The Cabin in the Woods Analysis: The Most Important Horror Film In Years

I preface this article by saying that you need to stop reading unless you have already seen “The Cabin in the Woods.”

Justin Mikkelsen

Contributor

I preface this article by saying that you need to stop reading unless you have already seen “The Cabin in the Woods.” This article will ruin your experience of an amazing film, and I will be personally hurt if you don’t see the movie before reading.

That said, I will continue with the assumption that you have seen “Cabin in the Woods.” One other thing—as you read, you should operate under the assumption that this film is awesome. This article is not a review, but an analysis. Enjoy!

WARNING: FULL SPOILERS BELOW

I saw “Cabin in the Woods” on this Friday, April Thirteenth, and I was completely blown away. I read the first couple paragraphs of a review by our friends over at IGN before my viewing, and I stopped because I did not want to ruin my experience of the film. The rating alone caught my eye. I mean, four-and-a-half out of five stars is a seriously amazing rating, one worthy of great films that scream artistry and intelligence, not a campy slash flick about a bunch of teenagers camping out in the woods, fornicating, smoking pot, and getting hacked to bits and pieces. While “Cabin in the Woods” is definitely campy, the intelligence it brings to the silver screen challenges the horror genre by assigning significant meaning and purpose to the brutal happenings of gory films.

The entire premise of “Cabin in the Woods” is built upon the idea that an ancient power dwells in the bowels of the Earth, and it is only appeased by an offering of pain and blood. A global company with a mission to successfully complete such an offering works in unison, presumably on one given day/night, hoping that one cell of the organization is able to complete the ritual offering successfully, which must conclude with the optional life or death of a virgin after the brutal killing of four other people by supernatural forces. As long as the ritual is appeased, the ancient power maintains its slumber, thus allowing humanity to continue.

It should be abundantly clear that the ancient power is equivalent to The Titans, the parents of the ancient Greek gods. Hadley, played by Bradley Whitford, practically spells it out at one point in the film, explaining that “The ancients are the gods that ruled the Earth in old times, and if they were released it would mean the end of humanity.” I was convinced when Hadley explained that sacrificial killing is not enough—there must be fear and torturous death involved as well. The Titan god, essentially, is sentient and has demands. We aren’t talking about a mindless beast but a powerful being that can and will decide the fate of humanity if unleashed. In “Clash of the Titans” (pretty much every rendition), the Kraken, a Titan itself, could only be appeased by the blood of Andromeda, the virgin princess. Similarly, “Cabin in the Woods” appeases its gods with ritual killings in the style of horror movies with big bad monsters. The ritual is even completed with prayers, sacred medallions, and the release of blood into a basin that, when filled, will complete the offering and save humanity. Perhaps my favorite part is how the sacrifice must choose its destroyer, and one of the victims must be a virgin or something close to it.

While the movie dips into ancient mythology with extreme success, it also captures the essence of basically all of the big hitters from the classic horror genre. The most stark and blatant was “Hellraiser.” When I saw one of the characters (I can’t remember which one at the moment) playing with a small sphere that resembled the Hellraiser puzzle box, I thought to myself: “Hey, wait a moment, that reminds me of Hellraiser.” Then came the elevator scene, and I was like: “Holy crap! That’s Pinhead except with razors coming out of his head and a puzzle-sphere instead of a puzzle-box!” Other instances include the lake, which most definitely resembles Camp Crystal Lake. I mean come on, when the zombie with the giant animal-trap goes underwater then pops his head back up, how could you not think about Jason Voorhees? I won’t go through all of the nods to classic horror, but please do feel free to post your favorites in the comments.

Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard also masterfully include all of the important sequences you would expect in a campy horror film, even down to the obligatory sex scene. You know that feeling you get in horror films, the one that tells you your characters are being watched? Yea, in this movie it is because your characters are being watched—by a group of horny middle-aged men waiting to see boobies. All of the elements seem carefully placed. The sex scene itself was the only one of its kind, it was short, and it only displayed a brief moment of nudity. Gratuitous use of “The F-Bomb” stays consistent with classic horror films such as “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th,” and the use of drugs and alcohol top off the list to make obvious connections to classic horror. I never got the feeling that I was watching a film that just randomly throws R-Rated material around for good fun—it all adds up to form well-crafted piece of work where every element is an integral part of the whole.

I was also struck by the audience safety mechanisms employed by “Cabin in the Woods.” Though I definitely felt moments of suspense, I never really got scared because I kept going back and forth between the office building and horror scenes. In a real sense, I did not feel deeply connected to the teenage victims because I always felt like I was watching them, not being them. Well, that is mostly true. When the rug got pulled from underneath the audience and the monsters let loose, I felt a bit more connected with the characters. Even then I was having a more jaw-dropping, “This is freaking awesome!” reaction than fear. Maybe I’m just that weird. In any case, “Cabin in the Woods” seems to be less of a frightening experience and more of a thought-provoking encounter for film-goers.

As I left the theater, my head was spinning with all of the wonderful details and analyses that quickly formed in my head. I honestly cannot wait to see it again, as I’m sure I’ll catch new details and form new connections, then start freaking out some more. “Cabin in the Woods” takes camp-horror and makes it awesome. My love of Greek mythology bounced up and down when I saw this film (and no, I have not yet seen “Wrath of the Titans,” though it looks terrible). It is not very often that you run into a film that fundamentally alters your perception of every horror flick that comes before it. Now I need to go watch me some horror films and see the poor little teenagers get hacked to bits and pieces to appease the ancient Titan, lest it rise up and destroy us all. Phew! Now I can go finish reading that review.