"On another level it’s a serious critique of what we love and what we don’t about horror movies. I love being scared. I love that mixture of thrill, of horror, that objectification/identification thing of wanting definitely for the people to be alright but at the same time hoping they’ll go somewhere dark and face something awful. 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. Drew and I both felt that the pendulum had swung a little too far in that direction."
Five friends go to an isolated cabin in the woods for a weekend vacation. What could possibly go wrong?The Cabin in the Woods is a 2012 horror movie that sets itself apart from other horror movies by virtue of its co-writersnote Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (Cloverfield), who also directed this film and by deconstructing both the "cabin in the woods" setting and the horror genre. The film stars Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Amy Acker, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. There's also a book adaptation.Feel free to watch the trailer, but know that it spoils the film a bit.Speaking of spoilers, discussing tropes found within this work will spoil damn near the entire film. To put this in perspective, the DVD box blurb only describes the plot to the extent of "bad things happening" when the five teenagers go to the cabin, and nothing else. In order to retain the movie's surprise(s), avoid the folder titled "Spoiler Tropes" completely. The "'Safe' Tropes" folder can also spoil the film's surprises, so it is advised to avoid the tropes on this page.Seriously. Watch the movie first, then come back. This cannot be repeated enough.
This film provides examples of the following tropes:
All Men Are Perverts: When Jules and Curt go off to fool around in the forest, the control room is packed to capacity with male staffers, all of whom are eager to see some action. They only leave (with plenty of Awwws of disappointment) when Hadley shoos them out of the room.
America Saves the Day: A decidedly grim version. All of the other scenarios fail, even in Japan - earlier stated to have a 100% success ratio. It's down to the success of the American scenario to save the day! ... And ultimately subverted when Marty and Dana survive to the end.
Anyone Can Die: In addition to the usual expected horror movie deaths, this trope is also openly invoked as a plot point.
Audience Surrogate: Truman, the new recruit on the team of the controllers who has to have most of the concepts explained to him.
Awesome, but Impractical: Pa Buckner's beartrap-and-chain. It's plenty menacing and a decent snare, but it repeatedly fails to cause major injury to its victims, to the frustration of all killing and torture goals.
Barrier-Busting Blow: One of the zombies pulls Marty through a window. Later on, a giant Vampire Bat smashes an agency employee into and through a wall, giving Marty and Dana an escape route.
Creepy Gas Station Attendant: Mordecai. In this case he's not just set dressing, it's important that the sacrifices choose to continue to the Cabin of their own free will, despite the creepy old guy warning them that "gettin' back is your concern." He also provides the same service to the men running the secret program, and just like the college students, they ignore his warning and doom themselves.
The Cuckoo Lander Was Right: Marty was surprisingly on the money about a lot of things even before they started to go to hell. Apparently, his pot has made him mostly immune to the controller's attempts to control him
Cultural Translation: In-Universe; the Kyoto scenario invokes J-Horror tropes rather than American Horror Tropes. It's stated by the Director that all other locations also use specific local iterations of said horror tropes.
Curiosity Killed the Cast: The controllers' job is to lead them to the cellar (and keep them contained in the staging site). But once the cellar is open, its various artifacts exposed to the group's curiosity, the controllers can't do anything. It's up to the teens themselves to actually pick one. Of course, they all find something that interests them personally, and it was just a matter of who would activate their artifact first.
Developing Doomed Characters: Played with in that it exists primarily to show how the controllers change them to fit their assigned roles, even when others in the group would naturally fit those roles.
Devil but No God: The Ancient Ones are seemingly the only divine beings of any consequence and they will go on an apocalyptic rampage the moment they fail to receive their full annual tribute.
The Determinator: Curt. He goes from sensible, level-headed guy to headstrong savior to grease spot at the bottom of the canyon.
Dont Go In The Woods: Invoked. The person who tells them this is one of the controllers' minions, and he was raising tension as part of the experiment—at least, from what the trailer tells us.
Driven to Suicide: During the "Code Black," we briefly see one of the controllers shooting herself in the head when she realizes the monsters are coming for her.
Dumb Blonde: Yet another Invoked Trope. Jules is neither naturally blonde nor dumb, but her hair dye has been treated with a slow-acting toxin that retards cognitive ability.
Epic Fail: We know early on/from the trailers that there's an invisible grid blocking off the cabin area. Curt does not. Curt jumps his dirtbike right into it, it STOPS him mid-jump and he falls down to the bottom of the canyon.
Everybody Lives: The Japanese scenario. At least until the failure of the US branch leads to the end of the world...
Evil Is One Big Happy Family: It's notable that the monsters somehow manage to share the bevy of fresh victims they're presented without so much as a hint of conflict between them.
Evil Only Has to Win Once: There are sites all around the world to provide sacrifices, and every year at least one has to succeed. But if the Ancient Ones aren't placated properly just once, that's all she wrote.
Final Girl: Enforced. Dana (the virgin) is allowed to live as long as she is the last one standing. Even when she and Marty have broken into the controller base, the guards are ordered to kill the virgin last. She's not actually a virgin, but the villains "work with what they've got."
