cabin in the woods

Dir. Drew Goddard
(2012, R, 95 minutes)

One of the first thoughts that came to mind while watching The Cabin in the Woods is how much better it is at addressing some of the same themes as Michael Haneke‘s sanctimonious, condescending Funny Games. The two films don’t have the same aim, necessarily, but both are meta-horror movies, using the tropes of the genre to comment on them, shining a light on how we produce and consume violent culture.

Haneke chose to make this point by literally scolding the audience through the screen. But in Cabin director Drew Goddard and co-writer/producer Joss Whedon do it with a wink and a nod. I won’t spoil the movie by discussing too much of the plot, which means I’ll discuss almost none of the plot. Some movies have a twist ending; the twist here starts from the very first scene, and that upfront dramatic structuring – most screenplays save their surprises for the end – is part of the film’s tantalizing appeal.

It assembles all the usual elements for a sexy-coeds-in-danger horror movie such as this: the isolated locale that gives the film its title, an ominous gas station whose proprietor warns the young’uns of danger ahead, and a group of main characters who neatly fit the most common archetypes: an aggressive jock (Chris Hemsworth), a ditzy blond (Anna Hutchison), a nerd with glasses (Jesse Williams), a pot-addled burnout (Fran Kranz), and a chaste heroine (Kristen Connolly). They fit these roles a little too neatly. Something is amiss …

Indeed there is, and it’s more than just the secret of the plot. Consider a scene where a celebration is being thrown while violent events are unfolding in the background on monitors. Goddard makes sure to overlay one image over the other to emphasize their ghoulish contrast and the absence of empathy from those observing the carnage. In that scene, as sometimes in Hollywood, it’s all fun and games as long as someone loses an eye.