♕♕ Seriously, this post contains spoilers for The Cabin in the Woods ♕♕

A few weeks ago, Jax, Charles and I went and saw The Cabin in the Woods (TCitW). We are all big time Joss Whedon fans and really excited about his recently released scary movie* he co-wrote with Drew Goddard, the film’s director and an alumnus of the Angel writing team. So much so that we all overcame our reluctance to watch gore to go see this film. Though admittedly, we watched an early showing — a very early showing (noon) — to avoid being scared at night. I had kept myself pure** of recent reviews, plot pontification and character critiques so I could watch the movie cold. I was really curious how Whedon would use his cliché-crunching powers in this flick. I was not disappointed. Understatement of the year! I won’t go into minute detail on the plot — you can find that on Wikipedia if you haven’t seen the film and want the full monty story line. But the plot will be revealed in this post. Did I mention there are spoilers here? *grin*

For starters, the film title is a fun send-up to the horror genre. To be honest, I didn’t get this at first. Indeed, I didn’t get it until right before the movie started. The Alamo Drafthouse showed some Whedon-related footage before the previews. Then they showed a clip from Evil Dead and I was all, “What’s the connection to Joss Whedon?” And Jax and Charles were like, “It’s a ‘cabin in the woods’ movie,” with an implied “Duh!” And I was all, “Oh.”

It was also really fun to see actors from other Whedon projects appearing in this film. But I always enjoy seeing dyed-in-the-Whedon actors in new productions!*** Here’s the crossovers that Charles was able to identify on the spot (‘cause he’s cool like that):

Actor Production Character TCitW Character
Fran Kranz Dollhouse Topher Brink Marty (the Stoner)
Tom Lenk Buffy tVS & Angel Andrew Wells Ronald the Intern
Amy Acker Angel / Dollhouse Fred / Whiskey Lin
Chris Hemsworth Thor / Avengers Thor Curt (the Jock)
♕♕ For real, this post contains spoilers. From here on out. ♕♕

Charles also noticed some story arc themes from other Whedon productions in TCitW. Jax and I did, too, but Charles was nice enough to catalogue his thoughts on the matter (‘cause that’s how he rolls). Jax and I have speckled our thoughts in this list, too.

  • An unwilling heroine (Dana or Buffy) is willing to kill somebody she cares about to save the world (Buffy tVS, Season 2), although the outcome is definitely different in TCitW. Dana is at least temorarily willing, but not able to kill Marty. Whereas Buffy followed through and sent Angel to a hell dimension to prevent an apocolypse.
  • The control room / underground laboratory fight scenes were reminiscent of The Initiative’s army research facility and its fate (Buffy tVS, Season 4).
  • The use of sacrifice was reminiscent of the spiritual guide who told Buffy, “Death is your gift” in Season 5. Except in TCitW the characters are unwilling lambs, and upon realizing their deaths were necessary to save the world, they chose to live until the end (of the movie…er world). Whereas Buffy jumped into an abyss of her own accord to prevent an apocolypse.
  • Buffy’s gang was always called the Scoobies, and similar archetypes were  well-represented in TCitW. Curt = Fred, Marty = Shaggy, Jules = Daphne and Dana   = Velma. I guess that means Holden = Scooby. Ruh Roh! Ah well, the Buffy scoobs never quite fit into those categories, either.
  • The dramatic is set in the mundane. In Buffy tVS, the Hellmouth is set in suburbia and in a high school. In TCitW the drama is the fate of the world and the mundane is an office setting with white short-sleeved shirts and ties. *shudder*
  • The sacrifice of youth to suspend the rise of old powers is pretty similar to the slayers’ historical creation, i.e., making a young girl suffer to prevent the return of ancient chaos. The willingness and ability to sacrifice young women is a dominant theme in all of Joss’s works. As Jax points out, Joss isn’t approving female sacrifice. He is commenting on how humanity seems unilaterally afraid of powerful females and is therefore often willing to sacrifice them for moral and political ends. But this is a little more “feminist critique” than TCitW calls for as three of the five lambs were men. All of the lambs were young, though, a requirement for the ritual.
  • The baseline mythology between TCitW and BtVS is identical. In Buffy tVS, the old ominous powers are called demons and in TCitW they are called gods, but the shared idea is there were uber-powerful forces here before humanity, and they have been driven underground so the world is safe(ish) for people.
  • Where Buffy and Angel were inverting standard horror tropes (little blond girl kicks everyone’s ass, vampire with a soul), TCitW inverted Whedon’s standards — the world actually DOES end! Everyone DOES die! There actually IS a valid, justifiable reason to manipulate and terrorize these kids.

