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The Cabin in the Woods - Review and Analysis

Updated on March 13, 2015
Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull writes articles on topics such as religion and skepticism - original poetry and short-stories - and film/tv/book/game reviews.


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.

Basic Review

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.

4 stars for The Cabin in the Woods
Tucker and Dale Versus Evil is a film which twists the basic cliches of horror with hilarious results
Tucker and Dale Versus Evil is a film which twists the basic cliches of horror with hilarious results

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.

The End

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.


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    • NessMovieReviews profile image

      The OP Mother Of Non-Spoiler Reviews 4 months ago from Moreton Bay, Queensland

      Thank gosh for Madgab. I loved this movie for that. The sequence of the killed made it glaringly obvious. Also like @Steven comment. I cant remember which I thought, but the studio seems more familiar, id have to watch again. Great movie. Nice link up to the background of the author and gods though, interesting.

    • rjbatty profile image

      rjbatty 2 years ago from Irvine

      Okay, I watched the film. Then I re-read your Hub. Your Hub is pretty honest, but I doubt I'd recommend this to anyone who isn't well inside the horror genre. As we saw most of the film revolves around stock characters and a stock story line of being stalked by zombies. What keeps you guessing is the whole purpose of the technocrats who have deliberately set up a no-win situation for the five teens. They are even taking bets on who will be killed off first. I didn't tune in to the humor of the inexplicable technocrats manipulating the teens to their demise. Not until you realize the full purpose of their efforts does one realize that they aren't all some kind of warped, exclusive organization that gets its kicks out of watching people die. So, you wade through a stock slasher -type film, along with this inexplicable juxtaposition of the technocrats until things go haywire. The cabinet of seemingly endless monsters escape, and all the technocrats are killed. THEN almost at the very end of the movie, you get an explanation for why this routine, ritualized killing "must" occur ... and starts to borrow some Lovecraft themes.

      I suppose we're just expected to look upon the whole thing as a kind of farce -- something not to be taken seriously.

      I'd still like to see some director take on a Lovecraft story in a serious manner. To date, the films I've watched that were "based" on Lovecraft's work were pretty awful.

    • rjbatty profile image

      rjbatty 2 years ago from Irvine

      Hmmm. I'm going to take a big chance (ha) about viewing this pic. NetFlix predicts I would give it two stars out of four -- not a big inducement. However, your knowledge about Lovecraft and the horror genre in general exceeds mine, so I'm willing to take the gamble. The industry makes so many horror-based movies -- I suppose because they can be cheaply produced and most teens are not going to have any influence beyond the fact that they already paid their price for admission. You don't seem to be outright endorsing the film, but if I watch it -- based on your efforts of a critique, and my wife and I end up hating it, I will return to ... oh heck, who am I kidding? I probably won't even remember what prompted me to rent the film in the first place.

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      Jayde 2 years ago

      Great arectli, thank you again for writing.

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      jermzmack 5 years ago

      Why would the world end at the end of the movie them freeing all the beast and creatures and whatnots. All them people killed would not be a good enough sacrfice??

    • Titen-Sxull profile image

      Titen-Sxull 5 years ago from back in the lab again


      Well you have to admit that the situation they are put in wouldn't give them much faith in humanity. After all they are being puppeteered by a bunch of guys who treat it like its an office job and bet on how they are going die like its no big deal. I'd be pretty unwilling to sacrifice my life when the only people around me were trying to kill me.

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      Luke 5 years ago

      I still personally very much dislike the ending scene even if they are an audience (and that is only the case if you are reading into it) the stoner kid is completely selfish, give others a chance? Are you kidding me it is the elder gods there won't be any chances for anyone -__-!

    • Titen-Sxull profile image

      Titen-Sxull 5 years ago from back in the lab again


      This is the first I've heard of the kronos theory. The movie is pretty solidly based around the "Old Ones" that Lovecraft made famous and the god in the film is never identified specifically. The only part we see of it is a giant hand, which, in my opinion, means it could be any god, or, as others have stated, a metaphor for the audience or studio brass.

