The Cabin In The Woods Explained- The Meta Gods Of Entertainment Have Spoken
Drew Goddard’s directorial debut, The Cabin In The Woods, is meta gloriousness. Not only is it cleverly self-aware, but it showcases the largest group of horror villains of all time.
Fans of Drew Goddard no doubt can recite The Cabin In The Woods from beginning to end. The brilliant director who also brought us the highly allegorical Bad Times At The El Royale understood what everyone instinctively knew but didn’t want to admit. Horror fans want to be very smart but are really just dumb carnivores. To his and our credit, everyone accepts this fact without getting angry. That’s not to say we can’t enjoy a good intelligent thriller, just that the bulk of horror films out there are blunt instruments meant for the masses. The Cabin In The Woods works on so many levels, which allows it to straddle the line between silly copycat and fascinatingly unique commentary. Here’s everything you need to know about his loving hate letter to the horror genre.
The film is split between two perspectives. Five college students take a trip to a family cabin in the middle of the woods, and a group of callous office workers orchestrates the student’s deaths. The lab technicians played cheekily by Amy Acker(Dollhouse), Bradley Whitford(The West Wing), and Richard Jenkins(The Shape Of Water) is the American branch of this worldwide organization. Their sole job is to ensure yearly sacrifices occur in their respective countries. The gifts are for giant ancient Gods who live inside the Earth.
The Ancient Ones require different sacrifices for different countries. For example, the Japanese sacrifice must be children. In contrast, the American sacrifice has to be a complicated group of slasher film tropes, think the Breakfast Club for horror movies that coincidently helped shape the film’s moral code. For the Ancient Gods to be appeased, one of the countries must be successful in their sacrifice.
The order of the deaths
For the ritual to work, the college kids have to satisfy their stereotype and die in the correct order. Jules(Anna Hutchison of Encounter) is the whore, and she must die first. Next, Curt, the athlete(Chris Hemsworth), Marty the Fool(Fran Kranz), and Holden the Scholar(Jesse Williams) all needed to die before Dana the Virgin(Kristin Connolly). The virgin could be left alive, ala the final girl, but everyone else has to be dead first. The manor of their deaths is determined unwittingly by the group when they read Latin from the Buckner journal. This activates the hillbilly, backwoods, satanic zombies.
Suppose they had selected a different artifact in the basement. In that case, they could have triggered a lamprey eel ballerina, werewolves, demons from Hellraiser, ghosts, a giant cat, mermen, spiders, snakes, clowns, twins, Kevin, etc. The list is almost endless. Every horror movie baddie is represented. The killers, the paranormal, the monsters, and the fantasies gone wrong as in the homicidal unicorn. It doesn’t matter how they die, just that they do in the proper order. As the group dies, a Blade-Esque contraption drips their blood through a carved stone to the Old Gods in the Earth.
The ending of The Cabin In The Woods
In the second act, Dana, Holden, and Curt try to escape. Curt volunteers to jump the downed bridge in his motorbike and bring back help. Unfortunately for him, the forcefield had already been activated, and he ran face-first into it, killing him. Holden was killed trying to drive away in the RV with Dana, leaving only Dana until Marty appears, having survived his earlier attack. The company goons were already celebrating, having thought they had won with just Dana left standing. Unfortunately for the corporation and the Ancient Gods, Marty managed to live and was not killed by the zombie who dragged him out of the window and through the woods. Too late, they realize Marty lived, and before they could do anything to stop them, Marty and Dana got into the lab under the cabin and released all the monsters.
The monsters kill almost everyone in the company, save Sigourney Weaver, who is presumably the head of the American branch. With both Dana and Marty still alive, Dana is offered the chance by Sigourney Weaver to save the world. She has to shoot Marty, completing the cycle. She shoots at Marty but before she can kill him a werewolf attacks her and another Buckner arrives and attacks Marty while he is fighting with Sigourney Weaver. The pair apologize to one another and prepare for the return of the giant evil Gods. The film’s closing shot is of a massive firey hand reaching up from the bowels of the Earth. the Ancient Ones are back for their pound of flesh.
Everything has been orchestrated from the beginning. The group doesn’t even perfectly satisfy the rules. The athlete is just as bright as the scholar as he is on a full academic scholarship, and the whore rarely acts likes a tramp. Everything at the cabin is orchestrated with pheromones and drugs, so is it that far-fetched to believe the group has been manipulated from the early days of college for this one express purpose? Probably every detail of the group’s meeting and lives has been planned to get them to the cabin at this exact time.
The lab techs had become sloppy and complacent, though and try as they might to complete their sacrifice; they missed opportunities and forgot vital steps. They didn’t drug Marty’s pot allowing him to find the surveillance equipment, almost didn’t blow the bridge in time, and failed to send enough soldiers to kill Marty and Dana. It was just a matter of time before the Ancient Ones returned. Humans are doomed because we are apathetic and messy.
It is all a meta metaphor for our increasingly violent tendencies
It’s not enough to slash and hack your way through horror movies anymore. As one technician points out, tossing someone into a volcano doesn’t cut it anymore. Films like Hellraiser raised the bar(pun intended) with their gooey wet puzzle box generated Cenobites. Saw utterly revamped the game with torture porn which only got progressively more intense. Hungry audiences require creativity and gore in obscene amounts. We have become desensitized to the smaller kills while still needing the rigid structure of the plot.
Goddard sarcastically pokes fun at that truth. The company workers are filmmakers who emotionlessly go about their work, ensuring the audience’s appetites are satisfied. Ironically, Joss Whedon, who co-wrote The Cabin In The Woods with Goddard, is allegedly a toxic director to work with despite his ability to create art that is still widely regarded today.
While it isn’t completely true that nothing can be unique and successful in horror, the further you stray from the cookie-cutter, the harder it is to find an audience. Films like the Block Island Sound, Saint Maud, and The Dark And The Wicked are doing their best to change what horror can and should be. It’s possible for films like Spiral: From The Book Of Saw to share theater space with A24’s The Green Knight and the psychological classic Session 9. Our insatiable hunger hasn’t changed, but our taste buds may have evolved.
As the TV/Streaming Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I’m not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret, there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.