Director: Drew Goddard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, etc.
The whore, the scholar, the fool, the athlete, the virgin, a forlorn cabin, and an eerie harbinger, The Cabin in The Woods (2012) provides the audience with the perfect ingredients to cook a horror movie. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard pick up the postmodern torch of the Scream series and bring to the forefront the very foundations of the genre. The multiple layers and storylines of the motion picture are closely interwoven in the story and the stereotypes of the scary movie tradition are presented as if it were an inventory, or rather a puzzle in which no matter how the viewers arrange the pieces, the outcome always meets our expectations. The self-conscious and self-referential allusions of The Cabin are not just mere dormant devices that underlie the plot, the film is actually a physicalization of the theory of metafiction. This production has been both praised and labelled as short in “frights” (Bradshaw n.pag.). However, the nature of the film suggests that horror lurks beneath the whimsical structural framework and it is precisely the latter what constitutes the key element that carries the message of the movie.
The Cabin displays an artificial construction of the classic clichés of this type of film. These stereotypes are introduced by way of ironic, yet unconscious comments on the part of the characters. The depiction of each and every of the five archetypical friends is continuously challenged and at the same time forced to comply with the scope of the slasher movie setup. Probably one of the best examples that mocks the artificiality of the story and functions as a self-conscious device is the fact that the young group of friends changes and adapts their personalities to the “horror” formula:
“and since when does Curt pull this alpha-male bullshit? I mean, he’s a sociology major” (Goddard The Cabin). Marty (Frank Kranz) experiences a clear anagnorisis and realizes that they are just “puppeteers” in the hands of a director who ironically turns them into pre-fixed characters. Likewise, Jules (Anna Hutchison) announces that she has dyed her hair at the beginning of the movie, thus providing the audience with the always existing “dumb blonde.” At first sight, these clichés seem to determine the ending of the story, for according to the conventions, it is the “virgin” the only one allowed to survive.
However, what is interesting about this moving picture is that the characters rebel themselves against their own fictional cinematic condition and the audience is made aware of this fact. Gary (Richard Jenkins) states that if the characters ignore the pre-established model, “the system doesn’t work,” thus clearly mocking the apparent urge and necessity to include the so-called fixed roles and patterns in every single slasher production. The boundaries between reality and fiction are blurred and we are presented with a collapse of diegetic levels. The whole movie is a clear allegory to specular metafiction; the cabin itself is divided into different levels and the intradiegetic is connected with the metadiegetic by way of an actual elevator. The métalepse takes place right at the beginning of the film. When the characters finally go on adventure, a mysterious man supplied with some telecommunication equipment watches over as they leave and says: “Nest is empty. We’re right on time.” The implications of this intervention are clear, the directors at the extradiegetic level are explicitly and overtly stating that the story of the cabin is nothing but a story within a story, a feature that is fully disclosed some minutes after this scene. The mastery of the filmmakers allows them to go a bit further in the “metadeconstruction” of the basis of horror. The final fantastic ecstasy of chaos in which the characters of the metadiegetic level release the fictional creatures—which are actually the epitomes of horror fiction—provokes the clash between levels. Hence, there is a subversion of the roles of power in the movie and the puppeteers become the puppet masters in the struggle between characters, direction and audience.
The audience is therefore the primary focus of the rather overt devices that permeate a story dominated by a latent critique against the whole world of film shooting, film production and, more importantly, film reception. The viewer is directly addressed by one of the props controllers, who states that they “gotta keep the customer satisfied” (Goddard The Cabin), thus implying that we are the ones seeking the pre-established stereotypes that have tired out a genre lacking innovation. In the scene in which a group of people takes bets on the plot of the movie that is going to be shot at the metadiegetic level, the viewer is depicted as a rabid bidder entrapped in the platitude of horror fiction. Moreover, there is a ruthless critique against the inability of the American horror market to let go of the formula and try out new forms of cinematic experimentation. This is clearly stated in the contrast between the sarcastic depiction of the international industry as “zero fatality. Total wash” and the American one, for the delusional Steve Hadley (Bradley Whitford) naively declares that if “[y]ou want good product, you gotta buy American” (Goddard The Cabin).
The Cabin is rich in self-conscious devices and this diversity makes of this videotape a movie that could fit within many metafictional categories. There is a clear parallelism with other classics of the genre such as The Evil Dead (1981). Similarly, most scenes are suffused with intertextual allusions that can be found in the most unexpected details: we can even get a glimpse of the Slender man in one of the paintings hanging in the wall. The references to movie shooting are clearly embedded in the nature of the story that takes place at the intradiegetic level, and the ironic and definitive transgression of levels points to the fact that the film is indeed metaleptic.
However, the strong point of the movie that cunningly increases the complexity of the story and unveils the ultimate purpose of the metafictional approach of the moviemakers is the way the directors manage to drag the spectators into the plot itself. The public not only becomes the target of the harsh sardonic critique against the maxim “enjoyment at the expense of quality,” but also we become characters of the story, thus enhancing the efficacy of the denunciation. The hand that almightily emerges from the earth and is directed towards the camera is not merely the hand of the “ancient ones,” it is undoubtedly the hand of an audience whose expectations have been frustrated by the transgressive, yet insightful piece of horror fiction.
Bradshaw, Peter. “The Cabin in the Woods-Review”. The Guardian 2012: n. pag. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.
The Cabin in the Woods. Dir. Drew Goddard. Perfs. Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams and Fran Kranz. Lionsgate, 2012. DVD.