Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods [2011]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert's review

By most accounts, The Cabin in the Woods (directed and cowritten by Drew Goddard along with Joss Whedon) is more than your average mad-slasher film released on a Friday the 13th a date, which along with Halloween offers Hollywood producers ready-made opportunity to release a new "scary movie" (or a spoof of one) each time it comes around.  Indeed, all three -- Friday the 13th [IMDb], Halloween [IMDb] and Scary Movie [IMDb] -- have spawned entire series of films built around their names.

So what could possibly make The Cabin in the Woods different?  Well, quite literally (and quite honestly IMHO rather disturbingly) it "digs deeper."

On the surface, The Cabin in the Woods is yet another film about a group of obnoxious and quite stereotypically cast college students going out into the woods for a weekend (the original Friday the 13th [1980] arguably established that formula).  In this case, the requisite ensemble is composed of:

Jules (played by Anna Hutchinson) plays "the popular girl" usually because she's both good looking and portrayed as being sexually promiscuous, hence often identified as "The Slut" by followers of these films and is one who generally "gets what is coming to her" by getting killed usually quite early in the film and in a particularly awful way;

Curt (played by Chris Hemsworth), plays the "popular guy," usually the boyfriend of the "popular girl," generally identified as "The Jock," in these films.  He doesn't do much better than the "popular girl," again usually getting killed quite early in the film though generally after the popular girl.

Dana (played by Kristen Connolly), plays the quieter "good girl" in the film.  Sometimes as in this film, she's simply a quieter friend of the of the "popular girl," sometimes she's even presented as something of an "outcast" from the "popular group."  In any case, she's usually quite quickly identified by viewers as the film's "Virgin."

Around "The Virgin," there's usually a sensitive guy, in this case named Holden (played by Jesse Williams) who's something of an "angelic figure," but often (in these films) does not prove completely capable of protecting "The Virgin," from whatever evil menace is at hand.  In the end, it's generally left to "The Virgin," yes, sometimes even using her foot as in Genesis 3:15, to fend off the "Monster" who killed the rest of the ensemble.  (Think of the original Terminator [1984] where Sarah (Biblical name) mother of the future Savior of the World, in the film named John Conner (initials J.C.) defeats the Terminator (a product of human arrogance, that is, sin, every bit as scary as the Dragon of the 12th Chapter of the Book of Revelation) by kick-starting a hydraulic press that crushes his head.  Alternatively, in the more recent Shark Night [2011], Sara (again a variant on the Biblical name) initially fends off her first boyfriend/turned archfiend (though IMHO tragically named "Dennis" ;-) by pushing his head into a propeller blade of a motor boat even as he tries to drown her (apparently because she was going to leave him to go to college). 

More recently, a fifth character has started to take a more important role in the ensemble (in the past simply relegated to the second tier).  This character in this movie named Marty (and played by Fran Kranz) is "the Fool."  Previously, he played "comic relief" in these pictures.  Yet, typical of Court Jesters appearing in countless comedies over the centuries, though utterly marginalized (and in these slasher flicks, generally portrayed as perpetually drunk or stoned) he's the one "who's figured it out."  Emblematically, the perpetually stoned "Shorty Meeks" (played by Marlon Wayans) in the first Scary Movie [2000] is so stoned that at one point he declares to the others "I see dead people!" (no doubt in reference to the famous mystery/horror film The Sixth Sense [1999] released a year earlier, but being "so stoned" all the time "who knows? ;-).   Marty, though perpetually stoned and hence largely discounted by even the other characters in the film (and certainly a source of some irritation to people in my "line of work" and the good folks who write CNS/USCCB's reviews) comes to play a rather significant role in this film.

And Marty comes to play a rather significant role in this film because though the stock characters are all present, "things are not what they seem."  Indeed, we learn from very early on that though those 5 characters are going to that Cabin in the Woods for the weekend ... actually everything's being manipulated by a GIGANTIC laboratory underground; that is, the "5 kids" are being setup.

Why are those "kids" being setup and by whom?  Well that's the rest of the movie ... ;-) and open to multiple, indeed multiple levels of interpretations, and Marty the marginalized "stoner" is really the only one of the characters in the film who at least partially figures it out.