Marty's comment about how society should crumble, but we're all too afraid to let it, foreshadows the end.
Lampshaded with Mordecai, "the harbinger," whose job it is to let the co-eds know that they're going into danger. In the process, he calls Jules a whore, referring to her part in the ritual and later mentions to the controllers how Marty came close to ruining the whole setup by "nearly derailing the invocation with his insolence".
the creepy painting in the cabin shows five people in a wood, conforming to the archetypes, tearing a lamb to pieces as a mysterious figure in the background watches referencing how the five sacrifices must participate in their own destruction under the direction of the controllers.
the Ancient Ones make the facility tremble when the Fool "dies". The controllers think that they’re just getting excited, but they’re probably pissed off that the sacrifice is going wrong and the controllers haven’t noticed.
The Fool: Marty is called this by many, but he surprisingly fits into the Tarot archetype beyond just being a hippie stoner—he manages to succeed where others fail, often by pure luck.
The whole movie can be seen as a subversion of the concept, as the main characters often exhibit Genre Savvy but every time they do so the controllers sabotage them so that the sacrifice can proceed according to plan.
More conventionally, Marty is the only truly Genre Savvy member of the group, because the drugs that were supposed to make sure he wouldn't be were neutralized by his heavy marijuana use.
Hope Spot: On the villain side. Sitterson has just watched his colleagues get killed by monsters, but the escape hatch is open and he makes it out... right in time for a trowel to the gut by the very people he's been trying to kill.
Hotter and Sexier: The white board for the betting pool has "witches" and "sexy witches" Though you never get to see them.
Human Sacrifice: Necessary to appease the Ancient Ones, though they don't just want deaths, but suffering as well.
Hypno Trinket: Presumably, the necklace that Jules almost put on before being interrupted by Dana in the cellar.
I Need a Freaking Drink: When the scientists start cracking open beers, Lin says that while Hadley and Sitterson are celebrating, she is drinking.
Immune to Bullets: The killer clown, as evidenced by it appearing ticklish to gunshots as it closes on its victim.
Industrialized Evil: The controllers have done this so long, they're completely desensitized to it and run a betting pool for fun. What's more, they've basically turned ritualistic murder into a factory assembly job.
Irony: Of the dramatic variety. We are conditioned to think of the people as sacrifices because they are referred to as such. But in actuality, they are the heroes and heroines of their respective stories. The irony, then, is that the world is ended by ancient horrors because this time around Humanity managed to score a win against the forces of darkness. Is anyone aware of another example where winning every battle costs you the war?
When Truman objects to manipulating the teens to have sex in the woods, just so the cameras can capture Jules' nudity, the controllers respond with "Gotta keep the customers satisfied."
When The Director mentions "Eight minutes to sunrise" when talking about the Gods destroying the Earth, there are eight minutes left until the lights come up in the movie theater.
Let's Split Up, Gang/Never Split the Party: When the zombies are attacking everyone in the cabin, Curt says they shouldn't split up under any circumstances. The controllers then release a new gas, causing him to turn around and say they should all split up and go into their own rooms. Marty's response to all of this is a confused "Really?"
Lovable Jock: Curt and Holden. At first, anyway. The controllers use mind-altering chemicals to turn Curt into a Jerk Jock, and Holden into a Hollywood Nerd to fulfill their roles in the ritual.
Necessarily Evil: The Controllers and the Director are this, especially the latter (the former have grown desensitized over time). But as long as their program is successful, the Ancient Ones stay dormant, and the world is saved for a little bit longer.
Negated Moment of Awesome: Curt attempts to jump a canyon in a motorbike in order to get help, but only succeeds in smashing into the forcefield surrounding the cabin.
Never Trust a Trailer: It's a Deconstructive Parody of horror films. It's advertised as a straight horror film. Ironically, this is one of the few films where it could be argued that this is exactly the mindset the viewer should have before watching the film.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Assuming that Hadley and Sitterson can be called "heroes." Failing to check up on Marty after he was dragged off-camera resulted in the so-called "Fool" sabotaging the base, rescuing Dana and completely trashing the ritual- resulting in the extinction of the entire human race.
Nothing Is Scarier: One of the things listed on a whiteboard of monsters is simply named "Kevin". We never find out who or what Kevin is, let alone what he/it looks like. It might be a reference to the Sin City villain.
The wolf head mounted on the wall counts, especially when it's staring directly at the camera. You're just waiting for something to happen... and nothing does.
Monitors show the results of failed operations around the world, including a house burning down in Berlin and a giant monster in downtown Buenos Aires. Not much context is provided.
The US branch has a nigh-spotless record marred only by 1998, when the Chemical Department screwed up. No further elaboration is made, giving rise to fan theories that it's a possible Take That to a particular horror film released that year. Speculation has arisen that this line is referencing The Faculty, in which there are the five archetype characters, but none of them die. The alien that was attacking them is also killed by narcotics, hence the Chemical Department's failure.
No Sell: Marty is immune to the mind-altering chemicals being pumped into the cabin because of his marijuana usage; it turns out that the Chem Department knew about this and treated most of his weed stashes with another batch of psychotropics. Unfortunately for them, they missed the stash that Marty actually brought with him.
