Warning: this article contains major spoilers for The Cabin In The Woods. We cannot say this strongly enough: do NOT read this if you haven’t seen the film!
Sometimes I wish I wasn’t a horror fan. Those times are usually when I’ve succumbed, yet again, to the temptation of watching some awful direct-to-DVD trash about werewolves or vampires or masked serial killers, and sat through 90-odd minutes of insultingly stupid or even outright nonsensical crap, and I feel like I’ve wasted my life.
Why do I do this to myself? So many of my friends watch proper films, and read proper books, and are perfectly happy consuming media that doesn’t have monsters in it. They don’t like gore, they don’t like the supernatural, and they don’t enjoy being scared. Sometimes I wish I were like them.
And then something like The Cabin In The Woods comes along, and it’s all okay. I remember that there are lots more people like me out there: people who love screeching soundtracks and peeling zombie makeup and the thrill of watching teenagers run through the woods, chased by a man in a mask wielding a knife. People who like being scared (as long as the scary things are safely on the other side of the TV screen). A movie like The Cabin In The Woods makes up for all the cheap sequels and prequels and rip-offs I’ve sat through in my life, because without them, it wouldn’t be as much fun as it is.
It’d still be fun, don’t get me wrong. But it wouldn’t be as much fun if my head wasn’t full of bad horror movies; if I didn’t have a set of preconceived ideas about what a movie like this could be, before it went and defied every one of my expectations.
This article is going to contain spoilers for The Cabin In The Woods. Seriously, massive spoilers. And I don’t want to ruin The Cabin In The Woods for you, so if you’re reading this and you haven’t seen it, stop reading. If you really must read something about The Cabin In The Woods right this minute, go and read my spoiler-free review. Don’t read this. Seriously, go away. If you’re still here in two sentences’ time, you’d better have seen the film.
You’ve seen it? Okay, let’s get on with the article, then. The Cabin In The Woods starts off by showing us, simultaneously, the setups for two kinds of horror movies that we’re familiar with: there’s something sinister going on in a high-tech facility, and a bunch of teenagers are heading out to a cabin in the woods for a holiday. We know how these things play out: the mysterious experiments go horribly wrong, and the kids all get butchered. But because the two ideas are connected, for once, we don’t really know what’s going to happen.
Also, from decades of watching teen horror movies, we know that those kinds of movies stick to a very simple, very predictable formula. We recognise stock characters as soon as we see them, but this time, the film is one step ahead of us, explicitly telling us that the situation we’re watching unfold has been set up, that all the core roles have been filled – and, more, that there’s a purpose to it.
The Cabin in the Woods knows the rules of horror movies, and it knows we know them, so for a little while, it feels conspiratorial: we’re all in on this together. As the guys in the control room pump in pheromone mists and play with the lighting, it feels like we’re laughing along with them, as the film’s sacrificial lambs are led to their fate.
Some of the film’s most fun scenes come early on, as the script plays with our expectations. That giant whiteboard with all the different kinds of monsters listed on it feels like a huge tease; every time it’s in the back of a shot we try to read more of it, to find out what monsters the film might possibly deliver. We’re betting, right along with the characters in the film, on exactly which kind of nasty is going to go bump on this particular night. That scene in the basement, where the kids pick up a series of artefacts that obviously, ominously, relate to various monsters, is breathtaking. Literally, I think I held my breath throughout the entire scene, simultaneously wanting the kids to save themselves by not summoning monsters and wanting them to summon everything, all at once.
And the best part of it is, The Cabin In The Woods goes on to deliver on every single one of the promises it makes at this point. When I first saw that whiteboard, I assumed it was kind of a joke. There are some amazing things listed on there, including the Sugar Plum Fairy, and just like the guy who really really wants the monster this time to be a merman, I was hoping for something weird to win out. When the cannibal zombie family show up, it’s fun, but there’s a slight feeling of disappointment, that we didn’t get something more inventive…
Which doesn’t last long because then The Cabin In The Woods gives us everything we wanted and more. When Marty and Dana (or, the Fool and the Virgin) get into the hidden lift and go down into the bowels of the facility, I practically bounced out of my seat with glee. There are so many monsters hidden down there, many of them nods to other horror franchises, and it’s exhilarating to see so many of them in one place.
(And in other places, too; the scenes from other facilities around the world are like cherries on top of the world’s biggest, most brightly coloured and excitingly flavoured ice cream sundae.)
Another layer of awesome gets piled on when all of those monsters get released, and carnage ensues. Seriously, has any horror film ever promised so much, and then delivered so spectacularly? Often, horror movies fall flat because their villains aren’t scary enough, or believable enough, but in The Cabin In The Woods the stakes are ridiculously high. It manages to sell us on layer after layer of danger, and it never once wimps out. That ending – the only ending a film like this could ever have, really – is perfect. As viewers, our only regret – just like Dana and Marty – is that we won’t actually get to see it play out.
The Cabin In The Woods is relentless in its brilliance. It delivers everything any horror fan could ask for in a movie; it answers every complaint ever levelled at the genre. It wraps up everything we love about horror movies and hands it to us, with a big shiny bow on the top. We get well-drawn characters we can believe in and root for; we get ridiculously high stakes; we get bucketloads of gore (but no torture!); and we get more monsters than you’d find in Roger Corman’s entire filmography.
There are constant nods to past movies, but not in an obnoxious way, or in a sneery way. The love for classic horror movies shines through every frame of the film. And, oh, can we talk about that cameo, please? Sigourney Weaver isn’t credited on the IMDB for her role in The Cabin In The Woods, so unless you read a horrible spoilery article ahead of time, there was no way to know she was coming, and that was kind of genius.
I came out of The Cabin In The Woods feeling like I wanted to go and revisit all of my favourite horror movies, right then and there; I also wanted to go back and watch it again immediately, and when the DVD gets released, I’m planning to make everyone I know watch it with me. It’s been a long time since the last horror movie this fun, this exciting, this clever, and this exhilarating. I want to hug it, and everyone involved.
The Cabin In The Woods gets me; watching it reminded me why I ever fell in love with the horror genre in the first place. And I love it for that.