The CNS/USCCB (and myself honestly) don't particularly like that the "stoner" is being shown here as something of a wisdom figure.  And I would emphatically say here that drugs definitely don't give anyone "added wisdom" (So young people,. please don't go that way.  A brother of a friend of mine from the seminary completely fried his brains on drugs, destroying his life and making him a ward of his parents until they eventually die.  Do you want to end up like that...?).

Yet all this being true, however, if one takes the symbol of "stoner" to represent someone "marginalized," then I'd certainly be willing to buy that kind of interpretation, as often those on the edges see more clearly than those in the "center of things" / "in charge."  That's why both the Church and, indeed, humanity truly need everybody, and not just those near the center / "at the top."  The Prophets in the Bible, for instance, almost always came from the edges of God's people.

Very good, analyzing the movie further would require revealing various important plot twists, so I'm issuing a SPOILER ALERT with regards to EVERYTHING ELSE that follows below:

Another aspect that I find irritating in this movie is that the film-makers call the "Ancient Beings" that need to be appeased by the sacrifice of young people (like those going to "The Cabin in the Woods" in this film), "Gods" even if they're portrayed as living underground and presumably below the already subterranean laboratory, still staffed still by human beings, notably by scientists Sitterson (played by Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (played by Bradley Whitford).  Indeed, during the course of the film, the two muse "how much easier it would have been," when one could "just push a Virgin into a Volcano" to appease "the Gods."  Now, in the United States anyway, the "Bloodlust of the Gods" could only be satisfied by elaborate scenarios being played out like that of the 5 college kids going to that cabin only to find themselves being almost ritually murdered.

So a question could be asked: Who are these subterranean "Gods?"  In Christian theology, we'd call them Demons rather than "Gods."  But are "the Gods" us?  Or "shadowy demons" that inhabit our subconscious?  Do we go to movies like The Cabin in the Woods to placate our blood lust?

The film therefore becomes very interesting, if increasingly chaotic/bloody.  It's like Friday the 13th [1980] meets The Matrix [1999], From Dusk till Dawn [1996], and even Don't Be Afraid of the Dark [2011] and most recently The Hunger Games [2012].

And it does ask the disturbing question of whether films like these placate the shadowy desires within us or actually exacerbate them.  Do films like this encourage the production of a "downward spiral" of increasingly violent (or hedonistic) films?  Or do they actually help placate these desires and help keep people from acting out.

I do remember that one of my reactions to the film Mamma Mia! [2008] (which came out before I started writing this blog) was that even though its morality was quite awful -- after all it's about a young woman seeking to finally to find out which of three possible fathers was her own -- this very "European" film based music of the group ABBA (YouTube) which came from Sweden traditionally notorious for its (both climatictic and relational) iciness was actually "so much better than Hitler!" ;-) 

I also remember that during my seminary years, most of which I spent in Italy, I could not help but experience the Italians as basically a happy people that ate, drank, and well, often, played "at the edges of proper sexual morality."  In contrast, the English, particularly in the days of Queen Victoria, didn't drink, didn't smoke, and at least outwardly were very restrained sexually.  As such, what was left to them?  Conquer the world.  Now apply this to the Germans, who were even more strict on each other and the "goosestepping Nazis" (and, more positively, the modern psychology which was born in the German speaking world) become virtually inevitable.

So The Cabin in the Woods is a disturbing film on a number of levels.

PARENTS, the film's R-rating is certainly deserved for its blood and mayhem (and initial sexual promiscuity).

On the other hand, college-aged young adults -- I do think there's a whole bunch of things to ponder and reflect on.  And I do think that this would be valuable because The Cabin in the Woods is far more like The Matrix [1999] than the simple (and mindless) Friday the 13th [1980].

1 comment:

  1. It’s funny and witty at times, and it has some decent jolts here and there. It’s also pretty clear from The Cabin in the Woods that co-writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard love horror movies almost as much as they are annoyed by them, and the fun they had making this film comes out onto its audience. Good review Dennis.