Another day, another horror movie. Father Steve Grunow braved the hype to bring us his most recent review, which might be better tied to a name like "Been-There Cabin in the Done-That Woods." Read on for a closer look.
The "Cabin in the Woods" is the lastest creepy creation of pop culture phenom Joss Whedon, perhaps best known for as the creator of the character and series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." His fans are numerous and loyal, and even before its release, "The Cabin in the Woods" was receiving critical buzz insisting that we should prepare to be amazed. Early reviews were overwhelmingly positive, most citing the creativity of the story and the wit of the writers. Whedon co-authored the script with Drew Goddard (who I think scripted the early episodes of "Lost").
The story of "The Cabin in the Woods" is utterly familiar. In fact, it is a cliche. Bright, beautiful and goofy collegians are off on break from their studies and each is systematically maimed and murdered by, in this case, zombie monsters. Moviegoers have been submitting themselves to this plotline for years, and Whedon and Goddard want to propose a reason as to why. I won't rehearse the details of the story except to say that it is derivative of every horror movie you have every seen. I really mean that. Everything here is all served up on a cinematic platter that is at the same time a tribute and a parody. Whedon doesn't let himself off the hook in this monster mash-up—there are plenty of scenarios (and actors) that fans of "Buffy" and its spin off "Angel" will immediately recognize. The film also tips its hat to just about everything H.P. Lovecraft has ever written, particularly his Cthulhu myth.
Therefore, both the delight and the tedium of "The Cabin in the Woods" is that we are seeing everything that we have seen before. Yes, there are slight modifications in the appearances of certain characters and themes (perhaps to avoid copyright infringements) but the entirety of the popular culture's horror genre is on display.
There is a kind of story beneath the story of "The Cabin in the Woods," which is that what are called "the ancient ones" lurk beneath not only the plot of the movie, but of human culture, particularly our institutions. It is hard not to interpret this bugaboo as a symbol for religion (it is also hard not to project into the story Whedon's very public stances in favor of a strident secularism). These "ancient ones" are gods, beings thought to be mythological but that turn out to be very real and very hungry for human blood. The movie is a contemporary telling of these gods and their relationship with the world, and how human institutions are used to provide these gods with what they want—lest their wrath be unleashed and humanity destroyed.
These institutions do their best to mask the horror of the blood sacrifices and the threat of doom hanging over our heads, and whether they are employed by a temple, a laboratory or an office, they are quite effective at their work. They keep us from figuring out what is really going on and shove the victims into the back of the pirate Bluebeard's closet so we can't see their terror or hear their cries. The unmasking of the true nature of the phenomenon is what drives the plot of "The Cabin in the Woods" to its bloody and nihilistic conclusion.