Girl Meets Context: It is difficult to even synopsize The Cabin in the Woods because the plot of the movie relies so much on twists and turns… so please be forewarned that there will be massive SPOILERS AHEAD!!! If you haven’t gone to see this movie yet, rush to your local theater to see it, then come back and read our discussion. The film was directed by Drew Goddard (the writer of Cloverfield, who also wrote for Buffy and Angel, as well as Alias and Lost), who also co-wrote the script with Joss Whedon (the brains behind the tv shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse and Firefly). Two separate plot threads converge as the movie progresses: in one, a group of scientists gather in an underground laboratory to prepare for an unspecified experiment; meanwhile a group of college kids (consisting of Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth, Grey’s Anatomy‘s Jesse Williams, Dollhouse‘s Fran Kranz, as well as relative unknowns Kristen Connolly and Anna Hutchison) take off on a trip to spend the weekend at a relative’s remote cabin. We eventually learn that the five students are part of a ritual sacrifice overseen by the scientists, in which they are murdered by a monster of their own choosing in order to appease ancient, pre-Christian gods and prevent them from awakening to destroy the world. Two of the students survive and fight their way into the underground complex, where things take an unexpected turn toward the apocalyptic. Kristine and I talked over the movie’s metafictional qualities, where it succeeds and fails as a straight horror movie and the geek culture that the movie seems to gear itself towards.
Kristine: So it’s my dad’s birthday and he is going to see The Cabin in the Woods for his birthday present. Happy birthday Dad!
Sean: With who?
Kristine: My mom!
Kristine: Yep. My mother is going as a birthday sacrifice.
Sean: Did she check with you to see if she could handle the movie?
Sean: Hmmm. I bet she read reviews. I bet she RESEARCHED before agreeing.
Sean: Well, the first thing I want to ask is: Have you ever seen a Joss Whedon property before? He’s the co-writer and producer of this movie.
Kristine: I don’t think so. He = Buffy the Vampire Slayer, right? I shunned all that. Though a lot of people with decent taste like it, but also a lot of people with ATROCIOUS taste also like it. And fyi, this exists. They’re putting out a book, The Official Visual Companion to The Cabin in the Woods that decodes all the little clues in the movie, like the whiteboard and all the objects in the cellar. But doesn’t it seem like they’re jumping the gun on that? I thought this is what the fanboy/supernerd culture was supposed to do for itself. But the Whedon Machine is cranking it out for them, which seems kind of Daddyish if you ask me. It’s robbing someone somewhere of the pleasure of taking a pirated screen shot of the whiteboard and making a website out of decoding it and letting the fans figure it all out for themselves.
Sean: Yeah, the Visual Companion seems dumb.
Kristine: They’re commodifying their own nerdiness to sell the movie instead of it being organic to the reception of the movie.
Sean: Well, it is a very Dungeons and Dragons or video game culture thing to do, put out all these ancillary supplemental products. Also very comic book culture. Like strategy guides and “Who’s Who” guides and things. That stuff is all a big part of geek culture, right? I think Whedon knows his fanbase pretty well at this point.
Kristine: Yes, I believe so. Did you ever read Terry Brooks? He is a fantasy writer whose books are very convoluted with 10 million characters. I liked him in junior high, which wasmy one and only foray into fantasy.
Sean: The Sword of Shannara.
Sean: Yeah, I never got into those but I read a TON of fantasy. For some reason, I loved it.
Kristine: REALLY? I never knew that!
Sean: Oh my god so much. I had problems getting into science fiction as a young reader, honestly, but I loved fantasy. Piers Anthony’s Xanth books, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books, David Eddings’ Belgariad, Zelazny’s Amber series, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Robert Asprin’s MythAdventures, Tolkein, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, The Mists of Avalon, all that shit. That and horror were like the only things I read. Oh and animal books. Watership Down, James Herriott, Jim Kjelgaard, that kind of stuff.
Sean: So, I asked about Joss Whedon because the flavor of the dialogue in The Cabin in the Woods was very Whedonesque and I was wondering if you picked up on that. Or if the dialogue even struck you as particularly stylized.
Kristine: No, it didn’t really strike me as anything because I am not familiar with him. Explain?
Sean: Just, the banter in the movie. That’s the way his characters talk.
Kristine: Especially Stoner and Virgin, right?
Sean: Oh Christ that stoner character.
Kristine: I didn’t mind Stoner.
Sean: That actor was so annoying, I thought. He’s from Dollhouse, a Joss Whedon show, and he was only slightly more tolerable there. This is a Whedon “thing” though. He latches onto actors that he likes for whatever reason, and really pushes them. Case in point: Eliza Dushku.
