With a gust of wind (and a strong electrical mechanism), five teens are plunged into the depths of hell. A simple story of young adults getting hunted by the evils that lurk in the forest has been a mainstay of horror. For decades, horror ran this story into the ground. Yet in 2012, a long-awaited film finally snuck its way into theaters. The long-awaited release of The Cabin in the Woods heralded a new era of horror filmmaking. While found footage and gore films had ruled the day, a return to slashers and high-concept horror found its footing once more. Thanks to Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, audiences quickly realized the importance of the horror they’d been missing.
The Cabin in the Woods follows a group of teens hunted by an undead family. As they fall under seige, Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Holden (Jesse Williams), Jules (Anna Hutchinson), and Marty (Fran Kranz) realize something unusual lurks beneath their terror. Beneath the Earth, a secretive organization is revealed to be pulling the strings on their demise.
Goddard and Whedon’s screenplay creates a metacommentary with purpose. It’s not hard to imagine filmmakers as the downstairs operators (with Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford bringing a deeply cynical Laurel/Hardy to screen). Why create worlds if your only purpose is to destroy them? In this metaphor, the audience takes on godlike status, and if they leave unsatisfied, the “world” will end.
Goddard and Whedon certainly had and would continue to have trouble creating content that appealed to mass consumers. For every hit they drove home, they each had their failures. For Whedon, his alleged abuses eventually caught up to him. Goddard continues to write and direct, but leaving the Daredevil project for the unmade Sinister Six film still lingers on his resume. While The Cabin in the Woods was Goddard’s debut, it would also become an interesting prism to view his career through.
The commentary goes further, especially in the context of horror. The post-9/11 landscape became filled with agro-driven grunge films. American moviegoers were mad at the world. The political dialogue about torture had worked its way into the mainstream. For the first time, Americans felt their hold on the world was slipping through their hands. For 100 minutes, they found a release through visceral films, made only more realistic by the use of digital photography. This generation of horror got nastier, grimy, and relished in pain. Yet the 2000s rarely produced horror films as insightful as Clive Barker’s influence might have suggested. Instead, talented filmmakers like James Wan and Eli Roth were forced to embrace a monster subculture that demanded blood.
With The Cabin in the Woods, Goddard lays out an interesting track for the future of horror. We have hit the end of this road, and something about the genre has to change. At the same time, he recontextualizes nudity, the camera’s gaze, and how to structure a horror film. He finds humor downstairs, but he also finds characters craving a purpose. Without their actions, they believe the world will end, and this devotion to a broken system remains poignant far outside of the genre.
Additionally, the self-reflexive tone harkened back to an era of movies gone by. While Scream, Nightmare on Elm Street and Evil Dead lay dormant or half-dead, Cabin reminded audiences that laughter enhanced the horror. Other horror comedies, like Sean of the Dead, had found their niche audiences, but The Cabin in the Woods brought in new viewers that would clamor for a new kind of film.
The following year, The Conjuring, Evil Dead, and The Purge would become critical and audience darlings. By 2014, independent horror had taken off once more. It is impossible to say that The Cabin in the Woods is the only reason the genre returned to prominence, but its release in 2012 was a watershed moment. The genre was back, and new filmmakers were here to save the day.
Alan’s Rating: 9/10
What do you think about The Cabin in the Woods? Where does it rank among your 2012 films? Let us know in the comments below!
Check out our podcast, Bela Lugosi’s Undead, for our episode on The Cabin in the Woods and more horror content.