An Examination of Cabin in the Woods in the Wake of The Avengers – By Bob Freville

To hear two middle class middle-age men trying to articulate what they had just seen as I stumbled, slack-jawed and jargoggled, from the side entrance of UA Farmingdale Stadium 10 after seeing Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods was to be confronted with the very clash of demographics that a weekend like this one represents—in one screening room you have the powerhouse tent-pole rock ’em-sock ’em super-spectacle of The Avengers in its opening weekend and, in another, the relatively small (by Hollywood standards) ‘Cabin.’ Both films feature Thor heartthrob Chris Hemsworth in meaty roles and both had been long talked about by two very distinct legions of fanboys on the World Wide Web (ya know, that thing we all surf like butt holes for several hours a day when we should be out shopping or doing something else at least remotely sub-human).

The first, which actually came out second (‘Avengers’) and won’t have to struggle for the next three weeks to climb the box office totem pole, is an opulent mainstream sci-fi superhero actioner with best-selling source material, the supernaturally gorgeous Scarlet Johanssen and at least one established crossover character/star(Iron Man/Stark/Downey, Jr.) in its stable. The second, which has skated steadily for several weekends despite its subversiveness, is an original/unfounded property with a seemingly familiar scenario but no star power save for the aforesaid Hemsworth.

The Avengers is an assurance that awe-inspiring effects and explosions will occur and all other expectations of its audience will be met; it’s a guaranteed pacifier and aphrodisiac for moviegoers whose brains require a cinematic support system. The other (‘Cabin’) isn’t even sure whether it has an audience (though the numbers are looking good) and revels anyway in shredding all built-in expectations and fetishes they may possess. It’s kind of like Rob Zombie’s 2003 debut House of 1,000 Corpses, to draw any real thematic parallel at all, except instead of living up to an image Cabin in the Woods’ thrills emerge from having the very lowest expectations for its totally hackneyed first blush impression. To put it more succinctly, if you take ‘Cabin’ at face value then you’re in for a devilish surprise.

The older and fatter of the two middle-age men who I saw on my way out of the theater was likely in the latter category, a viewer without any high hopes for something new. And, after the flick was over, he bore the countenance of a man who was disturbed by the newness he had received. I had heard these two men muttering through a good quarter of the movie and they were both, very obviously, members of the target audience for The Avengers. Especially the older curmudgeon of the pair whose slightly younger friend had talked him into seeing ‘Cabin’ instead of ‘Avengers’ and would probably live to regret it.

When I found them outside the younger of the two was kicking off the obligatory post-movie arts discussion, soliciting his stern superhero-obsessed friend about what he thought of the “picture” (a term nobody but Scorsese and other folks old enough to have hair on their earlobes seem to use any more). The most that the older of the pair could muster in the way of a casual coffee klatch critique was a low monotone grunt. I could almost hear the younger man’s eyes welling up with tears. His war buddy could sense this too, I believe, and so decided to hand it back to him in the interest of keeping things friendly.

“What did you think?”

The younger man laughed weakly and paused to collect his thoughts. “It was…different…”

“Shhh…you’re right about that.”

“It was good it was good!” the younger of the two insisted, as if his friend was deaf, dumb and blind and hadn’t experienced it for himself. He had, of course, but he couldn’t possibly have comprehended or processed it in any plenitude. So his younger and smarter friend explained it, as best he could. “It was camp,” he said.

“Camp?” the older of the two repeated. You could nearly hear the inner-monologue. What is this poofy boy on about now?!

“Yeah, ya know, camp.”

But he didn’t know, so when a penetrating silence threatened to befall them again he said, with a dreary resignation, “It was…bizarre,” that way he could extoll the movie’s virtues in a word while also sounding as if he agreed with whatever pissy sentiment his pal was feeling about it.

If it isn’t crystal clear by now, Cabin in the Woods is not a movie for everybody. But it is a movie that is a satirical response to everybody’s movies. If such an assessment confuses you then you’d probably belong in a theater with that old codger who thinks camp is a place solely for P.O.W.s, puffing out your chests at a screening of The Avengers. Surely the both of you will leave with boners, not for ScarJo’s beatific body but from the eruptive eye candy and crotch-clattering Tingler-style seat rumbling. There are chubbies to be achieved during ‘Cabin’ too, of course (a lascivious lick session betwixt a “dumb blonde” and a “moose” will most likely do it), but the thrills here are less standard-brand sensual or sexual and more visceral and cerebral; the boners here are Cronenbergian boners, bona fide erections of the mind.