Kristine: I liked Stoner. I found him highly entertaining.
Sean: His hair was a monstrosity!
Kristine: HIS HAIR. I found Virgin more annoying.
Kristine: You heard me right, sister.
Sean: She was the only bearable one I thought! Well, besides Thor, obviously.
Sean: I’ll tell you my favorite part of the movie. The adorable Japanese girls all hugging and cheering when they defeat the J-horror ghost. That was THE GREATEST THING EVER.
Kristine: YES! And they reduce her to a harmless little froggie by like, singing jumprope songs. Amazing. And I could not avoid thinking about Hausu for that scene also.
Sean: Oh total Hausu except here the girls live and win. It was a very fun girl power moment, and those kids were the most adorable things I have ever seen.
Kristine: Completely agree.
Sean: My second favorite moment: when Virgin’s fight to the death with the killer was playing on all the background screens when the scientists were partying.
Kristine: YES! YES YES YES. That was awesome, I was just thinking of that.
Sean: I thought that was brilliant.
Kristine: Like some kind of snuff movie, right? It was very good.
Sean: But also being like, We all know how this plays out. We’ve all seen this before so we don’t need to watch it in the same way. It was a smart way to subvert and comment upon the genre, and undercut some its more tired aspects. And it made us think about watching a scene like that, and called special attention to how moments like that are framed for spectatorship. If we judge the scientists and think they’re horrible for watching that scene play out, then we’ve got to remember our own relationship to those kinds of images. But the scientists are even ignoring the scene, right? So there’s even an additional layer of jadedness and nihilism to their relationship to the images. I mean, the whole movie is really about implicating the audience, don’t you think?
Kristine: I do agree it implicates the audience. I like the screen-within-a-screen meta-ness of how that scene is set up. My other favorite part was what I am calling “The Monster Mash,” when the elevators keep dinging and opening and the creatures keep pouring out and it’s relentless and awesome. I also liked how the movie articulates what horror movie audiences are complicit in when films from the genre codify certain kinds of characters: Whore, Virgin, Black Guy.
Sean: I agree. Though might I add, my boyfriend (whom I saw this with) was particularly offended by the carved archetypal outlines from the end of the movie, the ones that fill up with blood any time someone dies. He thought they were incredibly cheesy.
Kristine: Well, what about the giant hand of the vengeful gods? I did not like that.
Sean: I loved the entire last five minutes. My only complaint with the giant god-hand was that I would have preferred like, primordial tentacles instead of a hand. Something more Lovecraftian and abject. The hand was a little bit Sony Playstation. But I loved the downer ending. I’m not quite sure how to unpack it, I will need to rewatch the movie. But I was sort of into the idea that the individual refuses to become a sacrifice for the greater good. I also like how Virgin is still humanized by the movie even though she turned on Stoner. Them sharing the joint, connecting and ushering in the end of the world together was pretty much amazing.
Kristine: Yes, I liked the laissez faire resignation of the surviving two leads. But I hated the godhand. A tentacle would have been much better.
Sean: I loved the nihilism.
Kristine: “I loved the nihilism” sounds like what a rich white lady would say at the gallery opening of a dour German painter.
Sean: Well, pass me the sauvignon blanc.
Kristine: OMFG I am drinking sauvignon blanc right now! Not a lie!
Kristine: I am a cliché.
Sean: So for as much as I liked the movie, there was something… off about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. I liked it, but the first hour didn’t quite work for me. It got better as it went along, and I was wondering if maybe that had to do with the scientists being introduced too early….
Kristine: Oh, I liked that they were there right from the beginning.
Sean: Right. I don’t know, I just felt NO tension during all the cabin hijinx. Like, I didn’t feel that “horror movie” feeling of suspense and dread AT ALL. I’ve seen worse movies that did a better job at getting that “horror movie” feeling across, even fleetingly. The only time I felt any tension at all was after all the monsters had been unleashed in the underground labs and Virgin and Stoner had to fight their way through them. And that was great, but it almost felt like too little too late.
Kristine: In terms of the scientists being part of the narrative right from the beginning, I liked that the filmmakers acknowledged their audience early and often and did not try to hoodwink them.
Sean: Yeah, I see that. I guess I felt like the scientists section of the movie was very distancing for some reason, but maybe that was the point? To create some sense of remove, of an overarching framework to the more traditional “horror” moments.
Kristine: I’ll buy that. But I do agree the movie lacks some punch. The thing I didn’t like about it was… it was not scary. But I thought the scientists (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) were GREAT.
Sean: I loved Jenkins and Whitford, totally. They were wonderful. But is the movie not scary because the “redneck murder family” were just kind of lame?
