Tyler

The Cabin in the Woods

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For one, the movies that Goddard and Whedon poke fun at are not movies I typically enjoy, and their modus operandi (gore shots, shock cuts, loads of exposition) does not vary widely from those movies.

I share these same problem. I found myself laughing at a lot of the control room stuff, but I found the stuff with the kids that just reproduced the basic slasher-flick tropes to be considerably less amusing and engaging.

In fact, my big problem with the film entirely is that I don't really care for any of the characters in this film. I have no invested interest in how the story turns out. This is different than in films like SHAUN OF THE DEAD or HOT FUZZ, where Edgar Wright and company is able to invest me in the preposterous story, even when things take a turn for the absurd. As such, I think it's a pretty hollow movie-watching experience, even if it is occasionally pretty funny.

Edited by Ryan H.

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That said, I didn't really enjoy the film very much, and there could be several reasons why. For one, the movies that Goddard and Whedon poke fun at are not movies I typically enjoy, and their modus operandi (gore shots, shock cuts, loads of exposition) does not vary widely from those movies. ).

Yeah. This. That's why I walked out after the first hour. Neal Postman once famously opined that religion never plays well on broadcasts because it's impossible to sanctify a television set. We can throw all the fancy words we want at it--deconstruction, irony, undercutting--but there's a fine line between deconstructing, critiquing, and/or parodying a genre and revitalizing it.

It didn't help, either, that I saw this the same day I saw The Hunger Games, whose rather superficial indictment of reality television and violence as performance/religion was close enough to this to make me feel that The Cabin in the Woods was equally superficial, just with a better pedigree. (I'm sure someone has undoubtedly made that comparison in this thread already, so I apologize if it's a repeat. I was told to assiduously avoid all discussions if I hate spoilers, and I do.)

Still, matters of taste, matters of quality. I'm sure as horror films go, it is a good one. But based on the rapturous buzz out of SXSW, I was expecting about three times more clever and maybe 1/2 the gore.

Edited by kenmorefield

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For me, the gold standard for this sort of thing remains Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers, which creates a convincing fairy-tale atmosphere on which to build its comic situations, and The Shadow of the Vampire, which is essentially an egghead/film geek fantasy, although several degrees more literate and elegant than the rest.

I also feel it's a shame that a movie like Intruders, which toyed interestingly with genre expectations, opened and closed in the blink of an eye while The Cabin in the Woods, though hardly making box office history, receives the lion's share of publicity.

Edited by Nathaniel

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For me, the gold standard for this sort of thing remains Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers, which creates a convincing fairy-tale atmosphere on which to build its comic situations, and The Shadow of the Vampire, which is essentially an egghead/film geek fantasy, although several cuts more literate and elegant than the rest.

I have tried and tried to like THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, which I feel as though I should admire (after all, I do love both Polanski and Hammer), but I can't. I find it terribly unfunny.

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I have tried and tried to like THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, which I feel as though I should admire (after all, I do love both Polanski and Hammer), but I can't. I find it terribly unfunny.

But whether or not it tickles your funny bone, I'm sure you can at least agree that it has visual sophistication, formal beauty, and a disciplined understanding of the genre. There is a scene in which Ferdy Mayne's vampire count descends through a skylight onto the bathing Sharon Tate that surpasses anything in most "straight" horror films.

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But whether or not it tickles your funny bone, I'm sure you can at least agree that it has visual sophistication, formal beauty, and a disciplined understanding of the genre.

Indeed I can.

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I have tried and tried to like THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, which I feel as though I should admire (after all, I do love both Polanski and Hammer), but I can't. I find it terribly unfunny.

But whether or not it tickles your funny bone, I'm sure you can at least agree that it has visual sophistication, formal beauty, and a disciplined understanding of the genre. There is a scene in which Ferdy Mayne's vampire count descends through a skylight onto the bathing Sharon Tate that surpasses anything in most "straight" horror films.

I agree with both of these sentiments. I didn't find the film to be particularily funny, but I certainly did appreciate some of the "horror craftmanship" in it.

I also feel it's a shame that a movie like Intruders, which toyed interestingly with genre expectations, opened and closed in the blink of an eye while The Cabin in the Woods, though hardly making box office history, receives the lion's share of publicity.

I never even heard of Intruders.

Edited by Attica

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Yeah. This. That's why I walked out after the first hour.

Oh... oh, ouch.

I wouldn't have had a very high opinion of this film either if I'd walked out after the first hour. It's the finale that puts this one from "meh" to "unforgettable" for me. I can agree that this film isn't a great aesthetic achievement (and I would even argue that it would have been very strange if it *had* been). But as an elaborate achievement in Funny or Die! kind of spoof/deconstruction, the inspired madness of the last act is kind of incredible.

I'm trying to think of a parallel. Kind of like... seeing only the first 40 minutes of Being John Malkovich and thus missing just how far the filmmakers are willing to go with the concept. (Okay, not a very good comparison. Trying to think of a better one.)

Edited by Overstreet

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I'm trying to think of a parallel. Kind of like... seeing only the first 40 minutes of Being John Malkovich and thus missing just how far the filmmakers are willing to go with the concept. (Okay, not a very good comparison. Trying to think of a better one.)

