It's remarkable, really, that the cabin in The Cabin in the Woods ever finds buyers at all. Oh, sure, the property listing could be spruced up to look nice enough: "Eerily spacious cabin in the heart of tranquil forest!" it might read. "Within walking distance of bucolic lake. Snarling wolf head and creepy paintings included!"
But eventually, any prudent home buyer is going to hire an inspector to check out the place. And while the electrical work may seem fine and the plumbing may be up to code, the cellar is, well, the cellar's a seller's nightmare. While that inspector is down there looking for signs of termite damage, he'll surely run across all the mysterious diaries and otherworldly puzzle boxes and weird fortune-telling machines that litter the place. And then he'll find the other cellar, the one outfitted as a torture chamber by a previous occupant. And then he might even find the cellar underneath that cellar, where he'd see—
OK. Never mind. Tour's over. We don't need to go down there. What self-respecting potential homeowner would? Just a quick run through this property (and I do mean run) would tell any competent real estate agent that haunted mansions in Amity would be an easier deal to do.
But somehow, the cabin keeps attracting new victi—, er, buyers, and this time around, the unlucky soul has allowed the place to serve as a makeshift getaway for five college-age youth and their stash of beer, pot and flimsy lingerie. They're hoping to kill a weekend, not each other, of course. But the cabin—or rather, whatever's lurking under the cabin—has other plans.
Looking at the specifics, there's not much to work with here: One of the cabin's unfortunate "guests" does try to escape its nefarious clutches to save his friends. Other characters show a strong desire to survive. Still others try to save all of humanity (albeit while killing people to do it).
But that lack of specific goodness is part of the larger point for Cabin in the Woods. And there's at least a measured dose of positivity to be found in that point—which I'll tackle in my "Conclusion."
The cabin's cellar eventually empties into a massive underground government complex tasked with sating what the film calls "ancient gods" who once ruled Earth. For millennia now (the film tells us), the world has offered human sacrifices to these creatures, and we see carvings and paintings depicting such sacrifices during the opening credits, along with what appears to be a depiction of hell. These days, souls are sucked into the gods' vortex by way of a variety of horror film tropes, with the exact trope varying by country, apparently. In the United States, the sacrificial victims fall broadly into the same categories we've seen show up in Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street movies: young, slightly naive students who embody (or are made to embody) various archetypes, from athlete to scholar to fool to "slut." They're dispatched through horrific means as selected by the victims themselves.
Did I mention yet that this is a horror comedy?
The victims we see in this movie "choose" (through reading aloud a mysterious Latin incantation) to be victimized by a zombie family brandishing a variety of sharp implements. But we later see that there were other options available—from vampires to werewolves to ghosts to unicorns to a freakish ballerina with a face full of teeth to Hellraiser-style aliens. (It's unclear whether these creatures really are what they're billed to be or if they're somehow technological creations made by the government agency in charge.)
After the first sacrifice is made, a bureaucrat holds a religious medallion in his hand as he offers up a prayer of sorts, and the blood trickles down to its recipient.
We see footage of a sacrifice gone wrong in Japan: A creepy, long-haired girl terrorizes a class of 9-year-old girls until the would-be victims form a circle, sing a song and turn the would-be killer into a frog. An American bureaucrat snidely references the event as a "what a friend we have in Shinto" moment.
Two of the archetypes set for sacrifice, we learn, are the "whore" (who almost always dies first) and the "virgin" (for whom death is optional but suffering is mandatory). Jules is cast as the former: We learn that her IQ has been artificially lowered through the use of a special blond hair dye, and she seems to grow sultrier and stupider as the film wears on.
She and her boyfriend, Curt, are hoping to have lots of sex during their weekend getaway. Curt complains about her luggage until Jules suggestively tells him that he'll be happy with everything she packed. She insists that friend Dana bring something titillating as well in the hopes that she'll hit it off with another houseguest (Holden). He's "good with his hands," Jules says. Once at the cabin, Jules makes out with a stuffed wolf head, makes a lewd pass at tagalong stoner Marty and dances sensually in front of a fire in super-short shorts.
She and Curt go off into the woods where the two passionately kiss and make out. Curt strips off her pants and kisses her skin underneath. Then the camera cuts to Jules' face, suggesting that he's giving her oral sex. Jules unbuttons her top and reveals her breasts before the interlude is (painfully) interrupted.
Dana is cast as the virgin, even though it's suggested that she's not. ("We work with what we have," someone says.) She's not as overtly provocative as Jules, but we do see her parade around in a pair of panties and begin to undress in front of a secret one-way mirror. (Holden watches for a bit before telling her to stop.)
Dana and Jules both wear bikinis to the lake. There are sexual jokes traded, including one about erections.