Kristine: They were lame in the flesh. They were scary in the diary reading. “HUSBAND BULGE” was scary and hilarious and made me want to die.
Kristine: “THE BLACK ROOM” sounded scary but then the actual fiends were… meh. They were zombie wrestlers.
Sean: Total zombie wrestlers! I guess I am jerk because I didn’t like the diary.
Sean: What about the blonde making out with the wolf head?
Kristine: Ha ha! Weird and funny. But I have a nerd question: in the basement, Thor was playing with the puzzle orb thing (that belonged to the Pseudobite), and then Grey’s Anatomy had the ballerina (I don’t know what movie that references), and the blonde had the necklace thing – what was that associated with?
Sean: I’ll admit, I need to rewatch it in order to get all the references. They were like, whizzing by. But off the top of my head, I think the ballerina music box was a reference to The Changeling, but I can’t remember. It’s definitely popped up in a million horror movies. I think April Fool’s Day has some meaningful music box shenanigans (though there’s also a jack-in-the-box in that movie). The necklace I have no idea. And the conch shell I think was just a pure joke.
Kristine: Thor’s throbbing orb. Do you think he is hot?
Sean: Um, yes. But not like, to die for hot. Just, common slice of beefcake hot. But I also think he’s got charisma beyond the hotness, or that enhances the hotness. I approve of him.
Kristine: He and Stockard Channing Tatum are like the same person to me: boring mutants.
Sean: Wait a second, I thought that you were obsessed with Channing now and his AMAZING comic performance in 21 Jump Street. Didn’t you nominate him for a Mark Twain Prize and basically call him the “comic voice of a new generation?” “A singular talent?”
Kristine: HIS COMEDIC TIMING IS IMPECCABLE! LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL He will win an MTV astronaut for that performance! You mark my words. So have we now come to the moment where you say that I would do Stoner over Thor and you judge me for it?
Sean: I wouldn’t even have ever asked that! I would have asked, Thor or Grey’s Anatomy.
Sean: But Stoner…? I mean, really? Is that even on the table?
Kristine: It goes: (1) STONER, (2) THOR, (3) GREY’S ANATOMY.
Sean: I am speechless, obviously.
Kristine: HA HA HA!
Sean: Mine would go: (1) Thor, (2) Grey’s Anatomy, (3) Virgin, because I would rather have sex with Virgin – who is quite fetching – than that Stoner creature. I like a non-traditional looking guy, but Stoner’s a bridge to goddamn fucking far even for me.
Kristine: I think you might secretly want the STONER BONER… How did you feel about Grey’s Anatomy?
Sean: I told you, he is the worst character on Grey’s Anatomy and I LOATHE THE SIGHT OF HIM. He is anti-charisma.
Kristine: Well, it’s your fault for watching that show.
Sean: I seriously want his throat to be cut in front of me, I hate him so much. He is such a fucking blank statue!
Kristine: Well, isn’t that what redneck zombie wrestler did to him?
Sean: I loved it. Best part of the movie. Is this where you bring up my hatred of Will Smith and Usher and accuse me of being racist?
Kristine: I should, but I won’t. THIS TIME! So, was the audience at your screening rowdy?
Sean: My audience was a silent tomb. But we went to a matinee. Still, there was this huge posse of 17-to-19-year-old boy-creatures that came in and I expected a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ but they were on their best behavior which, thank god. That particular theatre has been a place where many horror movies have been ruined by “comedians” in the audience: Paranormal Activity for one. Also the remake of Friday the 13th but that sucked so bad anyway that it didn’t matter. But when The Cabin in the Woods was over my boyfriend was like, That movie was the dumbest thing ever. He was disgusted with it! He said that he had been nervous about being scared and couldn’t believe how he’d been duped. I think he secretly wanted to be traumatized and was mad when it was all cheeky and meta.
Kristine: WOW. Is he a “Buffy boy?”
Sean: He loathes Buffy and the culture of Buffy fandom intensely. But his best friend and me both love Buffy so, I don’t get it. Part of me thinks if I made him watch it he’d grow to love it, but then I remember how obstinate he can be. But he likes Battlestar Galactica so it’s not that he’s immune to geek culture. He tends to judge things that are self-consciously cheesy.
Kristine: Well, I saw it with my boyfriend also, who is not a horror person.
Sean: What did he think?
Kristine: He was pleasantly entertained, though he also noted that it was not scary. He did wonder if someone better versed in horror movies would have gotten more out of it. I think the answer is… minimally so. I think a Whedon fan probably gets a lot more out of it than any other type.
Sean: So the merman I thought was dumb but the blood blowhole was funny.
