Friday, October 5, 2012

"The Cabin in the Woods" (2012)

Often the best works of a genre are the first example that realizes its full potential, and then the satire that exposes its problems. In between there is usually a descending scale of quality, imagination and commentary or truth. In some cases both examples are to be found in a single entry, as “Don Quixote” did for the pulpy genre of chivalric fiction. For a certain brand of Horror—the one where a bunch of rebellious, hedonistic teens go out into the woods for a weekend of debauchery and meet an unfortunate death—there have been a couple of good examples lately.

The latest of these is “The Cabin in the Woods,” a high concept, philosophical take on the subject. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard conceived it as fans of the genre that hate the direction it has taken lately. It is, in part, their critique of “torture-porn.” But it also serves as an examination of the whole genre, its purpose, its popularity, and what all of that says about our culture.

The story focuses on the cliché of the teens heading out to the cabin, but all as a secret, controlled operation designed and executed for the pleasure of some very powerful, ancient deities. Sort of like a high tech version of throwing a virgin into a volcano. The idea is that there are centers all around the world conducting these “entertainments.” If they were all to fail, the deities would become discontent, rise up and end the world as we know it.

As we witness the events with the teenagers (uncomfortably, prescient in our role as the audience) we also observe the people controlling the weekend. The filmmakers, if you will. This all serves to make some not at all subtle commentary on horror films in a near genius fashion. All in all, it is an effective tribute to the entertainment that is horror that gets the audience to thinking about why it is that they demand what they do from their entertainment.

It used to be (and often still is) that horror stories were great teaching vehicles and perfect opportunities to comment on uncomfortable truths in society. It seems that more and more they are just brainless thrills that become increasingly disturbing, not in a horrific sense, but rather in what audiences thinks is “fun.”

Lest one think this is all an exercise in “over-analysis” there are clear clues to the filmmakers intentions early on. The controllers refer to some near disaster that they experienced in 1998. Most reviewers point out that this might refer to “The Truman Show.” That is a likely good guess, as that film refers to a controlled, artificial environment much like the one found in this film. I like to think that they may have also been referring to my favorite film of 1998, “Dark City.”

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