If you go to see The Cabin in the Woods (TCITW) and expect to see a horror movie, you may be disappointed. While writer Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard’s meta-horror film delivers some scares, the overriding message will be lost if you don’t allow the film to be what it’s meant to be: a philosophical dissection of social power dynamics and, more importantly, humanity.
Its vehicle for explication is horror film plot structure, wherein victims allow themselves to become victimized because of their stupidity – i.e. the victim isolates him- or herself, tempts the murderer, or, worst of all, doesn’t even suspect an evil threat and, therefore, is easy game. By highlighting the emptiness of characters in films like Friday the 13th (1980) and Halloween (1978), TCITW questions where these stereotypes – the whore, the jock, the smart guy, the nerd/fool, the virgin – come from and why they exist. Goddard and Whedon realize that fear keeps people in their place – fear of humiliation, fear of incompetence, fear of the unknown, and more than anything, fear of facing the mystery of existence and the nuts-and-bolts cruelty used to maintain power in this existence.
Here, TCITW flips the power dynamic on its head and aptly, poignantly, and powerfully (despite its mockingly silly tone) actualizes the fool of old (Shakespeare’s fools always held intelligence and intuition over their rulers’ heads). Marty (played by Fran Kranz) is not just the seer but the game-changer. The fool in today’s world is no longer held down by rules of old. Everything is on the precipice.
When the director (Sigourney Weaver) tells the virgin that if she doesn’t kill the fool, then the gods of old will destroy the world (because it’s his blood, not the virgin’s, that will maintain order and appease their appetites), the fool summons his fear (in the form of a wolf-man) to attack the virgin. The fool knows that the virgin is no longer the inspiration – the virgin can’t feel true pain because she has never been violated in the way that the fool has been. It’s the fool – the one who has been shit on for the entirety of the world – that questions the power dynamic and poses the question: if this is humanity, then isn’t it time for this world to be destroyed? But not destroyed by the gods of old but by chaos (as represented by the vigilante gods of old in the film). The power shift happens when the fool’s insight penetrates the armor of the director. A new power dynamic will come into play, and as scary as this might seem, it is a must. The fool knows this. He’s always known this.
John Lennon’s infamous lyrics came to me as I dwelled on this film: “I don’t believe in Hitler / I don’t believe in Jesus… / I don’t believe in Beatles / I just believe in me.” Power lies within the thinker and feeler, and only when both parts of the mind come together does true change come. Fear knows both sides of the world, and TCITW shows that both sides must magnetize towards one another to fill its gaps for a less vengeance-friendly world.
For those looking for a visceral scare, look elsewhere. But for those looking for new avenues of enlightenment, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon are here to tell you: any avenue is valid, as long as you have the arsenal.