A Movie Called ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ was Original?
If you have seen The Cabin in the Woods, then you know what it means to watch a sub-genre of horror get deconstructed and turned into something that is both familiar and fresh. If you haven’t seen that film, and plan on seeing it, there are minor spoilers from here on out. There are numerous films that take place in a cabin in the woods, feature young characters with raging hormones looking to get their drink on (or their illicit drug on) , and supernatural forces that would like to turn those young characters into fertilizer.
Enough movies meeting that description exist that you can typically guess what will happen and find few surprises. With The Cabin in the Woods, writer Joss Whedon and writer/director Drew Goddard are able to poke fun at the genre and audiences of similar films while actually telling a new story that has humor but is not a parody. The film creates genuine laughs by providing reasons for the characters to make the terrible choices that will ultimately lead to their doom. The movie flips the standard formula on its head when one of the characters actually makes intelligent decisions and figures out the system. If a character were to actually make intelligent decisions in most similar movies, it would derail the story because directors rely on a relatively standardized plot to move things along. After watching Cabin, you may find it difficult to watch a generic “Cabin in the Woods” style film where things are played straight.
In the 90’s Scream did this for the slasher film, and made it hard to watch generic slashers that simply tried to make money by serving up horny teenagers for the slaughter. Ironically there was a glut of slashers in the late 90’s and early 2000’s that were heavily influenced by Scream and had none of the self awareness of the genre tropes that made it so successful. Typically when a film that skewers a genre is successful, it makes everyone re-evaluate what they’re doing, and hopefully avoid making their characters follow the script laid out by every movie that preceded it and actually try something new. Some big studio projects will stick to the formula, and not worry about the critics who will bash them for producing a carbon copy of other better films. The directors who are actually fans of the genre will try to make the best movies they can however, and that is all you can really hope for.
In the modern world of horror, the “haunted house” or generic “ghost” sub-genre needs to be deconstructed in a major way. There are some well thought out and entertaining entries into the sub-genre, like Ti West’s the Inn Keepers and the James Wan films Insidious and The Conjuring, but there are far more “Haunting in” or “Paranormal” knock offs flooding the market and taking time and money away from something original being done. Most of these types of films have continually evolving rules about what influence the supernatural forces can have on the living, and involve the characters undertaking a history lesson to learn how to rid themselves of their problems while one of them is slowly becoming mentally unhinged. Whenever the advertising for a movie includes the phrase, “Based on a true story” you can almost count me out from caring about it at that point. Too many movies unfold in almost the same way and bring nothing new to the table.
If someone could approach the above mentioned sub-genres of horror from a perspective similar to what lead to The Cabin in the Woods or Scream being created, we could be getting some more genuinely compelling films that had surprises, laughs, and a message that isn’t simply, “Give us your money.” Let us know in the comments if you agree, or have other thoughts about what horror sub-genre needs a send up.