The Cabin in the Woods
Five horny college students decide to stay in a creaky old cabin in the woods.
Been there. Done that.
... Cut to two middle-aged engineers bantering about "the scenario" that their team is running that day, and about which department is most likely to fail -- chemistry, engineering, ops, or... zoology?
Maybe we haven't been there or done that.
Director Drew Goddard and actor Amy Acker came to Boulder to show their film The Cabin in the Woods to an audience of C.U. students. Three college reporters and I joined them at The Sink, a favorite hangout near campus. Low ceilings, graffiti-painted walls, and pints of beer set the scene. (Two weeks later, president Obama would autograph a wall of The Sink during a surprise visit.) Drew and Amy got carded.
Drew, who directed the film and cowrote it with Joss Whedon, had gone to C.U. in the 1990s. (I graduated a few years earlier).
The tone of The Cabin in the Woods is both scary and fun, with a stronger emphasis on the fun. The horror angle is completely predictable. Even the filmmakers call it "a cabin movie," summarizing the plot in three words. But because the movie is self-aware, the predictable tropes and events never escape without comment, explanation, or flourish, which is great fun to fans of the genre.
I asked Drew whether he took the same horror film class that I had taken at C.U. What I remembered from professor Bruce Kawin's class is how well some horror films "deconstructed," particularly George Romero's zombie movies like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Drew seemed to know what I was saying:
"That's what I love about horror movies. I can't think of another genre that allows you to comment on society without seeming like you're commenting on society. There's a distinct lack of pretension when you have zombies eating people. That's what I learned about Dawn of the Dead. It functions on the first level of 'let's just have fun.' But then you watch it the second or third time and you realize 'oh wait he's saying something about our culture.' But it never feels like 'oh I gotta take my medicine.' You don't want it to feel like this is a homework assignment."
I found it interesting that Cabin in the Woods was released so soon after The Hunger Games (which I read but did not see). I enjoyed the books, but I felt like I was supposed to find a subtext that wasn't quite there. For my money, Cabin in the Woods took the same subtext and made it clearer. It did a better job conveying the anger, dismay, and determination of a slighted generation than Suzanne Collins' work.
... Not that I have anything against The Hunger Games. Like Cabin, it was written after a decade of needless war fought by children of the poor and middle class. Both works were completed near the worst financial downturn since the great depression, exacerbated by the realization that we are leaving a huge debt for our children. Both works are released at a time when people are taking notice of the unprecedented widening of the gap between rich and poor.
No wonder the younger generation wants to rebel. They've played by our rules, and look where it's gotten them.
I asked Drew if he thought in advance about how his film might "deconstruct." He said that he and Joss did discuss the bigger picture when they were writing Cabin.
"It's impossible to deny the effect the times you are living on has on any artist. And we were living in a time of war. We were living in this time of sacrificing youth to appease the greater gods. That was very much what was influencing Cabin. I don't know too much about what influenced Hunger Games but I wouldn't be surprised. You can't escape that there's a war going on. And it's a war that has become sanitized [...] it feels very corporate. That was certainly a profound influence on us in making Cabin."
But don't mistake Cabin in the Woods for a homework assignment. It has laugh-out-loud funny moments including a line about a "happy frog" and a scene in which The Harbinger calls (on speakerphone). The story is fleshed out with good writing and directing. And instead of pitting good against evil, there is a disturbing notion that the evil and horror actually can be justified in the name of good.
Drew helps explain that idea: "I grew up in Los Alamos New Mexico. That weird military industrialization has always been in my mind. When we were dealing with the 'downstairs' [the engineers using evil for good -- Ed.] I said, 'Here's what Los Alamos looks like, let's just make Los Alamos.' It felt accurate... men going to their jobs that are difficult, and they believe that they are making the world a better place... but they are dealing with darkness.'"