The Cabin in the Woods: A meta-homage to horror
A comedic tribute to horror classics, The Cabin in the Woods’s brilliancy lies in its self-referential humor, its satirical commentary on the genre, and its ability to surprise the audience in the process.
Two workers -played by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins- are at some sort of laboratory/underground facility, casually talking about their personal lives. A third co-worker arrives to tell them “Stockholm went south”. They tell her that there’s still Japan and them, and that they haven’t had a glitch since 1998, as they keep on talking about a betting pool they’re putting together. Then, the screen is filled with the title: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.
The initial credits start, and the setting is now a regular neighborhood. We meet Dana, our protagonist, who is wearing a shirt and no pants as she is packing to go spend the weekend with her friends at a remote cabin. They all get together, get in an RV, and head their way. As they leave, the camera turns to a man on the roof, with a SWAT-like appearance, saying: “the nest is empty, we’re right on time”. And while all of this happens, the viewer has no choice but to keep asking to himself: “What the f*ck am I watching?”.
The opening sequence for The Cabin in the Woods sets the entire tone of the film. From that first moment, you know you’re in for something you were not expecting when you pressed play. The story is going to be absurd; you are not going to understand what’s going on, and you will slowly realize this is not a regular cabin in the woods story, even when the title tells you otherwise. And as the plot develops, the viewer is handed small pieces of information until the film reaches its conclusion with a revealing twist.
Released in 2011, The Cabin in the Woods marked the directorial debut for the already established sci-fi writer Drew Goddard, who is most commonly known for his work in TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel; cult classics from the mind of Joss Whedon. Here, Whedon and Goddard join forces once again to co-write and give birth to an outstanding piece of meta-horror. Given their line of work, we know both Whedon and Goddard have a wide trajectory within science-fiction and fantastic cinema. And that is why this movie is such a success. The Cabin in the Woods is a film that could have only be done by someone with a vast knowledge of the genre, and, equally, it is a film that can only be fully enjoyed if you are a true horror geek. It is a clever self-referential horror comedy that plays with classic tropes and archetypes and deconstructs them as it pays an homage to some of the best and most iconic movies in the horror genre.
The film’s main reference is obviously Sam Raimi’s cult classic from 1981: The Evil Dead. From the plotline to the setting -and even down to some formal decisions like Raimi’s Dutch camera angle, used when Dana is entering the cabin -, this is something that is made quite clear from early on. However, this is only the beginning of it all. Because one could actually make an in-depth study of each and every one of the citations the movie makes to horror classics. This is particularly notable when we see the board with options for the pool, and later on, when we encounter the “museum of monsters” -as I like to call it-, where we can easily identify a series of references to infamous horror movies. Which ones? That is up to you to find out.
In addition to that, some of the funniest jokes in the film pose relevant critiques to usual horror tropes, especially to those that have been overused to the point of deteriorating the genre over time. There are a number of times where one can find an underlying commentary on the typical idiotic attitudes from characters in horror movies. Marty explicitly addresses this when he mentions to Dana that everyone is acting in a way they never do, specifically referring to Jules taking on the dumb blond role, and Curt turning into some sort of “alpha male” jock, neither of which they normally are.
There’s also the clear reference to how, if you’re a character in a horror movie, having sex equals being slaughtered to death. And the thing is, they are in fact characters in a horror movie. But not the one we are watching. It is the one the guys in the underground facility are writing themselves. That is the true genius of The Cabin in the Woods. That in creating the ultimate homage to horror, it also brings something new to the genre, presenting a movie within a movie that takes meta horror to the most nonsensical extreme. In fact, when asked about the idea behind the film, Whedon and Goddard have stated that they wanted to turn around the genre by questioning the things that have deemed it cheesy and formulaic over time, such as the preponderance of dumb protagonists and the increasing preference of torture porn over true horror.
The Cabin in the Woods pays tribute to everything that makes the horror genre what it is, highlighting the best and mocking the worst. And in doing so, they make way for one hell of a job at fan service, which reaches its peak with the amazing cameo at the end of the film -one that I am not about to spoil here-. The film is, without hesitation, one of the best, most original horror satires ever made, probably only second to the mother of them all: Scream. Praise Whedon and Goddard, because The Cabin in the Woods is the movie that every horror fan wishes they had made -or at least the one I wish I had made-. And that is what makes it so delightfully good.