October 5th -- Cabin in the Woods
Meta-commentary is a dangerous gray area for pop culture. On the one hand, you run the risk of coming off as pretentious and overly insular: in-jokes for uber-fans. On the other hand, you run the risk of over-analyzing a particular concept to the point where you run the risk of the idea losing all signification. A few films pull this off in a fairly satisfactory manner (Wes Craven gets the benefit of two with "New Nightmare" and the first "Scream.") but most fall into one hand or the other. It would have been so easy for Joss Weadon's long-delayed "Cabin in the Woods" to fail: This should have been the horror equivalent of an insufferable smart-ass ironically wearing a Winger shirt. Instead, I found "CITW" to be both smart and scary.
It's hard to know how much of the plot to describe without giving away the many sublime revelations that the film has to offer. The plot involves the usual rogue's gallery of horny youth types retreating to the titular cabin for some good old fashioned fun. From there, Weadon and Goddard explore and explode virtually every horror film trope and cliche of the past fifty or so years. By the time the film is through, astute horror fans will have picked up so many references, nods and parallels to favorite genre flicks that their heads will explode.
As I mentioned earlier, this could easily come off as trite. Lord knows there where moment's during the mile-a-minute finale where I fully expected the train to come crashing off the track. But it never did. Weadon and Goddard have crafted a story that answers every question, flips over every rock. There are no loose ends in the story: by virtue of the outcome, there simply can't be.
The mix of humor and horror worked surprisingly well. There were any number of great performances by the cast, particularly the two lead scientists. There were at least four moments in the film that had me stand out of seat and raise my fist: one bit involving a motorcycle and another involving a merman were particularly fist-raising. More importantly, however, "CITW" asked and answered several questions about a genre that I hold dear to my heart, addressing issues of sexuality, class, station and mortality. There are some ideas in this film that not only made me smile, as a fan, but that broadened my own appreciation of the genre.
Is "Cabin in the Woods" a perfect horror film? Not quite: it's not trying to be. At the end of the day, the film exists as a commentary and discussion on all that's come before. It's more of a thesis film than a true, full-bore piece of terror. In doing so, however, Weadon and Goddard, as writers, and Goddard, as director, have managed to piece together one Frankenstein's monster of a film. Taking all of the best odds and ends from some of the most iconic horror conventions in the history of the medium have enabled them to craft, in effect, a nearly perfect meta-horror film. I was never less than fascinated and occasionally truly inspired: what more can we ask of our movies?