“The trailer kind of spoils it, don’t you think?” asked a friend about The Cabin in the Woods. The trailer suggests that Joss Whedon is up to certain of his old tricks, specifically the initiative of Buffy Season 4 and the Rossum Corporation of Dollhouse. A shadowy, powerful bureaucratic organization is engineering a ghastly device/monster/technology/outcome. Whedon’s take on the banality of evil is not a settled question; a bureaucracy may be the setting where humans lose perspective on their work, or a protective middle-management complement to a genuinely, primordial cthonic evil.
Whedon likes to talk about “surprise being the point of storytelling.” So it may seem odd that the trailer gives away so much, and odder still that the movie opens inside the shadowy bureaucracy, with Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins acing it as a pair of seen-it-all-bureaucrats whose job, from a hidden command center, is to lure five college students into the titular cabin.
That the horrors they will find within are in some way rigged by the bureaucrats is a starting point, and there’s a show-offy pleasure in the way that Whedon and director Drew Goddard still manage to deliver surprises. Plenty of surprises remains: lap-jumping shocks (I’m an easy mark), unanswered questions, jaw-dropping cameos, and most of all, a surprising richness and openness of themes. By the end, The Cabin in the Woods has delivered a meta-horror flick that paves a road past the Scream template, the fattest of fiend folios, a startling brief for deontology over consequentialism, and what I’m gonna go out on a limb and call a postcolonial call for American decline.
Also, it’s funny, and there’s some very wry cake-having-and-eating slasher-flick sexiness. See it, and then let’s do the spoilers.
What did you see?