Archetypal Lambs from TCitW

“…this is a movie about why all…other horror movies exist. Why is there always a “stoner”? Why is there always a “virgin”? Why is there always a “whore”? Why is there always a “jock”? And why do they always seem to die in a certain order, and why is the virgin spared? Cabin in the Woods explains this to us: It is what the gods want.” — Jamie Frevele @ The Mary Sue

♕♕ Major plot reveal! ♕♕

So yeah, the gist of the movie is that regular sacrifices quench the thirst of old (theoretically if not physically) Cthulu-esque gods who demand human blood. This is the contract to keep them from rising and destroying humanity and prolly Earth to boot. These sacrifices are orchestrated conspiratorially by powers that be (government? corporate? who knows!). [In this sense, Whedon and Goddard use one genre (conspiracy theory) to explain another (horror). Cool, huh?] The lambs (those who are sacrificed) fit into five archetypes (for the USA).✝ As each archetype dies, blood seeps down to the old gods to sate them. It just so happens the slaughter of these lambs is the fodder for the entire genre of horror films.

Let’s get serious for a moment. In providing a “conspiracy to satisfy gods” explanation of horror tropes, Whedon and Goddard point out the inherent moralizing in the horror genre and take bloody delight in giving it the middle finger. TCitW acknowledges horror movies, intentionally or not, regularly promote overly moralistic (and unrealistic) values and thereby, again intentionally or not, support the social convention of overly condemning people for behaving like people. The message from the powers that be in TCitW is that it’s okay to sacrifice somebody because they like sex. Or because they smoke weed. Really? TCitW exposes the tension between the agent that imposes restrictive morality (because a higher power requires it!) and the agents being repressed. The consequences are explosive when the reduction of the human experience makes life so unworth living, the repressed choose oblivion rather than exist in a world that requires sacrificing humanity (as in the quality of being human). Relationships are the REAL virtue of the movie — as opposed to the trumped up morality of the gods (once again Joss bangs his drum for the importance of kith and kin!). While the lives of the lambs are laid for slaughter, their relationships do not falter. And that is the real and true basis of the social contract, not the hive mentality to judge and punish. [This film analysis was brought to you by Jax!]

The betting board from TCitW

Okay, back to being less serious. The lambs aren’t the only archetypes in this movie. TCitW includes an homage to just about every baddie you can image: Hellraiser, werewolf, giant bats, aliens, Egyptian curses, zombies, witches and on and on. This was very cool. Even though I am not a horror enthusiast, I recognized most of the baddies loosed in the lab. *Ding!*

The comic relief in this film was brilliant, too, as one would expect from Whedon and Goddard. Ha! I’m just thinking about the Merman. Hilarious. Oh and the phone call from the creepy gas station (harbinger of doom) guy. LOL!

Have any of you seen TCitW? What did you think? Have you seen any other films that use one genre to explain another?

* Interestingly, this film was not a new project. It was filmed in 2009 originally slated for release in February 2010.

** Stop laughing, Charles.

*** Like Charisma Carpenter in “Veronica Mars” and Alyson Hannigan in “How I Met Your Mother” (along with Alexis Denisof) and Amy Acker in “Once Upon A Time” and so on.

✝ Several countries engage in sacrificial rituals according to the story arc. The United States sacrifices these 5 archetypes. It was suggested that other countries sacrifice people / archetypes salient to their culture and folklore.

+ Featured image from the promotional poster for TCitW.