On the surface Cabin in the Woods is just what it sounds like—a classic Romantic tragedy and morality parable of societal arch-types (think Brian Johnson’s report for Principal Vernon in The Breakfast Club) slashed to streamers by some in-bred geek of the Applachian Mountains after smoking off a king’s ransom of illicit substances and engaging in promiscuous premarital sex. The only true clues to the contrary are found in the movie’s trailer when we see a clip of an exotic falcon flying into an unseen force-field/obstructive grid, and the tag line, “You think you know the story.”

But what makes this movie worth experiencing, and what is so inscrutable to a certain myopic audience, is ‘Cabin”s central conceit—horror movie cliches & stereotypes clustered together under one roof and engineered by a corporate cabal of cynical pseudo-Christians to go completely bat-shit and destroy themselves and each other.

Some pompous art fag had told me, far in advance, that what I’d be in for with this movie would be a vicious variation on The Truman Show with tons of tits and gore. All of this turned out to be utter bosh, but it does illustrate a fact that no one bothered to offer up as a Caveat Emptor to the older, more traditional crowd in attendance—Cabin in the Woods isn’t a horror movie. Not like Friday the 13th or Halloween is a horror movie. It’s not even a horror movie as Scream is a horror movie (though that famous mystery franchise comes closest in its Post-Modernism). It’s more like a mash-up of Takashi Miike, Mike Judge, GWAR’s Skulhedface and Monty Python…by way of every slasher movie ever committed to celluloid.

The last twenty minutes put to shame any haunted house carnival ground fun house ever erected and makes manifest the wettest and most sanguinary of any macabre fanboy’s wet dreams. I felt like a shameful Manson-worshiping reprobate as I sat four rows from the screen, sequestered from the rest of the theater’s patrons—a bald and belligerent maniac laughing like a rat prick as appendages flew, blood gushed and clowns cackled in Surround Sound.

All the evidence on display says that, if there are five-thousand plus like me, ‘Cabin’ could be Gen-Y’s ‘Rocky Horror,’ a participatory theater performance for the freaks and geeks to talk back at. In the very least I can see a Drinking Game developing around the flick’s office pool set-up, droves of drunk movie fanatics slugging Jello shots every time another tried-and-true monster mashes someone into crimson custard.

By and large, character development is sacrificed (like the characters themselves) in favor of a concept that’s brilliant enough to carry the whole picture. But what little character development there is appears largely focused on the three roles any other flick would have fleshed out the least, those of the Stoner (Fran Kranz) and the two Office Slouches (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford). Jenkins (by now as uncanny to moviegoers as a creepy estranged uncle) and Whitford (who the Gen-Y set will no doubt point out as being the ferrety bastard with the “weird-looking balls” in Adam Sandler’s Billy Madison) are endowed with the greatest wealth of humanity (and all the flaws and contradictions that come with it), which serves as an smooth stroke of irony given their shared profession; they are the company men that Tony Roma spoke of in Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross and they are, by now, jaded by the particulars of their grisly job, rendered weary by “the killing floor,” a name given to the titular cabin by the flick’s funniest and gnarliest bit player.

What is, in summation, a simple story of five college “kids” (not one of them younger than twenty-five) meeting certain doom in the secluded backwoods of a forgotten pre-development corner of America proves, in actuality, to be a deliberately contrived and complex narrative that riffs on fate, fatalism and free will, and the monsters (many of them human) who render all three the stuff of fiction. Not only is ‘Cabin’ everything a Meta-mad zeitgeist yearned (somewhat in vain) for Scream 4 to be, it is, also, the perfect post-everything movie for our precarious times. To these bloodshot blues (which were wet with emotions, all of them good, throughout) Cabin in the Woods serves as the seminal apocrypha of the last and ultimate century, a rapturously funny log-line for the Rapture that doubtlessly awaits us all in the years to come, whether a Jock, a Jerk-off, a Cheerleader…or a human Choad with a collapsible bong-turned-Thermos.

Cabin in the Woods is a bloody, stony revelation that turns horror on its ear and violently shakes it to the point of a smile-inducing concussion. “Smoke ’em if ya got ’em!” it seems to scream. ‘Cause we’re all going down.

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Bob Freville is a contributing editor at KillingBoxx.com and one-time associate editor/columnist for Kotorimagazine.com. His work as a culture critic has appeared at LongIslandPress.com, Movie Poop Shoot, and in Good Times and Kush Magazine, among others. His debut feature film Hemo is currently available via VOD from Troma Team Releasing. His “lo-fi digital nightmare” Of Bitches & Hounds can be watched for free at: http://www.eroplay.com/intimatetheater/intimate.html