Jeff, having spoken to some friends with different tastes about how the movie ends (in some detail), I can't say that I regret leaving.

But I digress...as to your parallel, the film I thought about was Tom Tykwer's Perfume: The Story of A Murderer, Both films have last acts that, to their admirers (which, I concede, are many) elevate them to something more/greater than the the rather conventional films that I experienced. Also, both are by respected filmmakers who have made other works of art that I admire which could (perhaps, if one cares to psychoanalyze me rather than analyze the movies) have contributed to my expectations and disappointment. (In other words, Perfume is not a film I would have been in had it not been Tykwer; Cabin is not a film I would have been seeing in the first place if it was not by Whedon).

Edited by kenmorefield

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I'm trying to think of a parallel. Kind of like... seeing only the first 40 minutes of Being John Malkovich and thus missing just how far the filmmakers are willing to go with the concept. (Okay, not a very good comparison. Trying to think of a better one.)

I know somebody who had purchased a bootlegged copy of The Sixth Sense, which ended directly before the very last scene...

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I'm trying to think of a parallel. Kind of like... seeing only the first 40 minutes of Being John Malkovich and thus missing just how far the filmmakers are willing to go with the concept. (Okay, not a very good comparison. Trying to think of a better one.)

I know somebody who had purchased a bootlegged copy of The Sixth Sense, which ended directly before the very last scene...

Wow. bummer.

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Ok, first of all two things no here seems to have asked:

1 - Did anyone else catch Marty's last line? It seemed strangely appropriate for the voyeuristic theme. - "Giant evil gods ... I would have liked to have seen them."

2 - Is it a coincidence that Stockholm is mentioned as having failed during the beginning? The first thing I thought of remembering the word afterwards was Stockholm Syndrome, which, according to wikipedia "is an apparently paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness."

3 - Not much discussion of how the film handles the concept of free will on this thread. It seemed to be a fairly major theme in the film. Richard Jenkins character insists that the five have free will. Marty insists that he's the boss of his own brain, is not a puppet and then still succumbs to the outside forces around him.

And now, catching up on a few things ...

Side note: Why include a one-way mirror in the plot if you're not going to actually, like, do anything with it?

To play with the expectations of the theater audience and, as mentioned earlier, to contrast the choice Holden makes with the attitudes of the white lab-coats and theater audience. Audience expectations are what make this film into what it is. Our expectations are granted and denied, at different points in the film, and there always seems to be a reason why.

And one of the deaths was completely nonsensical--so an RV is driven how many miles before any of them know that there's a stranger aboard? Jump scares aren't scary if the kills are random, without any semblence of logic.

Thus the reason why a vast majority of Hollywood horror films are incredibly and relentlessly dull. Semblences of logic in the plot are not frequent occurances in your average horror film. So I have a hard time understanding all the critiques of the bad logic in this film. Bad logic is one of the primary problems with the majority of horror films today. It's one of the reasons they suck so bad. So, in order to satirize this, The Cabin in the Woods has illogical cliched events happen, on purpose, precisely because the main characters are trapped in a predetermined version of these stupid cliches. Speaking of audience expectations again, it's the expectations of the horror film audience that kills the characters.

So... the Egyptian gods are bound by imaginary lines in the sand demarking the separation of countries? How could they be "gods", then?
Did it call them gods? I got the impression they were more like demons or figures from mythology and nightmares.
I viewed them as demi-gods. Demi-gods in ancient mythology have all sorts of rules and limitations.

Marty actually calls them "giant evil gods."

... it's basically a movie about a horror-movie cabin built on top of a science lab which offers sacrifices to ancient gods. But does that make any sense? How does one of these things relate to the other?

Marilynne Robinson would object to this question. The divisions and contradictions between science and religion are more apparent than actual, particularly so in a "horror movie" film. I seem to remember science used to serve spiritual purposes in both The Exorcism of Emily Rose and in C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength. The one relates to the other even more when you think in terms of the free will/determinism debate. One of the questions in this film is how much free will the five main characters really possess. There are both religious and scientific arguments for how the choices of man are not really choices at all, but are really just pre-determined. In this film, both the scientists and the "giant evil gods" seem to be violating free will.

How many A&F Top [25] horror films did they reference? I'm willing to wager less than 10%, if any.

Well, given that the film is lambasting bad horror films, it's referencing of 0 of our 25 films would be just fine by me. It's not a problem if you think of the film as a satire rather than as a homage. It is critiquing and making fun of the more stupid and abhorrent aspects of modern day horror movies. No good reason to parody Vampyr or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Let Me In for such purposes.

Edited by Persiflage

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Persilage...

I said it before, I'll say it again: if what they are referencing are predominantly the horror films of the last thirty years, then it is ridiculous to say that this sacrifice has been required by the "gods" from ALL TIME.

Secondly, to make an illogical leap does not make the satire/criticism more valid; it makes the movie worse.

I did a cursory run-through of the A&F 25, and excepting "I Walk W a Zombie" (zombie movies were different pre-1968), I caught two references: there are twin girl ghosts as one of the myriad of choices (The Shining), and the surprise cameo of the star of the other movie (revealing star and title is a spoiler I'll keep), whose sole horror work is limited to that single title (and subsequent sequels). Until now, that is.

