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Sprung from the fertile imaginations of cult filmmakers Joss Whedon (“Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” “Dollhouse,” the upcoming ‘The Avengers’) and Drew Goddard (‘Cloverfield’, “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Lost”), Lionsgate’s ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ begins like any generic horror film might: a rambunctious group of five college friends steal away for a weekend of debauchery in an isolated country cabin, only to be attacked by horrific supernatural creatures in a night of endless terror and bloodshed.
Sound familiar? Just wait. As the teens begin to exhibit standard horror movie behavior, a group of technicians in a control room are scrutinizing, and sometimes even controlling, every move the terrified kids make. The story behind their involvement is just the tip of the iceberg of a fantastical, I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening odyssey that explodes the conventions of the horror genre in a giddy sugar rush of bloody mayhem, wild imagination and sly humor.
Explains Goddard, “On one level, ‘Cabin’ functions as your classic horror film. It’s the sort of movie where you grab your popcorn and hold your date tight while you watch five teenagers head to the woods and encounter terrible things. But it’s also our version of that type of movie. Which means things get a lot more insane than you might expect.”
‘Cabin’ actor Chris Hemsworth, known to most audiences as the titular hero in last summer’s hit, ‘Thor’, remembers the first time he read Goddard’s and Whedon’s script. “At first I thought, Oh, this is a regular horror movie. I don’t get it. And then it just continued to unfold and open up and blow me away every page. It just got crazier and crazier and crazier until – well, until never. It just doesn’t stop. It leads you down a path that seems recognizable, and slowly it completely subverts everything you know.”
Goddard and Whedon have crafted a love letter to the horror genre that pays homage to fright classics ranging from Sam Raimi’s ‘Evil Dead’ to Dario Argento’s ‘Suspiria’. But while it clearly respects its predecessors, ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ also questions the very tropes it’s re-enacting. “I love horror,” explains Whedon. “But the plots are becoming more and more predictable. The killings are more and more disgusting. The kids are becoming more and more expendable. And more love is put into the instruments of torture and no love at all is put into the dialogue polish. The ritual of it is getting cheapened.”
The first hint that this is not your average horror movie comes with the casting of veteran actors Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, who play control room bosses Hadley and Sitterson. The two men, using a range of influential technology, force the five friends to embody horror stereotypes. While the kids might start out as more than most contemporary horror victims, they become increasingly powerless to resist Sitterson’s and Hadley’s ideas of how they should behave.
“The control room bosses are a stand-in for us, the viewer,” explains Whedon. “But they also represent everything that we’re up against as storytellers: the need to hurt kids more and more on screen, to make them behave foolishly, to make the death of them the points as opposed to the suspense leading up to it.”
“I think the danger with horror films is that they often treat the audience as idiots,” suggests Hemsworth. “This film respects the audience by questioning our desire for horror films to begin with.”
Whedon admits he’s fascinated by this question. Why do we love horror movies so much? “There’s some part of us, some deep, dark, primitive part of us that wants to sacrifice these people onscreen. I wanted to make a movie that explained why. And so it’s been a strange experience because on the one hand, we do straight up horror. We definitely love the genre and the tropes of the genre but at the same time we have a lot of questions about why and where it’s going.”
Goddard adds, “The horror movie is merely the jumping-off point for the inherent questions about humanity that the genre suggests. Why, as a people, do we feel the need to marginalize, objectify, and destroy youth? And this is not specific to the genre, or movies in general, or our present-day culture. We’ve been doing this to youth since we first began as a people. And this question — the question of why — is very much at the heart of ‘Cabin’.”
Image Courtesy of The Cabin in the Woods