Interesting weekend at the movies with Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s CABIN IN THE WOODS. A lot of mixed and slightly baffled reviews but increasingly excited word-of-mouth. The Village Voice in New York pulled an exceptionally douchebag move in spoiling the ending in the first sentence of its review before proceeding to be perhaps the most passive-aggressive review I’ve ever read in my life.
So how to discuss CABIN THE WOODS without spoiling it? Might be impossible, but it’s a movie worth mulling over. It’s a slasher movie that comments on the slasher genre, the horror genre and pop entertainment in general. It’s really SCREAM with a Master’s Degree. If riffs, mocks and undermines the stereotypes of slasher movie characters and the clichéd rituals of who dies and in what order. As is Joss Whedon’s wont, it consciously flatters genre-savvy geeks by inviting them to be in on the joke. If I was still seventeen, I probably would have fallen in love with the movie, but being older and having gone through the genre mill, it’s not that new to me so I appreciate its efforts to subvert more than I became a fan. Supremely knowing and self-aware, it seems to take as its main inspirations Carol Clover’s MEN, WOMEN AND CHAINSAWS (a seminal study of slasher films and gender roles that everyone who loves or wants to make horror movies should read), Gnosticism (not the religion, but the general theme that the world is not what we believe it is and operates on another secret layer) and Lovecraftian Horror. It also exposes how storytellers and audiences might be growing bored with the limitations of being stuck in a single genre and let their minds wander, pulling in other genres to spice things up, especially in the age of the internet, postmodern jokes and mash-ups. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard probably understand this more than most people, because on top of being geeks, they are long-term industry insiders.
Despite being stuck in the vaults for about two years after its completion because of MGM’s financial woes, it actually feels right for CABIN IN THE WOODS to be released now. The trailers that ran before CABIN IN THE WOODS painted an interesting picture of where American culture is at. There was some coming of age drama about a Hispanic girl and her dysfunctional, negligent mother, written and directed by no one I ever heard of. There was THE CHERNOBYL DIARIES, a reactionary and xenophobic horror movie about American tourists who make the mistake of visiting someplace they shouldn’t, which carries the message that foreigners (Russians again!) and the poor should be feared. There was the movie version of Stephanie Meyer’s novel THE HOST, about mass alien possession of humanity and the fear of losing one’s self. There was SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD, which feels like the big Hollywood studio version of Abel Ferrara’s 4:44 – LAST DAY ON EARTH and every bit as appalling as that sounds, where the prospect of the world ending creates the opportunity to go a funny, wacky, life-affirming road trip with Kiera Knightley, and the apocalypse is all about wacky, funny sitcom scenarios, only without all the angst or drug addiction. I felt like entropy was setting into Hollywood storytelling. Heat Death was imminent.
All those trailers, taken together with CABIN IN THE WOODS, makes for a pretty varied compendium of current American existential anxieties as reflected by Hollywood. Screenwriters and studios can only reflect what they sniffed in the air and then pretty it up in the form of a safe genre thriller or comedy with a neat ending that ties everything up in a bow.
The ending of CABIN IN THE WOODS may be nihilistic, but it’s skin-deep, a geeky joke that’s a middle-finger to how boring and rigid the rules of genre have become. It opens up a singularity into which all genre has collapsed and then blows it all up.
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