I read an interview w the director on aintitcool.com. He referenced the Spinal Tap line "There's a fine line between clever and stupid." It's obvious that this movie exists and revels on that line.

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Persilage...

I said it before, I'll say it again: if what they are referencing are predominantly the horror films of the last thirty years, then it is ridiculous to say that this sacrifice has been required by the "gods" from ALL TIME.

The whole idea there is something a joke. Comedy and logic do not always go hand in hand. At any rate, you can get around that hurdle two ways: one, by the film's statement that the ritual has "evolved" over the years, and, two, by theorizing that the ritual may have existed beforehand but was not ensconsced in cinema culture until relatively recent times.

Secondly, to make an illogical leap does not make the satire/criticism more valid; it makes the movie worse.

If the film is a satire of the source, then imitating the source is well and good, wouldn't you say? Imitating the illogic of contemporary horror films in their production of "jump scares," etc. fits. And I think, again, you're supposed to knowingly laugh at the lack of logic in those moments.

I don't love this film all that much, and feel weird to be defending it, but I really don't get criticizing this film along these lines.

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My review - with a little C.S. Lewis, Neil Postman and Aldous Huxley thrown in for good measure.

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Nice review, Persiflage. I like how you brought in Postman--a good move. I focused on the voyeuristic elements in my review. My only qualm had not so much to do with the world-building (I think your defense on this point is good), but with what I felt like were some muddled relational ironies. Bringing in the ancients kind of threw me off a bit. There's a sense in which you could identify the targeted voyeuer with the technicians or the gods, or you could identify the two technicians with Goddard and Whedon--and, yet, there's Sigourney Weaver playing the "director." I wish the relationships used to support the worthwhile ironies would have been more clear-cut in this sense.

That said, I really enjoyed the movie for the reasons you've outlined in your review, and I would probably consider it one of my top 3 or 4 favorites of the year so far. Thanks for sharing.

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My review - with a little C.S. Lewis, Neil Postman and Aldous Huxley thrown in for good measure.

I enjoyed your essay as well. At first I was thinking that you have a more negative view on horror films than I do, but then I realized that there is no real way for me to gauge this. I say this because I haven't really watched any of the Hollywood slasher films since a few in the 1980's so I've never seen any of the Saw's or Hostel's ect. As I've mentioned on these boards before, I do find value in good horror films. Films such as Excorcism of Emily Rose, 28 days later, Blair Witch, the Devils backbone. ect...ect...... But these films are a different breed then the slasher/mutilation films that the Cabin in the Woods is commenting on, and I've never been inclined to want to rent those in the first place (although I know enough about them to get the tropes that are found in CITW).

One thought though, is that there will always be horror films, and there always will be people watching them for various reasons. What I think we need to see is Hollywood moving away from films that concentrate on the various horrible ways that a person can be mutilated to death, to films that concentrate on ideas and concepts related to morality, and to humanities questions about it's various problems, as well as questions and fears about it's future and the unknown.

I would say that is what horror films used to be mostly about before changes in the 70's to 80's. They used to be the film world's version of spooky stories told around the campfire. Stories that had important things to say about and to our societies (even if they were often campy). If we want Hollywood to quit making horror films that we reject then I'd say we need to support the stuff that we deem has some value. I'd like to see Hollywood making more films like Cujo, or Pan's Labyrinth (Or last years Insidious). That kind of film works for me and from what I've read those are the kinds of projects that many horror filmmakers actually really want to work on.

Edited by Attica

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Persiflage wrote:

: 1 - Did anyone else catch Marty's last line? It seemed strangely appropriate for the voyeuristic theme. - "Giant evil gods ... I would have liked to have seen them."

Interesting connection. I'm wondering, though, if "voyeurism" can be applied to simply seeing something; for some reason I associate it with watching someone DO something. But I could be wrong about that.

: 3 - Not much discussion of how the film handles the concept of free will on this thread. It seemed to be a fairly major theme in the film.

I actually got the opposite sense, that it WASN'T really about free will. Richard Jenkins does have a line about how the characters have a moment of freedom somewhere in the middle of the process, but the beginning and the outcome are determined by he and his colleagues; and of course Jenkins and his co-workers have a betting pool etc.; but I didn't sense anything particularly deep about this.

I guess I would say that, if I had noticed the theme at all, I might have framed it as one of order vs. chaos, with the betting pool being just one of several ways that people try to impose a semblance of order on chaos. (There's a chart on the wall, and a system for placing bets, etc., but the actual thing being bet on is still utterly random.) And then the film basically ends on a note of "Chaos reigns" (to quote Antichrist), as the living beings who have been trapped within the system break free of it and bring about the system's destruction (a la the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, the book version of which was quite emphatic about the role of "chaos" in all this).

Hmmm. It occurs to me that one of the reasons I might be more open to an order-vs-chaos reading of the film than a free-will-vs-no-free-will reading is because free will -- or any sort of will, really -- requires some sort of character, and I never bought any of these people as actual CHARACTERS. The film's utter incoherence on the level of world-building etc., on the other hand, actually fits very well with an order-vs-chaos way of reading things.

: : Side note: Why include a one-way mirror in the plot if you're not going to actually, like, do anything with it?

