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Movie Notes: The Cabin in the Woods

The hero, because his mind has been opened, is the only one willing not to accept what he’s being given. We’re meant to believe that his addiction makes him the least free. The film plays with this idea and turns it on its head.

The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Directed by Drew Goddard. With Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz.

I don’t think of myself as a horror movie fan. Okay I like Hitchcock and King films and early Shyamalan movies. And The Others is a Halloween favorite. But these are less about horror for horror’s sake and more about the horror that has its source in rare—or at least hidden—aspects of the human condition. Still, I like to watch something creepy on Halloween. This year my wife suggested we watch a classic slasher flick like Friday the 13th (the “creepy day” mismatch notwithstanding). I avoid slasher films even more than modern horror movies (Hot Fuzz is a notable exception) so I demurred. We ended up with The Cabin in the Woods. So glad we didn’t pick a slasher film.

The Cabin in the Woods has more blood per square inch of celluloid than any movie I’ve seen--fanboys of the genre, don’t snicker. At one point, it would have be easier to find a location in the scene that WASN’T crimson. The movie has its moments of creep and tromps out every monster, ghoul, and specter known to horror films--from zombies to a merman. But this isn’t a slasher film. It’s a meta-narrative about slasher films that attempts to unearth a couple of key insights about humanity. Its excesses are laughable and it was in the excess that I started to realize what was going on.

Without giving too much away, a hero emerges who plays the role of the fool – a pot-smoking jester who should be the first to be taken out. One of the insights lands about mid-film when an observer notes that all the weed the hero smokes makes him impervious to the mind-control techniques of the film’s main antagonists. There’s an insight here that I believe I could only really understand after having spent much of my adult life working for a large corporation trying to maintain a standard-issue bourgeois lifestyle. What an insight.

The role free will (or lack thereof) plays in determining our fate is the second observation the film seeks to make I think. The characters are archetypes and they are supposed to act a certain way which leads them to a certain fate. Do they play their role according to the script they’ve been given and does this help or hurt them? Again, the hero, because his mind has been opened, is the only one willing not to accept what he’s being given. We’re meant to believe that his addiction makes him the least free. The film plays with this idea and turns it on its head.

The film is fun, scary at times, plays around with surface sexuality as films like these tend to do, but also surprisingly—albeit briefly—it's insightful about some relatively important things. This is not a classic by any means. But it was a good meta-slasher, slasher film for Halloween 2012.

I’d give this movie 7 out of 10 stars for creating the unexpected out of the unexpected. I'll also add that film critic Roger Ebert’s review nails the essence of the motivation behind the film I think and it’s worth reading.

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