabbed by a zombie through his cabin window, stabbed in the back, and dragged away screaming. The remaining three (Curt, Holden, and Dana) decide to make a run for it (or, rather, a drive), but their camper is stopped by a convenient road collapse. Curt heroically tries to jump the resulting ravine but ends up hitting an electified force field, which fries him dead. Holden and Dana seek another way out, but it turns out another zombie has stowed aboard the RV, and this one kills Holden, leaving Dana alone alive.
Even bigger spoilers ahead
Now the really spoiling spoilers uncoil. And, just to make sure you don't accidentally
read past this point, I'm going to hide the rest of this in the links.
, and one even comments that he hopes something else will happen
-- but but it's not looking good
. But it turns out that this celebration is premature. You see, somebody
, because somebody screwed up
. After something
; something else happens
, and goes somewhere
-- passing along the way many other things
-- prompting someone
to realize something
More things happen
; and then another thing happens
-- the shit hits the fan
. It's pretty graphic
. Some of it is ironic
. Then somebody else
(played by an actress
) appears and explains to them that some other things
for some reason
, or else something bad will happen
then tries to convince somebody
to do something
, to prevent that bad thing from happening, but something else happens
. Which, naturally, culminates in something really, really bad happening
Obviously, all of this means that there will be no sequel
. Unless there is one.
Breaking it down:
Since you've read this far and passed through all the spoilers to this point, I'll not keep covering them up. It would make the job of considering the import of the revelations of the film too burdensome. So it goes.
Various reviewers have suggested that the grand metaphor which seems to underlie all of this is that we, the audience, the filmgoers, we are
the Ancient Gods; we demand the ritual sacrifice, we wish to see the the pattern carried out over and over again, and it is we who destroy worlds -- the fictional movie worlds of these events -- by disliking a deviation from the story strongly enough to punish its creators with the consequence of our dissatisfaction -- bad box office numbers, resulting in no continuation of that world. Some have even likened this film to a big 'fuck you
' from Whedon and Goddard to horror fans.
There are, to be sure, still 'holes' in the framing -- for example, characters who have endured seemingly fatal attacks later not only being alive, but running around quite spryly; and the fact that the otherwise super-smooth-running operation houses at least hundreds of monsters and killers, has a ready means to release all at once, but no ready means to contain the carnage of such a release. And, one must wonder what exactly is the deal with all these monsters -- are they robotic (they seem organic), or genetically engineered, or real monstrous creaturs somehow collected? But these are small potatoes criticisms against a fairly brilliant 'big picture.'
But one fan comment on a message board rang especially cogently here -- that this was literally 'the horror movie to end all horror movies.' In a sense, such a comment may reflect upon the fact that the opening of the glass cages in the third act released every kind of horror
yet set to film, and that those horrors wreaked every kind of deadly havoc
on the facility staff. But, on a deeper level, having watched this film, it seems well nigh impossible that you'll ever watch another horror film again without wondering in the back of your mind: is there a subterranean factory floor far beneath these screaming teens, from which the monster/killer has been unleashed? And when one of the endangered characters makes a monumentally stupid decision, you'll surely wonder where are the vents releasing the mind-altering gas prompting this behavior!!
*Here is a 'Daily Beast' interview with Drew Goddard wherein he discusses in further depth the significance of various directorial choices in making the film
*And, an Ain't It Cool News interview with the same
*TV Tropes breaks down all the tropes in the film
*An absolute, total, and complete blow-by-blow spoiler of the film