:

: To play with the expectations of the theater audience and, as mentioned earlier, to contrast the choice Holden makes with the attitudes of the white lab-coats and theater audience.

I already answered the second part of that sentence earlier in this thread, when I underscored that my question concerned the PLOT and not the THEME of the film. But as to the first half of that sentence, I'm not sure that giving the audience a set-up and no pay-off really counts as "playing with" the audience's expectations.

: Our expectations are granted and denied, at different points in the film, and there always seems to be a reason why.

Okay, and so we're back to my question: What's the reason why? At first, you seemed to be saying that it was there just as part of a general plan to deny our expectations, but now you seem to be saying that each and every case of expectation denial has some sort of deeper reason that is unique to that expectation denial. So what IS that deeper something, in this case?

: : . . . it's basically a movie about a horror-movie cabin built on top of a science lab which offers sacrifices to ancient gods. But does that make any sense? How does one of these things relate to the other?

:

: Marilynne Robinson would object to this question. The divisions and contradictions between science and religion are more apparent than actual, particularly so in a "horror movie" film.

Not necessarily. Religion leads towards mystification, whereas science is profoundly concerned with DEmystifying things -- making them explainable as much as possible. Of course, there will always be things that we CAN'T explain, so science is inherently limited and religion is one of the ways we have of going BEYOND science; and of course, to the extent that science and religion are both ways of explaining reality, they should agree on the reality that they are explaining (which leads to interesting tensions when we try to combine, say, evolutionary theory with a notion of life before and after "the Fall"). But the problem here, with this film, is that it mashes up these genres and worldviews without really exploring any of those tensions; instead, it consistently demystifies and renders absurd these larger mysteries, turning the horror-movie tropes into silly little performances (why does the gas-station guy want to sound so menacing to a single person on the phone, but not care if everyone else in the room hears his normal voice?) and turning the gods into, well, an absurdly literalistic nihilistic joke. (Incidentally, I much, much preferred the giant-hand imagery in Wrath of the Titans, which happens to be yet another film which struggles with the demystification of ancient gods...)

: In this film, both the scientists and the "giant evil gods" seem to be violating free will.

Question: do the GODS have free will? Is there any reason they HAVE to be sated this way, or any reason they HAVE to make the threat that they have made?

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Hi, guys, new to the boards, here!

I liked the movie a lot, found it a blast to watch, but I'll admit it's not quite as clever or deep as it thinks it is, and a few of its points are muddled. The world-building doesn't make a whole lot of sense--How did they get all the monsters? When exactly did these systems come into place? How did all these people get hired in the first place?--All sorts of things like that can be asked.

However, what doesn't seem to have been said here (I missed it, at least) in response to those world-building objections is that the details don't matter. All those background ideas are left unexplained and undeveloped because they are not important to the points being made. It's not that they're all just a joke, that the idea of gods is just silly so they decided to throw it in--they're a metaphor.

The whole thing is pretty obviously a metaphor for the way horror movies get made today--dead teenager movies in the U.S., spooky ghost stories in Japan, disaster movies elsewhere (I didn't catch what all the other countries' movies were supposed to be). They're all being turned out on assembly lines, slaves to their own genre tropes. The corporate guys here can be seen as the studio/producers/whatever who make these movies, turning them all out over and over, confident they will sell every time because they're what the consumer wants. But the thing is, these tropes have lost their originality, their flavor, their cleverness. They no longer please like they used to. They're no longer sure things--Japan's failure is presumably a reference to the faltering of the J-Horror boom of the early 2000s, which would likely have had more punch if the film had been released a few years back, like it was supposed to be. The point is, though, that the gods they're sacrificing to are us. The Audience. We have a both a seemingly insatiable desire for more blood and gore and trashy thrills, as well as a deep need to deal with our dark fears and nightmares by bringing them into the light and looking at them from the outside in horror movies. As such, it is important to keep us satisfied--both on the basic commercial level, and the more serious level that if we don't deal with those issues, we can go kinda crazy. Not being able to understand ourselves through art can cause us to lose control, and the world to end (maybe. metaphorically anyway.). So that's why the gods are so undefined--they're our inner demons, they're our desires as an audience. When we go crazy at the end because the movie hasn't played out the way we wanted it to, it could mean two things: 1. We have finally seen the failure of the slasher genre and all it's stupid cliches, and are finally empowered as an audience to demand something newer and better for our horror fix. or 2. Without any proper distance from our horrors through the movies of the world, our inner demons are unleashed and we go crazy and pretty much destroy the world because we have nothing to vicariously get rid of these ugly impulses on.

The movie is a bit vague and muddled on which of these interpretations it really wants to go for, and I wish it had done more to play them off each other and express the deeper ideas of why horror as a genre is necessary. But I think it's quite clear why a lot of the apparent inconsistencies and vagaries of the plot don't matter when faced with these larger points.

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Hi, guys, new to the boards, here!

I liked the movie a lot, found it a blast to watch, but I'll admit it's not quite as clever or deep as it thinks it is, and a few of its points are muddled. The world-building doesn't make a whole lot of sense--How did they get all the monsters? When exactly did these systems come into place? How did all these people get hired in the first place?--All sorts of things like that can be asked.

