Everyone always claims they want smart horror movies, but do we really? I think that’s the question at the heart of The Cabin in the Woods. For all the crowing moviegoers do about people splitting up or opening the cursed box, would you really be happy if they fought back against everything that makes your horror films tick?
The basic premise, and there’s no way not to spoil a bit here, is that a group of teens go off to a cabin the woods and wouldn’t you know it, all sorts of grisly things start showing up to kill them. Only, this time, we see that this is all being controlled from a high-tech lab. Basically, this horror movie is like the old PC game Dungeon Keeper by Bullfrog. How many ways can you come up with to kill them? Eventually, we’ll see just about every horror movie trope in one form or another. Is acknowledging the tropes the same as subverting them? Scream actually went the extra mile and subverted them while Cabin sort of forces them. Of course, that plays into its greater theme (spoilers from here on out).
Near the end of the film two of the main characters stumble into the lab and discover at its heart Sigourney Weaver is running things to please the “Ancient Ones.” In the context of the film these are angry, old gods who demand the sacrifice of kids that align with slasher movie stereotypes (the jock, the brain, the virgin, etc.). Outside the context of the film, this is a wonderful metaphor for horror movie fans. They demand that each new film trot out its usual cast (even Scream did so) and kill them off one by one with the usual litany of killers (zombies, serial killers in masks, ancient spirits, etc.). So as our hero defies the Ancient Ones and questions whether it’s worth letting the world end because their ways are stupid if it requires his friends to die, the filmmakers are really questioning the entire setup of horror flicks (right down to the blood of the “whore” being spilled to save the blood of the virgin). Hence, the question, do we really want something new? Of course, while a modest hit The Cabin in the Woods never reached the financial success of some more traditional horror fare. Read into that what you will.