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Drew Goddard’s ‘Cabin in the Woods’BY: Jake Blumgart 04.24.2012
At last: A horror film that asks its audience, “Why are you paying to see young people being butchered?”
The Cabin in the Woods. A film directed by Drew Goddard. For Philadelphia area show times, click here.
Horror flick with a conscienceJAKE BLUMGART
Most horror filmmakers don’t really know or care about their characters. The cast is assembled simply to be slaughtered. Why make people funny or charming if they’re going to spend most of the film screaming and bleeding?
The Cabin in the Woods, the new horror film from Drew Goddard, co-written by Joss Whedon, takes precisely the opposite tack. It utilizes the clichés and archetypes of the genre in a wholly original, and incredibly enjoyable, fashion. Their characters are smart, funny, and seem to genuinely care about each other. Consequently, you actually care when they start dying.
In effect the film asks the audience: Why do you pay money to see young people being butchered?
A group of students, just out of high school— or is it college?— is about to embark on a wild trip to a cabin way out in the mountains, there to chug beer, smoke weed and indulge in the usual activities that get horror movie characters horribly butchered. All your favorite cliché victims are here: Jules, the sexy blonde (Anna Hutchison); Dana, the sweet girl (Kristen Connolly); Curt, the über-masculine athlete (Chris Hemsworth); Marty, the silly stoner (Fran Kranz); and Holden, the geek who is smart and therefore wears glasses (Jesse Williams).
But these people aren’t your customary archetypes. The “dumb” blonde is a pre-med student, with a flair for silly theatrics, and her “jock” boyfriend is a sociology major, interested in the failures of Soviet economics. What’s more, they’ve seen horror movies too, and can tell that something isn’t quite right. (“OK, I’m drawing a line in the fucking sand here. Don’t read the mysterious Latin out loud!”)
But something’s amiss, besides their imminent slaughter. Their trip is being monitored by two bureaucrats, played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, who chat amiably about marriage, housekeeping and baby-proofing their kitchens while mounting their high-tech surveillance devices. Their purpose isn’t clear (aside from serving as surrogates for the audience), but they seem to know that something nasty is in store.
Ultimately it becomes clear that these men, watching the young people frolic in the cabin, are invested in the kids’ drawn-out, painful deaths. “You have to give the customers what they want,” one of them notes, just before the killings begin.
But why do the customers— in this case the audience for horror movies— desire such an outcome? The Cabin in the Woods forces the audience to confront this question. It seems to suggest that we watch scary movies as a sublimation of the violence we fear that we and others may be capable of.
At the same time, The Cabin in the Woods is itself an extremely well-executed horror movie. It’s a winking reminder that civilized society and barbaric terror are closer to each other than we like to think.♦
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