However, what doesn't seem to have been said here (I missed it, at least) in response to those world-building objections is that the details don't matter. All those background ideas are left unexplained and undeveloped because they are not important to the points being made. It's not that they're all just a joke, that the idea of gods is just silly so they decided to throw it in--they're a metaphor.

The whole thing is pretty obviously a metaphor for the way horror movies get made today--dead teenager movies in the U.S., spooky ghost stories in Japan, disaster movies elsewhere (I didn't catch what all the other countries' movies were supposed to be). They're all being turned out on assembly lines, slaves to their own genre tropes. The corporate guys here can be seen as the studio/producers/whatever who make these movies, turning them all out over and over, confident they will sell every time because they're what the consumer wants. But the thing is, these tropes have lost their originality, their flavor, their cleverness. They no longer please like they used to. They're no longer sure things--Japan's failure is presumably a reference to the faltering of the J-Horror boom of the early 2000s, which would likely have had more punch if the film had been released a few years back, like it was supposed to be. The point is, though, that the gods they're sacrificing to are us. The Audience. We have a both a seemingly insatiable desire for more blood and gore and trashy thrills, as well as a deep need to deal with our dark fears and nightmares by bringing them into the light and looking at them from the outside in horror movies. As such, it is important to keep us satisfied--both on the basic commercial level, and the more serious level that if we don't deal with those issues, we can go kinda crazy. Not being able to understand ourselves through art can cause us to lose control, and the world to end (maybe. metaphorically anyway.). So that's why the gods are so undefined--they're our inner demons, they're our desires as an audience. When we go crazy at the end because the movie hasn't played out the way we wanted it to, it could mean two things: 1. We have finally seen the failure of the slasher genre and all it's stupid cliches, and are finally empowered as an audience to demand something newer and better for our horror fix. or 2. Without any proper distance from our horrors through the movies of the world, our inner demons are unleashed and we go crazy and pretty much destroy the world because we have nothing to vicariously get rid of these ugly impulses on.

The movie is a bit vague and muddled on which of these interpretations it really wants to go for, and I wish it had done more to play them off each other and express the deeper ideas of why horror as a genre is necessary. But I think it's quite clear why a lot of the apparent inconsistencies and vagaries of the plot don't matter when faced with these larger points.

Hi Stephen M. Welcome.

Those are some good thoughts, and I like your insights into the comparisons between the god's and us.

As well the background story to many movies are left unexplained and I didn't find the lack of explanation to how the monsters were gathered to be necessary for this story, as well as the explanation of some other things. As a matter of fact there could be a fairly simple explanation. When a monster made havoc (like they do in many stories) agents were sent out to contain it in various ways, and transfer it to the compound (or previous lair), where they eventually grew a large group of monsters for their use. It's simple and not outside of the possibilities found in horror films.

Edited by Attica

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I've also dispensed with worrying about spoilers this far in the thread.

Bringing in the ancients kind of threw me off a bit. There's a sense in which you could identify the targeted voyeuer with the technicians or the gods, or ...

... and/or just us, the horror movie audience. I don't think it's much more complicated than that.

At first I was thinking that you have a more negative view on horror films than I do, but then I realized that there is no real way for me to gauge this. I say this because I haven't really watched any of the Hollywood slasher films since a few in the 1980's so I've never seen any of the Saw's or Hostel's ect. As I've mentioned on these boards before, I do find value in good horror films. Films such as Excorcism of Emily Rose, 28 days later, Blair Witch, the Devils backbone. ect...ect...... But these films are a different breed then the slasher/mutilation films that the Cabin in the Woods is commenting on, and I've never been inclined to want to rent those in the first place (although I know enough about them to get the tropes that are found in CITW).

With friends who watched these films constantly, I've sat down and watched most of a few Saw and Hostel films. I felt sick and ashamed afterwards and still the memory comes back only with a sense of guilt.

One thought though, is that there will always be horror films, and there always will be people watching them for various reasons. What I think we need to see is Hollywood moving away from films that concentrate on the various horrible ways that a person can be mutilated to death, to films that concentrate on ideas and concepts related to morality, and to humanities questions about it's various problems, as well as questions and fears about it's future and the unknown ... I'd like to see Hollywood making more films like Cujo, or Pan's Labyrinth (Or last years Insidious).

That would be amazing. I'm just not sure yet what exactly it is that we need in order to cause this to happen.

Persiflage wrote:

: 3 - Not much discussion of how the film handles the concept of free will on this thread. It seemed to be a fairly major theme in the film.

I actually got the opposite sense, that it WASN'T really about free will. Richard Jenkins does have a line about how the characters have a moment of freedom somewhere in the middle of the process, but the beginning and the outcome are determined by he and his colleagues; and of course Jenkins and his co-workers have a betting pool etc.; but I didn't sense anything particularly deep about this.

Besides Jenkins's comment about how they have to actually trigger a monster/serial killer of their own free will and if they "don't transgress, then they won't be punished" you have (1) voices inserting themselves inside the heads of the characters "I want to read this out loud" "Read the Latin out loud" "I want to go for a walk", etc. (2) all the characters are obviously being manipulated into making choices they normally would not make (3) Marty bringing up the idea of puppeteers, and eventually yelling that he refuses to be a puppet and is the boss of his own brain, (4) Dana trying to convince Holden that Marty was right about the puppeteers and that it doesn't matter what they decide to do, something will just suddenly happen to stop them, (5) Dana explaining towards the end that "they made us choose. They made us choose how we die" which, philosophically speaking, is not a free choice at all.

