Monday, September 24, 2012

The Cabin In The Woods

   WARNING: The following review contains some plot spoilers, including a glimpse at the end of the film. Please read only if you have already seen the move.

 Just the other night, I was fortunate enough to rent the just-released Cabin In The Woods movie, which I had missing seeing in theatres. As many of you are aware, CITW, has received quite an amount of hype for having a fresh, subversive take on a tired old genre--actually, a subgenre, or perhaps sub-subgenre if you will. I'm talking about that particular brand of slasher flick where a group of teen stereotypes find a cabin in the woods, or some other similar locale, and...well you know the rest.
Actually, I intentionally avoided reading reviews and blogs, as well as any trailers for the film up until actually buying the movie, in hopes to avoid revelation of whatever the Big Twist might prove to be. Therefore, I was a bit disapointed that the DVD blurb hinted very strongly at what appeared to be the film's big secret. However, I also assumed, and correctly as it turned out, that what the blurb appeared to give away wasn't the entire story with what was going on. As it turned out, the trailers that I had been avoiding until now also appeared to divulge the movie's secret. But upon watching the film in its entirety, there are many hidden layers to this viewing experience that the trailers did not begin to probe.

The movie begins, rather disconcertedly, with some white-collar businessmen-or perhaps scientists-chatting nonchalantly about some sort of research they are conducting. The the words Cabin In The Woods flashes on the screen in blood-red letters, after which the opening credits appear, accompanied with depictions of pagan human sacrifice. Then we come to the film's real opening, where our typical group of college kids-the Jock, the Dumb-Blonde, the Nerd, the Pot-head, and the Virgin-who head out on Spring Break to the titular cabin. I'll note that the Dumb Blonde character is referred to later in film itself, somewhat offensively, as the Whore, which makes sense in that often the Blonde and the loose girl in these films are often combined in one character, as is the case here. And the Pot-head is called the Fool, a term that appears to have significance beyond the plethora of fools-better termed idiots-whose corpses tend to clutter up the horror-film landscape.

At any rate, once there, our young victims crack the typical one-lines, engage in the typical young people's game of truth or dare, and of course, discover a trove of uber-creepy artifacts in the cabin's dark cellar. The said items include, among other things, a mysterious role of film, a strange puzzle-box evocitive of Barker's Hellraiser movies, and a diary apparently left behind by cabin's original owners. The Virgin character makes the typical mistake of reading the diary--which reveals horrible things comitted by the disturbed Buckner clan of redneck psychos--aloud. And, of course, a terrible evil awakened in the form of the flesh-eating and now-zombified Buckners. While all this is going on, the camera frequently cuts to the white collar researcher/newscaster/scientists, whose connection with the wierd events at the cabin becomes apparent by slow degrees.
I won't discuss the movie's actual plot any further save to say that the Blonde dies first; it seems even subversive genre takes are not even able to subvert the most die-hard cliches. But as I am going to discuss the film's deeper meaning and implications thereof below, wait until after you've actually seen this before reading further if you want to avoid any more spoilers.
Although the film's DVD blurb and trailers--and one brief scene where it is obvious that the kids cross an invisible grid-like force-field while journeying to their titular destination, the kids are NOT trapped in a virtual reality Matrix-like scenario. Nor are they unwilling participants in a bizarre TV reality show, as the pot-smoker strongly suspects upon his discovery of a hdden wire in one of the cabin's rooms. They are not even victims of some sort of unethical experiment, as the presence of the white lab shirt wearing technicians might suggest. What is actually going on, as is gradually revealed as the film builds to a shattering climax, is much more stunning then any of those scenarios would have been.
In CITW, the filmmakers pose the question of just what is the deep meaning luking beneath  the skin of horror genre asthey peel back layer upon layer. Why do the same recycled cliches tend to recurr again and again, though the monsters and participants may vary?  Wes Craven's Scream movies flaunted self-awareness for comedic effect, but though they never ceased discussing the cliches themselves, they also never delved into the deeper question of why of those cliches exist in the first place, the question tht lies at the heart of the cinematic puzzle-box a that is CITW.
CITW has been referred to as a horror-comedy, but although there's certainly a self-awareness going on here, its of a different brand entirely than that of the Scream francise. What I really enjoyed about this film is that it deftly satirizes the deeply conservative, traditionalist nature that underlies the entire horror film genre. Could it be the filmmakers and viewers of horror are unconsciously participating in a primal ritual which demands the blood of youth in order to preserve the traditional social order? That is the question posed to the audience by CITW. And a relevant question it is, at a time in history when culture-war Christianity is determined to preserve tradition, in a head-on clash with the rising tide of secularism, and in which young people seemed by growing more and more disenchanted by the faith and traditions of their elders. I would actually have taken the film a bit further than I think it went, and explore the self-evident fact that young people who are promiscuous, question authority, or who are otherwise subversive to tradition are a threat. And that is the reason that the horror genre demands their payment in blood. The film also higlights the very traditionalist fear that the erosion of culture and values will ultimately spell anhilation. And unlike the general run of horror films, CITW does manage to be subversive in suggesting, as one character puts it at the end, ''Maybe it's time to give someone else a chance.''
The films final moments, however, seem somewhat ambiguous. The gaurdians of the tradition have themselves fallen victim to the mulitudes of monsters, and two of the intended victims have survived. This includes, ironically, the Fool, who emerges as the film's hero, in spite of the fact his drug-addiction makes his death an essentila prt of the ritual. Is there soem commentay going on about our culture's changes attitude toward pot-smoking? Perhaps. Many horror movie victims are indeed fools, in the common-venacular sense of that word. I can think of one case in particular--The Relic, to be exact--where the pot-smoker died first.  In mythological terms however, the Fool figure, symbolized on the Tarot card which bears his name, is ultimately anything but. He is in fact, typically the wisest character, and the restorer of a new order. I'm reminded at this point of Brandon Adams' heroic character, deliberately named Fool, in Wes Craven's People Under The Stairs. But although CITW's survivor's succeed in beating the system, the concluding frames suggest that the traditionalists were ultimately right, and that annhilation will follow.
So is ritual sacrifice of young, after all, the only way  if humanity is to survive? It's a question that remains with me, and not only within the confines of the movie itself.  Chistianity nowadays has become a little too like the horror genre to afford much comfort, in it struggle to maintain tradition.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Last Week in Horror and Suspense 9.19.12

Man, it's been a while since we've posted. My bad. While we've been out, there's been much in the way of fiction, and maybe we'll even do some more updates to get caught up. In the meantime, here's the list this week:

The Coming Evil author Greg Mitchell has a short piece of zombie fiction for your perusal, now available at Smashwords and Amazon. Price is 99 cents.

Teric Darken, author of Wickflicker, has released his Short Fiction, "Rapier, Part 2" at This is a free, web-based read.

Darken has also announced that his novel, U-TURN KiLLuR, will be available free for Kindle on September 24 and 25.

Speaking of free, Sam Whittaker's A Ghost of Fire is free from Smashwords on all formats right now as well.