This Catch-Up is written by Telaina Eriksen
Year of Release: 2012
Rating: R (So.Much. Blood. So many entrails. And a bloody, decapitated head.)
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: Yes.
First off, let me reiterate again, I’m not a fan of horror movies. This has been on my “to-watch” list since it came out only because it was a Joss Whedon project. I knew I was going to have to watch it in a relaxed haze of alcohol. I needed one (very large) glass of sangria and I watched it on my tablet where the gore was… smaller. I did have to give myself a pep talk. “You made it through Django Unchained and you CARED about those characters. You can do it, Telaina!” I AM glad I made it through—Cabin in the Woods is funny, horrifically bloody, and offers interesting questions about being watched as well as the sacrifices needed to make our world continue to spin on its axis.
The very first scene of the movie lets you know this isn’t going to be your average slasher flick. Sitterson (Richard Jenkins—one of the hardest working character actors in the business and who forever and always be Nate, David and Claire’s dad from Six Feet Under to me) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford who will forever be Josh from The West Wing) are standing around the vending machine in a large, sterile industrial complex. They are friends and having a pretty regular conversation, complaining about their wives, etc. As they begin to walk back to work, they are informed by Lin (Amy Acker) that “just the United States and Japan are left.”
The movie then cuts to five college friends getting ready for a weekend away at the remote cabin of Curt’s (Chris Hemsworth… THOR baby!) cousin. Of course, the cabin has no cell phone service and isn’t on any GPS (these places do still exist—see, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, The) and has a mountain tunnel and a cliff on the way. The youngsters pack weed and alcohol and swim suits and music. They need to stop for gas and directions after the GPS gives out. They meet the gas station owner (also known to Sitterson and Hadley as “The Harbinger.”) After scaring the kids, the Harbinger places a call to Hadley and what follows is one of the funniest scenes in the movie. (I won’t spoil it. Top-of-the-line Whedon stuff that contrasts mythical dark superstition with hilarious modern-day cynicism.)
The movie continues this way—flipping between scenes in and around the cabin, to the puzzling industrial complex where Sitterson, Hadley and their team are to some degree controlling the events in the cabin to match a certain set of specs that the viewer doesn’t fully understand yet. One of the most interesting parts of the movie is at several points, we are watching Sitterson and Hadley, who are watching our hapless college students, and we as movie viewers are also seeing them in the background while action is taking place in the Sitterson-Hadley world. While this type of thing has been done in many movies (people being spied on/videotaped, etc.) it is particularly an effective device in this movie. To keep their sanity, Sitterson-Hadley must dehumanize their college student victims, but the viewer of the movie has also been introduced to Curt and Dana and Jules and Marty and Holden without the filter of Sitterson-Hadley, so we see their attempts to approach the massacre as “just doing their jobs” as both appalling and blackly funny. The contrast of the college students’ every move being watched at this remote place where no cell phone and GPS work (two of the things modern people blame for their loss of privacy) is not lost on viewers. Nor is the commentary on today’s voracious capitalism where there is no responsibility to people, the planet, or the future. Everyone is “just doing their job.”
Even on a killing field, Sitterson and Hadley can’t control everything, and Dana (Kristen Connolly) and Marty (Fran Kanz) prove to be especially hardy and ingenuous survivors. The last 10-15 minutes of the movie is a gore fest and include a knife-wielding clown (I almost had to get up and get another glass of sangria), a giant snake, and a merman. (Note that these are all archetypes from horror stories through the ages as well “main villains” in the old horror flicks of the 50s, 60s and 70s.) I handled this river of blood by putting my hand in front of my tablet so I could only see intermittent homicides.
I loved the ending of this movie which might seem unrealistic but also makes a weird kind of sense. Do the good of the many really outweigh the good of the few? What kind of civilization requires repeated sacrifices of the innocent? Can that ever really be a just and good place to live?
Those of you who love horror movies probably saw this while it was at the theaters. For the rest of us, we can now watch it in the comfort of our homes. With alcohol.