I guess I would say that, if I had noticed the theme at all, I might have framed it as one of order vs. chaos, with the betting pool being just one of several ways that people try to impose a semblance of order on chaos. (There's a chart on the wall, and a system for placing bets, etc., but the actual thing being bet on is still utterly random.) And then the film basically ends on a note of "Chaos reigns" (to quote Antichrist), as the living beings who have been trapped within the system break free of it and bring about the system's destruction (a la the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, the book version of which was quite emphatic about the role of "chaos" in all this).

Hmmm. It occurs to me that one of the reasons I might be more open to an order-vs-chaos reading of the film than a free-will-vs-no-free-will reading is because free will -- or any sort of will, really -- requires some sort of character, and I never bought any of these people as actual CHARACTERS. The film's utter incoherence on the level of world-building etc., on the other hand, actually fits very well with an order-vs-chaos way of reading things.

I could see that. In fact, both themes could probably together. In a truly chaotic world, free will is either meaningless or nonexistent. The world of this film is simply a world with evil gods whose desires are apparently identical with those desires of the consumers in our real world who have created the demand for the currently popular horror film. The five main characters are essentially trapped in a bad horror film. I understand how you might not buy any of them as "characters" but I think the point was just that they were being forced into the character roles that the cliched genre/evil gods demanded. Chris Hemsworth's character, for example, (who I'll always first remember as Captain Kirk's dad) is supposed to be more intelligent with an academic scholarship, but the role the "puppetmasters" want him to play is the jock/athlete. It's the same for all four of them, they were not really supposed to be like they appear to be at the cabin.

What's the reason why? At first, you seemed to be saying that it was there just as part of a general plan to deny our expectations, but now you seem to be saying that each and every case of expectation denial has some sort of deeper reason that is unique to that expectation denial. So what IS that deeper something, in this case?

I have the impression that Goddard and Whedon decided to play with audience expectation. I think Attica explained it better than I did earlier. The movie theater audience is almost conditioned to want Holden to not say anything about the mirror, just to use it to spy on Dana. The audience in my theater was laughing at Holden's apparent excitement when Dana starts undressing. The guys, or the monsters, watching the girls take their clothes off is common in the horror genre. It's what we expect. But Holden's conscience get's the better of him and he chooses not to. By denying our expectation, we are led to question why it is that we expect it. Later when the labcoat guys are watching, hoping to see Jules undress, they are all dissapointed (with the movie theater audience) that she turns away. When they finally do get to watch her undress, one of them pleads with her to show more skin (the audience in my theater laughed again). The new security guard asks what it matters, the reply he gets is that it's essentially what the gods want.

Religion leads towards mystification, whereas science is profoundly concerned with DEmystifying things -- making them explainable as much as possible. Of course, there will always be things that we CAN'T explain, so science is inherently limited and religion is one of the ways we have of going BEYOND science; and of course, to the extent that science and religion are both ways of explaining reality, they should agree on the reality that they are explaining (which leads to interesting tensions when we try to combine, say, evolutionary theory with a notion of life before and after "the Fall"). But the problem here, with this film, is that it mashes up these genres and worldviews without really exploring any of those tensions; instead, it consistently demystifies and renders absurd these larger mysteries, turning the horror-movie tropes into silly little performances ... and turning the gods into, well, an absurdly literalistic nihilistic joke ... Question: do the GODS have free will? Is there any reason they HAVE to be sated this way, or any reason they HAVE to make the threat that they have made?

If this film is even remotely allegorical, then I'd look at the evil gods as representative of the modern horror movie fan/filmgoer, and it would then make sense that what they want would be absurd. Because what the consumers who made the Saw and Final Destination film franchises possible want is absurd. They want and pay for sad excuses for stories and characters who die miserably in what is essentially a nihilistic world. Come to think of it, I don't know how you could ever enjoy a whole load of popular horror films out there without being something of a nihilist (it'd be better than being a sadist at least). So in this film, there's no reasonable explanation for what the gods want, but what they want is contrary to both humanity and morality, so it's with science that someone can force these things upon normal human beings. They didn't have to do it this way, but using government scientists allowed for more commentary on what they were really doing.

The underground scientific/government laboratory would then be representative of filmmakers. They use their science to make their characters do stupid things and die senseless deaths. Why? In this film to appease the evil gods - whose desires do not make any sense, other than the fact that they're evil. In the real world to profit off of the demand the horror movie fans possess to pay for and see these types of films. So the "evil gods" of the film have to be sated this way (for example, Jules needs to take her clothes off before the monsters tear her into bloody shreds) (for example, all the bloodletting can't be put a quick stop to by any one heroic act of selfless sacrifice, thus Curt dies in vain) (for example, the characters need to act, not like human beings, but stupidly like the victims of the genre are supposed to act) because that is what the actual horror film audience likes, has come to expect and keeps paying money to see.