The Cabin in the Woods is a snarky homage to the horror genre, offering nods to dozens of so-called classics—The Ring, Evil Dead II, Hellraiser, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you name it. And as it lovingly follows in those films' bloody footsteps, it sheds gallons—no, vats—of blood itself.
The zombie family uses gruesome implements to do its damage, from a massive saw (which slices through a body) to a bear trap attached to the end of a chain (which clamps onto backs or clangs into heads). While the camera eventually drags itself away from the bloodiest scenes, it rarely blinks before the first blows—a knife through the neck, a spike through the hand, a stake through the back. When Dana desperately struggles with an undead monster, we see her on a bevy of video screens while bureaucrats celebrate a job well done in the foreground. But rather than minimizing the carnage, their indifference somehow makes the scene feel even more tragic and horrific.
The zombies are ugly things, what with their mottled flesh and missing limbs. And it's impossible, or nearly so, to kill 'em. One is skewered through the skull with a crowbar and still manages to open its eyes—stilled only by several additional stabs with a knife. Another is completely dissected and piled in a heap. Yet it too still "lives," its severed hand crawling along the floor with the intent to kill. A piece of it is sentient enough to deliver the head of a victim back to the cabin, where Dana (screaming) drops it and sends it rolling on the floor.
And all that blood is merely a precursor to the insane bloodbath that takes place under the cabin, where a hoard of supernatural creatures are unleashed to kill, dismember and eat their longtime captives. Giant snakes swallow victims whole. Werewolves chomp on necks. Zombies slowly eat security guards in a blood-covered room. One employee is laboriously ripped apart by creatures—a torture only terminated when he blows himself up, taking them out too. A technician is devoured by a merman who spews blood out of a blowhole on his back.
Other bloody moments to note: Someone is stabbed in the gut by a college student. An ax is buried in someone's skull. A scientist shoots herself. An invisible force field kills a man. (We see him smash into the thing, then fall into a deep crevasse. An eagle is vaporized. We see a painting of a lamb being torn apart by men and beasts.
Crude or Profane Language
Nearly 60 f-words and close to 10 s-words. We hear multiple uses of "a‑‑," "h‑‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "f-ggot" and "p‑‑‑." God's name is misused nearly 20 times (twice paired with "d‑‑n"). Jesus' name is abused four or five times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Marty is the film's designated pothead, driving down the street while smoking a massive bong (which collapses into what looks like a portable coffee cup), rolling several joints and never really shaking free of his marijuana-fueled cloud. And in a twist, the pot—treated by government lackeys to make Marty even more impaired—actually immunizes him to many of the cabin's effects. He shares joints with others.
The government scientists and bureaucrats drink during the day and throw an alcohol-drenched party when they feel as though the gods have been sated. All the college students are shown drinking and most get drunk. Their senses are also impaired by various chemicals the government spews in their direction. A dose of pheromones pushes Jules and Curt to make out in the woods, for instance. A gas station attendant chews and spits tobacco.
Other Negative Elements
Someone throws up during a fight. Government employees bet on what sort of entity will be used to dispatch the cabin's victims this time. Someone makes a crass reference about anal retentiveness.
Joss Whedon, the mind behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, co-wrote and produced The Cabin in the Woods. He describes the film as a "very loving hate letter" to the modern horror film genre—both an homage of onscreen scarefests and a snide critique of their excesses.
"The things that I don't like are kids acting like idiots, the devolution of the horror movie into torture porn and into a long series of sadistic comeuppances," he told totalfilm.com. "[Writer/director Drew Goddard] and I both felt that the pendulum had sung a little too far in that direction."
It's with a bit of irony, then, that The Cabin in the Woods swings its own blood-soaked pendulum so wildly. Whedon uses over-the-top violence to critique over-the-top violence, producing a ludicrously gory carnival of excess that is designed to leave fans gasping with fear … and laughter.
It is, artistically, not a bad movie. As satire, it has purpose. But neither wit nor heart can rescue this thing from the fact that it's operating in a moral vacuum. It's not that this is one of those films that leaves me feeling particularly horrified—appalled that a culture could craft such a thing. Perhaps that's because the film satirizes the very thing it mimics. Perhaps its because, these days, it has so many compatriots it becomes hard to sort out one from the other.
During the film, a newbie security officer suspiciously watches the bureaucrats do their jobs.
"Monsters?" he asks. "Magic? Gods?"
"You get used to it," a colleague wearily says.
"Should you?" the new guy on the underground block returns.
If the film has a moral, this is it. Folks have become hardened to horrific violence on movie screens. But should they? Should you? Should we open ourselves up to this stuff, munching popcorn as human after human is harvested for the sake of our gluttonous entertainment appetites? Whedon and Goddard, in their own malevolent and maladroit way, say no. And we'd be well advised to listen.
Maybe not watch. But listen.