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      steveo28 5 years ago

      How come no one can realize that the God in the end of the movie seems to be kronos: the father and God of the gods in Greek mythology?

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      Tony 5 years ago

      This is one of my favorite horror movies. It's smart and smart horror is rare. My only problem is that they made fun of the fact that there is no originality left in horror. Well it's easy to make fun of it but have you tried to invent something really original. The genre have been done a million times.

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      andrew 5 years ago

      I interpreted the guys all wearing the same white shirt and tie (the agency members?) as being Hollywood, studio executives and by the end of the film, all of their "creations" ended up destroying the typical hollywood horror show. I agree with madgab 100%!

    • Titen-Sxull profile image

      Titen-Sxull 5 years ago from back in the lab again


      That's an interesting thought and certainly just as plausible as the idea that the gods represent the audience. The fact that the fool and virgin both live causes the studio to go berserk because they demand certain cliches of the plot be fulfilled. Thanks for the comment.

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      Joseph 5 years ago

      I would actually argue that the gods represent the studio system. A group who demands characters be altered, body counts be met, and predictable storylines be in place, lest they destroy the entire world. While a disapproving audience can turn its back on a film, it's truly the financial powers-that-be that can end the process entirely, as metaphorically-witnessed at Cabin's conclusion. The film's contempt for the director and producers who agreeably comply would seem to reflect that the message is aimed at those in charge of the process of the creation of these carbon-copy stories and not those who those who watch them.

      Also, given Whedon and Goddard's shared fanaticism for the genre, it would only make sense that they would make the case for, not against, the audience that has grown frustrated with the endless stream of sameness that has become modern horror.

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      Yulia 5 years ago

      I think it's about letting society fall apart and having the gods take over. The stoner kids talks about it in the beginning of the movie in the can while rolling a joint.

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      Rose 5 years ago

      Right on, madgab. It's this review that is flawed, the ending of the movie inherently is NOT.

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      DB 5 years ago

      I agree with Madgab. At the moment The Director says there is 8 minutes left until sunrise, there was exactly 8 minutes until the lights of the theater went up.

      The whole movie was an allegory about horror films. By the end of it, it was turning in on itself with the huge nod to Resident Evil after they descended underground. What else was going to happen in an underground lab where there is tons of monsters? They pushed the big red "PURGE" button that did nothing but let the monsters out and display another, more modern movie cliche'.

      You can certainly take the film literally, but from what I've read in the interviews by Whedon about his film, he meant it to be about horror film cliche's and their audiences who don't seem to care.

    • Titen-Sxull profile image

      Titen-Sxull 5 years ago from back in the lab again

      I don't think any of the ways they could have ended it would have been satisfying to me but then like I said the journey was more than good enough to make the destination/ending pretty much irrelevant.

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      madgab 5 years ago

      I don't believe the ending was flawed at all. Did you get that the gods were a metaphor for the audience? For the gods (audience) to be appeased, there had to have been many cliches in place, including the death of these very cliché character roles. In many horror films, the slut dies first, the stoner kid tells everyone there's :something evil" but no one listens, the virgin dies last. At the end, when the virgin doesn't kill the stoner kid, its basically saying, this film is something different. We're not going to fit in this one last cliché and have the virgin either die last or survive because we want to be different. Because both the stoner kid and the virgin do not die (which is very rare in a horror film), the gods (audience) is unhappy and rise up to end the world. It's basically a satire saying that fans of horror movies become content seeing the same cliches over and over in these films, but that if there is something innovative and novel, they are not satisfied. BRILLIANT.

    • Titen-Sxull profile image

      Titen-Sxull 5 years ago from back in the lab again

      Thanks Austinstar, I look forward to hearing your opinion on it

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      I haven't seen this movie yet, but you wrote a nice review that makes it sound worthwhile. I will go and check it out. Be back after.