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The whole thing is pretty obviously a metaphor for the way horror movies get made today ... The point is, though, that the gods they're sacrificing to are us. The Audience. We have a both a seemingly insatiable desire for more blood and gore and trashy thrills ... So that's why the gods are so undefined ... they're our desires as an audience.

Precisely. I completely agree with you here.

We have a both a seemingly insatiable desire for more blood and gore and trashy thrills, as well as a deep need to deal with our dark fears and nightmares by bringing them into the light and looking at them from the outside in horror movies. As such, it is important to keep us satisfied ... that if we don't deal with those issues, we can go kinda crazy ... So that's why the gods are so undefined--they're our inner demons, they're our desires as an audience. When we go crazy at the end because the movie hasn't played out the way we wanted it to, it could mean two things: 1. We have finally seen the failure of the slasher genre and all it's stupid cliches, and are finally empowered as an audience to demand something newer and better for our horror fix. or 2. Without any proper distance from our horrors through the movies of the world, our inner demons are unleashed and we go crazy and pretty much destroy the world because we have nothing to vicariously get rid of these ugly impulses on.

I don't follow you here though. We have a deep need to deal with our dark fears? We use horror movies to satisfy our inner demons? We have a horror fix or we need to get rid of our ugly impulses through vicarious means? I doubt the majority of the horror films that The Cabin in the Woods is criticizing have any cleansing affect on the audience. I doubt that the blood, torture and slaughter deals with anyone's dark desires or helps them deal with anything at all - on the contrary, I think it makes the audience worse. Speaking personally, I was in the military when I saw the majority of horror films that I saw, and it was not healthy to watch them in any way at all. My buddies and I were worse off after seeing them than we were before.

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I don't follow you here though. We have a deep need to deal with our dark fears? We use horror movies to satisfy our inner demons? We have a horror fix or we need to get rid of our ugly impulses through vicarious means? I doubt the majority of the horror films that The Cabin in the Woods is criticizing have any cleansing affect on the audience. I doubt that the blood, torture and slaughter deals with anyone's dark desires or helps them deal with anything at all - on the contrary, I think it makes the audience worse. Speaking personally, I was in the military when I saw the majority of horror films that I saw, and it was not healthy to watch them in any way at all. My buddies and I were worse off after seeing them than we were before.

Fair enough. I don't think slasher movies or things like Hostel are positive, either. What I was trying to say is that the genre of Horror as a whole--whether cinematic or literary or something else--allows us to deal with our darkest urges by experiencing them vicariously through art. "Dealing with" is a little vague and undefined, and I guess it could mean we get it out of our system, or decide it's not as scary as we thought it was, or acknowledge that evil does truly exist instead of hiding it away, or a number of other things, depending on the person and the work of horror. Books like "Frankenstein" or "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and most of the films on the A&F Top 25 Horror Films are great because they are able to analyze these deep fears within a moral and spiritual dimension. The fact that the film presents the labs and playing out of the rituals as a worldwide phenomenon, and connects them back in history with throwing virgins into volcanoes and the sacrifices of the Aztecs seems to me to be attempting to say that these dark desires are inherent in us as a species. What "the director" says at the end about the end of the world suggests we need these sacrifices to avoid going completely crazy, that if we don't deal with these demons through art, we become completely self-destructive.

But thinking about it now, the weight of evidence in the film does seem to be against sacrifices like these altogether. It's presenting slasher movies as things that kill actual people, just as human sacrifices of the Aztecs 500 years ago, and that's not really "dealing with something through art," but an ugly, sadistic impulse that we'd be better off without. So the movie may not really be supporting Horror as a genre at all, or at least it's much more obviously critical of it than it is positive about the long-range possibilities. The horror movies lampooned here are clearly trash, it's just a question (to me at least) whether the film itself is calling for better horror movies that are more morally complex, or just calling for an end to Horror altogether since it taps into our ugliest, most violent, sinful sides.

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StephenM said:

:What I was trying to say is that the genre of Horror as a whole--whether cinematic or literary or something else--allows us to deal with our darkest urges by experiencing them vicariously through art. "Dealing with" is a little vague and undefined, and I guess it could mean we get it out of our system, or decide it's not as scary as we thought it was, or acknowledge that evil does truly exist instead of hiding it away, or a number of other things, depending on the person and the work of horror. Books like "Frankenstein" or "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and most of the films on the A&F Top 25 Horror Films are great because they are able to analyze these deep fears within a moral and spiritual dimension. The fact that the film presents the labs and playing out of the rituals as a worldwide phenomenon, and connects them back in history with throwing virgins into volcanoes and the sacrifices of the Aztecs seems to me to be attempting to say that these dark desires are inherent in us as a species. What "the director" says at the end about the end of the world suggests we need these sacrifices to avoid going completely crazy, that if we don't deal with these demons through art, we become completely self-destructive.

But thinking about it now, the weight of evidence in the film does seem to be against sacrifices like these altogether. It's presenting slasher movies as things that kill actual people, just as human sacrifices of the Aztecs 500 years ago, and that's not really "dealing with something through art," but an ugly, sadistic impulse that we'd be better off without. So the movie may not really be supporting Horror as a genre at all, or at least it's much more obviously critical of it than it is positive about the long-range possibilities. The horror movies lampooned here are clearly trash, it's just a question (to me at least) whether the film itself is calling for better horror movies that are more morally complex, or just calling for an end to Horror altogether since it taps into our ugliest, most violent, sinful sides.