Kristine: I could draw a scarier merman right now.
Sean: OH! My favorite laugh moment was… My bf also cracked up at this: the unicorn!
Kristine: I liked that too!
Sean: That was the only genuine laugh the movie got from me, was the unicorn stabbing that guy.
Sean: Yeah. The rest of it was what I call “smile and nod comedy.” Where you’re like, Oh that was clever. Smile and nod.
Kristine: I laughed at the monster mash and some of Richard Jenkins’ lines.
Sean: He is amazing. I love him. And all the monsters coming out of the elevators was fucking awesome, though I didn’t laugh I was more like “!!!!”
Kristine: It’s easy to pick apart this movie. But overall…I was entertained.
Sean: I agree. What do you rate The Cabin in the Woods?
Kristine: Um… Nice try, folks!
Sean: I rate it: Problematic, but fun as hell. But I think it’s possible for the movie to grow on me more upon rewatching it. We’ll have to see.
Kristine: What do you think is more successful: this or the original Scream?
Sean: “Successful” in what way? As a genre deconstruction?
Kristine: Yes. Scream was a big deal when it came out, remember?
Sean: Um… I think this was more intellectually satisfying. But Scream was more thrilling…
Kristine: And scarier.
Sean: Scream and Scream 2 are undeniably wonderful, especially the Scream 2 sequences where (1) Dewey and Gail are being stalked through the media arts department and (2) Sidney and her friend have to sneak over the killer after the police car crash. Those are the two best sequences in all the Scream films, I think. The other sequels are meh, though each featured a delightful supporting performance: Parker Posey in Scream 3 and Hayden Panettiere in Scream 4.
Kristine: I only saw 1 and 2.
Sean: We saw Scream 2 together at an advance screening, remember?
Sean: Free passes. That was A LOT of fun. I loved the movie.
Kristine: And I went to the bathroom and thought I was going to get stabbed in the brain through the stall door like Omar Epps.
Sean: So my last question is, Did watching this movie make you more open to the idea of watching other Joss Whedon shows or movies? Would you ever give Buffy a chance?
Kristine: No, this movie does not fill me with the desire to explore the oeuvre of Joss. But I don’t have a particular aversion to watching Buffy. It’s just very far down the list. Like, I have to catch up on Dexter and Breaking Bad and a million other shows and then, possibly, I could have time for Buffy.
Sean: Dexter is not worth catching up on. I stopped watching it. Do you know how bad a show on my “list” has to get for me to take it off the list? I’m still watching The Big C for godssakes!!!
Kristine: …um…and Grey’s Anatomy!
Sean: I do not consider Grey’s Anatomy a guilty pleasure, it is just pleasure. Don’t make me start defending Grey’s Anatomy, you’ll regret it!
Kristine: I believe you. So, my last word on The Cabin in the Woods is that I have only been watching horror movies for a short while and I could have come up with better stuff to go on that whiteboard.
Sean: I love that you are all sassily dismissing the whiteboard. I feel like a million genre fans had an orgasm the minute that whiteboard appeared on the screen. But I agree that upon closer inspection, it’s not all that great. But the idea of it is great. So one more last thing for real: the mirror scene. What did you think of it?
Kristine: That was actually one of the scariest parts because it actually gave you a chance to imagine what had happened in that room.
Sean: Yes it was cool.
Kristine: It was a rare moment where the movie let the audience’s imagination take over instead of preemptively filling in the blanks to let us know that they know that we know that they know that we know. I think that making a scary movie is an act of courage and faith because so many people will say, “That didn’t scare me. I knew that was coming…”
Sean: The objectification of the male body was interesting. But him stripping when he knew about the mirror? I was like, OMG…
Kristine: I think this movie was so scared of disappointing people by not being scary that it didn’t even try and made it all a big joke instead. Which I’m fine with because I think most of the jokes worked but still… it would have been nice to be scared.
Sean: Well said. Comment on the stripping!
Kristine: I thought him stripping for her was kind of awesome and a show of trust and vulnerability that I would never do, though, fyi, not everyone doffs their shirts as soon as they enter a room.
Sean: Interesting. It is also a very Whedon moment: to turn the tables and show the woman experiencing pleasure and desire. But I was also like, Thor is in this movie and you have a sexy male stripping scene and he is not in it? Bad call, Joss. You would die of pleasure during Stoner stripping, I bet.
Kristine: He didn’t strip, did he?
Sean: You wish he did!
Sean: Imagine him parading around….
Kristine: No thank you sir.
Sean: I love how formal your denials are. But I remain unconvinced!
The Girls Rating: Nice try folks!
The Freak’s Rating: Problematic, but fun as hell.