The Cabin in the Woods

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The Cabin in the Woods – Drew Goddard (2012)

The existence and cultural relevance of horror films as a genre has been extensively debated in academies. Brigid Cherry writes in her guidebook Horror that the horror genre and its conventions are not firm but ‘in a constant state of flux.’[1], ‘flexible’[2] and ‘adaptable’[3], for its capacity to address cultural anxieties and fears that are always shifting according to socio-political events in a specific historical period. Hollywood films are seen as ‘commercial product[s] [that] must respond to the mood of changing milieus to maintain audience interest and survive economically’[4], as Gabrielle Murray writes in Hostel II: Representations of the Body in Pain and the Cinema  Experience in Torture-Porn. Although the fears tackled by contemporary horror are diverse, certain narrative conventions seem to be recurrent and, above all, rooted in stereotypes linked with gender behaviours and roles. In this regard, Drew Goddard’s 2012 soon-to-become cult The Cabin in the Woods (referred as the Cabin in this essay) disrupt the long-established horror genre conventions of narrative and character development by enacting all those norms and simultaneously demolishing them through unfulfilled narrative expectations.

In this ‘affectionately satirical nightmare’[5], as Peter Bradshaw puts it, s group of young adults set out for a weekend in the cabin of the title in the middle of a thick woods. The characters’ conventionality resides in their look and gestures. It is clear that it is a horror film because we are quick to recognize the labels the characters embody.  In this regard, Dana (Kristen Connoly), Holden (Jesse Williams), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Curt (Chris Hemsworth) and Marty (Fran Kranz), are depicted as, respectively, the virgin, scholar, whore, jock and fool.[6] As expected, they will are unwittingly putting themselves in enormous trouble as strange happening are soon to mark their lives forever. Until here then, the Cabin seems to be a formulaic contemporary horror film, it appears to embody the ‘model’[7], as director Drew Goddard mentions, but it is in this reassuring, familiar tone of the narrative that the genius of the film resides.

In an interview with The Guardian, Goddard affirms that his goal was to ‘exploit’[8] the conventionality of the genre in order to make it ‘explode in your [viewer] face.’[9] In fact, we soon discover that the young and unwitty living labels are strictly controlled by scientists and spirituality fanatics that believe that aim at sacrificing them in order to appease the ‘old gods’, who threaten to sweep the mankind out of planet Earth. The scientists, brilliantly performed by actors Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, control and alter the characters’ behaviours through CCTVs’, artificial gases and absolute control over the cabin. Although the scientists manipulate the victims so that they actually take the wrong decisions that will lead them to death, they are also given agency over what nightmarish monsters to awaken through set devices such as objects or words muttered unwittingly the scientists devised.

Contemporary horror films depict unrelatable characters whose behaviours seem silly and baseless, but in the Cabin, viewers’ expectations are continuously twisted. A defining scene is undoubtedly the mirror scene (Fig. 1). Holden discovers he is able to see through the one-way mirror of Dana’s flanking room, but as Dana undresses unknowingly, Hodlen hesitates for a moment but eventually opts for letting Dana know and offers to swap. A superficial reading of the scene simply suggests the good and respectful nature of the scholar Holden and a possible blossoming relationship between the two, but, as a matter of fact, this is one of the few scenes in which the characters’ behaviour is not altered by gases, creams and other evil devices devised by the scientists in the laboratory. In this regard, the Cabins suggests the artificiality of odd, unwitty and unempathetic traits of horror film’s characters, making the characters of Dana and Holden relatable, human and sympathetic, establishing a relationship between characters and viewers.

More than just engaging with conventional narrative traits of Horror cinema, the Cabin acknowledges the predominance of male spectators in their early twenties[10] and the sexualisation of the woman. To demonstrate this, a key scene is the slaughter of Jules, the blonde dumb girl that gets more and more stupid due to the use of chemically altered hair-dye. Jules and her boyfriend Curt venture in the woods at night to have sex. Although sex in horror films is associated with approaching death, expectations also turn around the depiction of the nudity of the female body on screen. As the tension grows thanks to dark lightening, mystical sounds and foregrounded expectations, the scientists and lab workers are visibly excited and nervously waiting for Jules to show her breast (Fig. 2). The sex scene is a reflection on the male-dominated audience of the horror film genre whereas the character of Jules represents the artificiality of the archetypical horror characters. She is forced to fit in the category of the ‘dumb blonde girl’ (or, perhaps more clearly the ‘whore’), going against her nature. In here, characters embody labels that are not naturalized but questioned by the viewers.

The nightmarish satire of Peter Bradshaw in the Cabin arguably lies in the apocalyptic ending of the film, in which Dana and Marty survives the evil plan devised by the scientists, but the old gods are awaken and proceed to erase any living creature from the planet. Peter Bradshaw described the ending as ‘perfunctory’[11], but a deeper analysis arguably suggests that ‘the gods that need to be appeased are none other than the audience’[12], the one that debates the success of any film at the box office. The Cabin in The Woods is an example of horror film that actively engages with norms and redundancy of its genre, using the ending as a reflection on the staleness of a market (the mainstream horror film one) that prefers triteness than originality for financial gain.

 

 

[1] Brigid Cherry, Routledge Film Guidebooks: Horror (New York: Routledge, 2009), p. 2.

[2] Cherry, p. 11.

[3] Cheery, p. 11.

[4] Gabrielle Murray, ‘Hostel II: Representations of the Body in Pain and the Cinema Experience in Torture-Porn’, Jump Cut – A Review of Contemporary Media. http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc50.2008/TortureHostel2/ [Accessed 09/03/2016].

[5] Peter Bradshaw, ‘The Cabin in the Woods Review’, The Guardian, 12 April 2012. http://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/apr/12/the-cabin-in-the-woods-review [Accessed 09/03/2016].

[6] Erin Giannini, ‘”Charybdis Tested Well with Teens”: The Cabin in The Woods as Metafictional Critique of Corporate Media Producers and Audiences’, Slayage, Vol. 10.2/11.1 (Fall 2013/Winter 2014), Para. 11. http://www.whedonstudies.tv/uploads/2/6/2/8/26288593/giannini_slayage_10.2-11.1.pdf [Accessed 09/03/2016].

[7] Drew Goddard, Interview, The Guardian, 12 April 2012.  http://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/apr/12/the-cabin-in-the-woods-review [Accessed 09/03/2016].

[8] Goddard, Interview.

[9] Goddard, Interview.

[10] Brigid Cherry, Routledge Film Guidebooks: Horror (New York: Routledge, 2009), p. 40.

[11] Peter Bradshaw, ‘The Cabin in the Woods Review’, The Guardian, 12 April 2012. http://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/apr/12/the-cabin-in-the-woods-review [Accessed 09/03/2016].

 

[12] Erin Giannini, ‘”Charybdis Tested Well with Teens”: The Cabin in The Woods as Metafictional Critique of Corporate Media Producers and Audiences’, Slayage, Vol. 10.2/11.1 (Fall 2013/Winter 2014), Para. 18. http://www.whedonstudies.tv/uploads/2/6/2/8/26288593/giannini_slayage_10.2-11.1.pdf [Accessed 09/03/2016].

 

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