The Cabin in the Woods - Review and Analysis
There are plenty of reviews out there both in written form and in video form, both professional and amateur and I'd hate to get in the habit of reviewing films here on hubpages. After all chances are I see maybe half a dozen films in theaters a year (movie tickets are expensive, and my paycheck tiny). However I recently saw the film The Cabin in the Woods, which I feel merits a review and more than that an analysis that goes a bit deeper. This will probably require some spoilers so I will knock the basic review out first and follow it up with my more in-depth musings about the film.
The film The Cabin in the Woods is a movie ABOUT story-telling/movie-making. Most people know the basic framework of a horror movie, particularly slashers. You've got archetypal young characters which represent the basic forms we see in most high school or college films – The Jock, the Nerd, the Slut, the Virgin, and the Comedy Relief. The Cabin in the Woods is a movie which operates within that same archetypal horror movie framework but has specific plot-related reasons for doing so.
That's why I say it's a movie about movie-making, the fourth wall is flimsy at best here, the main characters are being set up (the trailer reveals as much) to be killed and are being watched and influenced by sinister forces below the Cabin. The marketing campaign has been focusing a lot on the secret below the Cabin and while at first I didn't want to get my expectations up via the hype I have to say that the movie delivers on its promise. The secret of the Cabin is really awesome.
I have to say personally that I find the movie to be more of a horror-comedy than a straight horror film. The audience I saw it with seemed to share that sentiment, there were far more laughs in my theater than gasps or jumps. That isn't to say the movie won't scare you merely that it's more interested in telling it's story than it is in horrifying the audience. If you're a fan of films like the Evil Dead series or, more recently, the hilarious Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, you'll probably love this film.
Here There Be Spoilers
From here on out there will be spoilers and it won't be easy to understand what the hell I'm talking about if you haven't seen the film.
The Cabin in the Woods has a fairly original premise/twist to it however there is a lot of influence from other films and stories incorporated into the film. There is, of course, the blatant use of horror film archetypes and the idea of “punishing the young for their sin”. The most obvious specific parallel is, of course, to Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, which both prominently feature a spooky cabin in the woods. The thing that Evil Dead and The Cabin in the Woods MOST share in common is that they are both influenced by horror author H.P. Lovecraft.
For those uninitiated into the wonder that is Lovecraft, Lovecraft was a writer of science-fiction and horror during the early twentieth century (his first work was published in 1917 and his last work was a diary about his struggle with cancer until his death in 1937). During his short years Lovecraft arguably changed the world and charted the way for most of the horror-makers in film, television, literature, etc. Lovecraft is most famous for creating what others came to call the Cthulhu Mythos. Cthulhu, in many ways, is more well known than Lovecraft himself. They are primordial alien-gods who came to Earth in eons past and brought death, chaos and darkness before mysteriously falling out of prominence. These Old Ones, or Elder Gods, still haunt our world as stories, myths and legends about monsters and gods, and they slumber beneath us (Cthulhu waits in the sunken city of R'lyeh).
Lovecraft's stories often feature cults around the world who worship Cthulhu or one of the other otherworldly gods. Lovecraft also invented the Necronomicon, the legendary “Book of the Dead” written by a supposed “mad Arab” and inked in blood. This book, and mention of the Old Ones, are featured in the Evil Dead series. The Old Ones are also featured in The Cabin in the Woods although the only true God we see isn't a pulpy dragon squid like Cthulhu is. The idea is that forbidden horrors like those we dream of in nightmares actually once existed in the form of otherwordly beings which have long since vanished from our world. In many of Lovecraft's stories a scientist or scholar's curiosity will uncover the vestiges of this dark world and lead themselves to the horrifying reality that beneath our feet or perhaps in some other dimension slumbering gods lie waiting to destroy the world.
The Cabin in the Woods is, at its root, based on this idea as the ritual of the film is designed specifically to keep these dark gods at bay and make sure they stay asleep beneath the cabin and don't wake to end the world of men. The idea of appeasing gods by blood sacrifice is one of the oldest ideas in human culture and the opening of the film shows images of human sacrifice from ancient Egypt and certain ancient mezoamerican cultures setting the stage rather well for what's to come.
Other movies with similar influences include Hellboy, Alien, and even more so the new prequel to Alien PROMETHEUS.
Many video games also have a similar Lovecraftian influence, including three of the foundational first-person shooters – DOOM, Quake, and Half-Life.
Speaking of video games the movie seems, at least to me, to tie in visuals towards the end with games like Half-Life and Portal. In particular there is one moment where Sigourney Weaver's character is speaking over the loud-speaker in a tone eerily reminiscent of the killer AI GlaDos from Portal, all of this while the characters stand in a blank-white hallway very similar to those featured in Portal.
Here there be Monsters
There are other moments that stand out towards the end as being influenced by similar films or films which present monsters and ghosts. While not very good the remake of Thirteen Ghosts (yes the one with Tony Shalhoub) has, well, thirteen ghosts who are caged. There are tons of monsters in cages here. This also isn't the only movie where some kind of ritual sacrifice is meant to either save the world or help people out, where it is made into a sort of necessary evil to kill someone off in a ritualistic fashion.
Many of the films monsters are references, direct or indirect, to other films and film montsers. There's a giant CGI cobra courtesy of a Syfy original movie, a killer with blades sticking out of his head holding a circular puzzle box courtesy of Hellraiser and many more. In fact you'd probably have to watch this film a good half a dozen times to pick out all of the different references and monsters featured.
Strangely enough there is also a strong Monster's Inc feel to the film whenever we are behind-the-scenes with those who are actually organizing the ritual. The idea that these characters are USED TO doing this sort of thing, that this is just ANOTHER DAY AT THE OFFICE is a continuous source of humor in the film as they try to work out the logistics and make absolutely sure the killing goes according to plan.
Probably the only flaw in the film is the very end. As a writer I like to look at movies from a story-telling point of view. I have to say that the writers sorta wrote themselves into a corner with the end of the film. There are only a handful of ways they could have resolved the situation at the end where the Virgin has the gun and knows she doesn't have to die but the Fool archetype does. The logical straight-forward ending is for her to shoot him and then either kill herself out of guilt or go on living with this dark secret and perhaps even go mad because of it.
The other way to end the film would have been to make the Director a younger person and then have her simply kill the Director and use them as the sacrifice.
Instead the characters opt to let the world end by letting the Old Ones rise from below them to destroy the world. This ending left me scratching my head. I mean sure okay the human race sucks pretty bad, I get that, but letting everyone on the entire planet die to prove that point is pretty stupid. I suppose escape was impossible at that point and either way the characters were going to die but the noble thing would have been to die fighting your way out or, if they really go with the hatred of humanity there, to die for the OTHER species who don't suck as hard as we do. My point is that the lead up to the ending was flawless but the writers left very few truly satisfying ways to wrap the story up, chances are no matter what path they had taken there'd be some level of disappointment because the set-up and concept and story are really what makes the entire film worth-while.
This is one movie that is definitely about the journey more than the destination.
Update: After getting some informative comments below I have to sort of revise my review. Apparently the actual meaning of the film's ending went right over my head at first. The Gods are a metaphoric representation of the audience which requires that. in a horror movie, the archetypes be sacrificed. This idea makes a lot of sense and also explains why in the film the Japanese version of the same ritual involves one of those stereotypical little-girl ghosts (ala the Grudge) and the archetypes over there are apparently all children.
Perhaps taking the ending literally in this film was not the best approach. Thanks to those who commented below for bringing this to my attention.