Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Revisiting The Cabin In The Woods

Warning: This post is about interpreting the movie The Cabin In The Woods, and as such, contains spoilers. Anyway, it will make much more sense to you after you've seen the movie. ;-)

I've been thinking pretty much nonstop about The Cabin in the Woods ever since I watched it a second time the other day (not by choice, but to show it to a friend). In spite of what I wrote in my review of it, I don't want people to think that I think it's a bad movie. As a horror movie, it's not very scary, but I'll admit it's fun, and yes, even clever. I like the tone of the film, and the way it plays around with the character tropes is smart. The whole idea of the control room and the interchangeable monsters is fascinating, as well.

But it kind of breaks down when the old gods are introduced. It's an intriguing plot point, but it doesn't completely make sense. And then I went on to read that fans are interpreting this movie as a critique of horror films. Which is an obvious conclusion given the way the film toys around with the usual cliches. But where the old gods are concerned, it's not so straightforward. A lot of people are saying the old gods are a symbolic representation of horror fans, who rise up and complain when a horror movie dares to break formula.

But that's never made sense to me - me, a horror fan who is far more familiar with other horror fans complaining that horror movies are too formulaic! Plus, it's downright offensive for me to watch a movie that purports to be horror, only to present the conclusion that horror movies are dull and formulaic because the horror fans demand it! And that's where a lot of my anger and distaste towards the film that was expressed in my review originated from.

After my second viewing, and going so far as to watch the audio commentary on the DVD, featuring Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard - the writers and director of the film - in the hope that they would explain what their intention for the movie's interpretation was (which they frustratingly avoided saying much about), I began to wonder if this whole "the old gods are horror fans" theory was just fan-generated pseudo-analysis. So I decided to query the members at IMDb, although I haven't found much evidence one way or another.

But, in discussing my thoughts with other fans - some of them very defensive - I have managed to reason out an exciting alternative interpretation of the film that not only makes more sense, but is far less offensive to me as a horror fan. If it holds any water, then my appreciation for this movie may just jump up a step or two (although I still think the fanbase has an attitude of excessive self-importance about the movie, and I don't actually credit the filmmakers for the cleverness of my interpretation because I don't believe they're that clever, unless they're willing to state on record that this, and not the other fan-generated garbage, was their intended interpretation for the film).

After rejecting the "horror fans" interpretation of the symbology of the old gods, I considered various other theories, such as the old gods representing mindless consumers (a more pointed and less scathing form of the audience interpretation), and the old gods representing the studio heads, who are interested in turning an easy profit at the expense of creativity. But, while both of these interpretations are less offensive than calling the old gods horror fans, neither of them entirely make sense, either.

So I ditched the consumerist perspective, and instead focused on a few lines from the film - spoken by the men in the control room, as well as the character 'The Director' at the end of the movie - about punishing the transgressions of youth, and I think I've come up with an interpretive theory that is both unoffensive to horror fans, and actually makes good sense! I will copy my IMDb post where I made this realization here, as it pretty well explains my theory.

Quoted from IMDb.com:

One of the things I can't wrap my head around is this idea that "the transgressions of youth must be punished". It is clear that in the tradition of slasher films, the characters who drink, toke, and have sex are quickly dispatched. What's not clear is why this is.

I mean, like, are these horror movies being made by our conservative elders? Are they trying to tell us, "misbehave, and you'll die"? It's like a classic bogeyman story. "The monster in the closet eats children who don't behave."

That sounds strangely like the psychology behind the "old gods" in this movie. They demand that young people be punished for their transgressions (which is why the virgin gets a free pass - although don't ask me why sex is the hinge more than any other factor).

But where it breaks down is trying to equate the old gods with horror fans. Your mother is the one who tells you that there will be consequences if you make bad decisions. Your mother isn't the person going out to watch horror movies because she loves to watch bad kids being punished. You're the one who watches it, because you love to see the sex and the drugs and the violence! Ironically, the conservative subtext is completely lost on you (for better or worse).

But the conclusion here is that the old gods can't be the fans. The old gods are this mysterious force that insists that horror movies carry a conservative subtext, to make up for its gratuitous entertainment value. I honestly don't know where that force resides. Perhaps partly in the minds of certain filmmakers who actually feel that way, although that's probably rare.

I feel like it has more to do with CRITICS of the horror genre - not fans, but people who hate the thought that other people watch this stuff for entertainment. People who think watching horror leads to committing acts of violence, and people who think sex and drugs and violence are immoral sources of entertainment. The people who came up with the Hays Code for example. Not people who love horror!

Of course, that begs the question of why people who hate horror have so much influence on how horror movies are made. And I would have loved to see a movie that pokes fun at that fact. But alas, the Cabin in the Woods can only have a shot at doing that if the old gods represent conservative busybodies - politicians and lobbyists and religious moralists. Hey, now that's a clever interpretation!

And, as an afterthought, that's why I love exploitation cinema. It's basically a huge middle finger - not to horror fans, thank you very much - but to the "old gods" who insist that immoral entertainment carry some kind of moral center. I'll work out my own damn morals for myself, thank you very much. =D

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