By and large, I don’t like scary movies. It’s no secret. And it’s not because I frighten easily, mind you. I can handle blood and gore with the best of ‘em — I’m a man, dammit. No, I avoid most horror movies like a contagion because they’re part of a genre that prides itself on its own deprecation. Saw? Hostel? The Human-goddamn-Centipede…2?! It’s all too much. The entire category has turned into a race to the bottom, forgoing script, story, and at times common sense in favour of more corn syrup. I’m not going to pay $15 to watch Elisha Cuthbert get tortured. Nobody should.
It wasn’t always like this. What happened to the suspense of Jaws? The wit of Evil Dead? The mind-twisting agony of Alien? Was there a mass exodus of clever writers, leaving this generation to suffer at the hands of Eli Roth?
Luckily, salvation has come thanks to professional geek Joss Whedon, and his own quirky creation, The Cabin In The Woods, a modern day horror flick that goes above and beyond those tired tropes, and injects some fun back into the genre.
On the surface, Cabin presents itself like all the rest, another horror-by-numbers. Five co-eds retreat from civilization to the eponymous cabin in the woods for a weekend of debauchery only to be picked off one by one. But as the film’s Rubik’s cube inspired poster and tagline declare, Cabin is anything but conventional.
The movie is, in fact, many things. It’s horror, comedy, parody, mystery, extended meta-joke, social commentary, cinematic essay, a dissection of formula, a puzzle, a deconstruction of archetypes, pop-culture fare, and even “cray” if you’re that one guy on Twitter (and nobody likes that guy). Whedon, who co-wrote the film with Cloverfield‘s Drew Goddard (who also directed Cabin), said this was by design, calling the movie a “loving hate letter” addressed to the horror genre for allowing itself to devolve into effects-laden torture porn.
“On another level it’s a serious critique of what we love and what we don’t about horror movies. I love being scared,” Whedon told movie site Total Film. “I love that mixture of thrill, of horror, that objectification/identification thing of wanting definitely for the people to be alright but at the same time hoping they’ll go somewhere dark and face something awful. The things that I don’t like are kids acting like idiots, the devolution of the horror movie into torture porn and into a long series of sadistic comeuppances. Drew and I both felt that the pendulum had swung a little too far in that direction.”
Hear that? It’s the sound of me smacking my hand against my head and saying “yes!”
I can’t remember the last time I was actually excited to see a horror movie in theatres, and my anticipation for Cabin was surpassed only by my enjoyment. Thankfully, virtually everyone seems to agree that this is the genre’s saving grace. In retrospect, Whedon is probably one of the few people around creative enough to make a horror movie equal parts compelling, witty, and suspenseful, without sacrificing the storyline. Maybe it will inspire others to follow suit, and I won’t dread going to the movies when Halloween rolls around.
Then again, the movie was preceded by a trailer for Piranha 3DD. So chances are Cabin will remain a flash of brilliance in the pan while everyone else sits around a boardroom table dreaming up increasingly convoluted ways to kill teenagers.