I'm under the opinion that horror (when done right) is profoundly moral and touches on what's good in us. We wouldn't be disturbed by horror films if it didn't. It's because of the good in us that we find the darkness in horror films disturbing and have that chill run up our back. If they just touched on the darkness in us we would be completely numb or uncarring to what is going on. When were revolted by something horrible in a horror film it's because whats moral in us cries out "that's wrong". Of course bad horror films can probably twist this.

A good horror film doesn't just help us cope with our fears and such (although there is an element of that) it tells us that we live in a world where evil exists, our choices matter, there is spiritual things beyond our understanding, ect. It tells us that evil behaviour is painful, degrading, and has bad consequences. It leads us to care for the monsters around us (Frankenstein), or leads us to be wary of the evil doers. It tells us that love will have us fight for those we love even at a potentially terrible cost (Cujo and a multitude of other horror films.) It says that we can rise up against and conquer incredible challenges and encourages us to. Often good horror films say that we might live in a world where there is darkness, but there is a light there as well.... in our good choices, in our heroic attempts to fight against the darkness, in our singular purpose and bravery. There might be a lot of death in most horror story.... but the story is really about people who want to live against all odds.

Also Horror films have a cosmic dimension just as the monsters depicted in the Bible. They're not just monsters, but are saying something more than what they are depicted as. For instance when the Bible talks about God grabbing a terrible monster and smashing it against the rocks it's not just talking about God bringing down some evil so and so King.... it's talking about God destroying cosmic evil that is connected with these peoples evil acts. God destroys the cosmic evil and brings light into the darness. A good horror film isn't about the darkness.... but about the light shining in the darkness that will never go out.

Likewise in a horror film when the good guy banishes the monster with the cross, or kills the mummy it can relate to us on a cosmic level. It says that we have the responsibility to stand against what's wrong and make it right.

A good horror story isn't about celebrating evil and death...... it's about overcoming evil, and life.

When done right it's very much in the tradition of the folk tale.... where we are encouraged to flee from evil, be suitably cautious of such things, and live morally undestructive lives in a world that has "dimensions" to it that are beyond our understanding..... thus opening us up to a comprehension of the spiritual world in which we really live, where our choices matter in a cosmic way.

If that makes any sense.

So when done right a horror film doesn't tap into our Hyde side, but taps into our Jeckyl, showing us the darkness of whatever potential Hyde is in us, and telling us to reject it.

Edited by Attica

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Persiflage said:

:With friends who watched these films constantly, I've sat down and watched most of a few Saw and Hostel films. I felt sick and ashamed afterwards and still the memory comes back only with a sense of guilt.

Yeah. That's one of the reasons I avoid that strain of horror. I've never even seen the Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Halloween. Although I've heard that Halloween is quite good.

:That would be amazing. I'm just not sure yet what exactly it is that we need in order to cause this to happen.

I've been pondering this off an on all day. I'd think that stuff like the Arts and Faith top 25 Horror films is a step in the right direction. People need to be educated to understanding that satisfaction from film (including horror) comes not just from a response during the film but the affects films have on us after we leave the theatre, whether it's in the later discussions, or the insights the film has given us to ponder. Or the affect the film has on our hearts leading to our society.

What one can largely see is probably two main camps when it comes to horror films. One camp (being the main camp that Christians are in) is the one that hears the word "horror" and has a knee jerk reaction largely writing it off as being anything from a waste to completely destructive. The other camp is of course the group that Cabin in the Woods is riffing on, being the folks who go to horror films for the visceral thrills that they get from what's presented on the screen.

But then of course there is a smaller third camp. Which is probably where most Arts and Faithers would lie, hence this conversation. This is the camp that doesn't outright reject all horror films, but wades in with caution, attempting to discern what the film is saying and it's place and influence on themselves and society. This group gets satisfaction not mainly from the visceral thrills of the film as much as from the quality and impact of the story. Not that a few creeps and jumps are a bad thing.

So being that Hollywood is making the slasher films in question because they are making good returns, then the obvious answer would be to get people to watch and support the good stuff when it comes into the theatres. Which would be achieved by pulling those people from the first to camps into the third camp. We can do this by educating the group in the first camp about the value of good horror films, being that they are not ALL "evil" and bad for us, but can be good for our intellectual, emotional, and spiritual lives....... and also educating the second camp into discerning when a film isn't good for them or society, and leading them to support the good stuff.

Of course then it comes down to the matter of people's views on what's good and bad. But the big problem in the situation isn't that people's viewpoints on this don't always line up..... but that most people don't really think about what's good or bad about the horror film in the first place. They either accept or reject the horror film without really thinking it through.

So at this juncture I'm thinking the answer is to simply get more people thinking seriously about, and discussing, these films.... and then maybe they'll start supporting more worthwhile films. Of course we can start by all rushing out to see our very own Scott Derrickson's new film when it hits the theatres. thumbsup.gif

But even this weekend "the Raven" is coming out, and it looks like it might be an interesting film from this perspective. Edit: Then again from what reviews are now saying, maybe not.

Edited by Attica

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