Not so Above It All: Lin tries to present herself as distanced from the "clowning" behavior of Sitterson and Hadley, such as their organizing the office betting pool about which horror scenario the kids will incur. But this doesn't fool Hadley, who, after asking whether Truman is placing a bet, simply reaches out wordlessly in Lin's direction. Lin sheepishly stuffs some money and her prediction into his hand.
Off the Rails: Marty and Dana leave the boundaries of the intended kill-zone when they enter the underground facility.
Oh Crap: The SWAT team's reaction when they realize the monsters have all been released. Then again when two more SWAT guys end up at the elevator room just in time for the next *Ding!*.
One Last Smoke: Marty and Dana share one last joint before the world goes to hell in a hand basket.
The Only One: Averted. The obvious one here is the Japan branch's work with the schoolgirls, but considering the dozen of other operations we're given glimpses of, there are quite a few other stories going on in the periphery of this one.
Only a Flesh Wound: Marty and Curtis are both stabbed in the back, yet show no effects from their injuries in later scenes. The bear trap weapon also seems to have little effect on anyone except tying them up for a moment.
Only Sane Man: Marty, who keeps cautioning the group against actions like reading the mysterious Latin. His pot-smoking has made him Properly Paranoid as well as resistant to the mind-altering chemicals used by the villains- mainly due to a mistake on their part.
Our Zombies Are Different: In fact, "zombie redneck torture family" and "zombies" are classified as two separate species on the board. The Intern and Maintenance split the pool for the former arriving first, but the regular zombies appear later. To be more specific, regular zombies are the popular zombies; undead which hunger for human flesh. The "zombie redneck torture family" are merely undead sociopaths.
Sitterson: This is 'zombie redneck torture family'. See? They're entirely separate species. Like the difference between an elephant and an elephant seal.
Pet the Dog: Subverted. Sitterson and Hadley spend most of the movie manipulating the Main Characters into meeting their gory ends. When it looks like everyone but Dana has died and their job is done, Hadley starts to comment how he's actually rooting for Dana to survive after all the torment they've put her through, but he doesn't even finish that sentence before breaking out the tequila and declaring it party time. What follows is a big office party with everyone having a good time and congratulating themselves, paying no attention as Dana gets savaged by a zombie in the background.
The Power of Friendship: Used to defeat the ghost in the Japanese scenario. Now she'll live happily as a frog... at least until the world ends.
Punch Clock Villain: Every character responsible for operations (with exception to The Director) have shades of this. Bonus points for Truman, who makes a point of being aware of this. The fact that they're doing it to save the world each year explains why they're otherwise normal people.
Railroading: Hadley and Sitterson resort to this with pheromone mists and remote-control doors.
Really Gets Around: Subverted with Jules, who gets pushed into the role of "the whore" by the villains with drugs and pheromones. She recalls an apparent tryst with Marty in their freshman year, but Marty makes it clear that nothing happened.
It becomes clear rather quickly that the events of the cabin are being controlled by the lab of scientists, who are making the scenario play out as a horror scenario should, i.e. everyone dying except the virgin, the characters making stupid decisions, etc., through the use of pheromones that influence their thought processes.
The lab is actually filled with monsters in glass cages, including zombies, giant spiders, evil clowns, demonic spirits, etc. The artifacts in the basement of the cabin each hook in to a different monster, and what monster was released depended on what artifact was selected first.
And then the ultimate reveal: The whole experiment in the lab is actually to complete an annual ritual created by demonic beings called "The Ancient Ones", who enjoy watching humans suffer. The ritual requires at least five people (and at least one each of: The Athlete, The Whore, The Scholar, The Fool, and The Virgin) to die in horrific ways, while saving the virgin for last. If the ritual is not completed, The Ancient Ones will destroy the Earth. There are several labs all across the world, and their sole purpose is to ensure the scenario plays off without a hitch (see the first reveal), which is why horror characters always make such bad decisions. As it turns out, the entire fate of the world depends on it!
The Evil Dead: College friends, cabin in the woods, evil basement, ominous book with ancient chant, and evil molesting trees. "Deadites" also show up on the betting board. The cabin itself looks almost identical to the one from the Raimi movies.
Hellraiser: The pale guy in black bondage gear, holding a puzzlebox, with sharp metal things embedded in his head.
Alien: On a monitor during "The Carnage" you can see the foot of a Xenomorph advance towards a cowering woman, the same way the shot happened in the first Alien film.
Left 4 Dead: A Boomer, a Hunter, a Tank and a Witch are seen among the various monsters, apparently using the in-game models and animations no less.
The third act is full of shout outs to a bevy of horror films from recent years, among the more generic zombies and Giant Spiders are some doll-masked strangers, a torturer in a mask and leather apron straight from Hostel and the scarecrows that tear apart Truman are actually from the 80's B-movie of the same name, they even get taken out the same way.
Carrie: The very end, with the hand coming out of the ground, might be a reference to the ending of Carrie.
The shifting square containment cells might be a shout out to Cube.
On one of the television monitors, we can see a King Kong expy lying on the ground dead.
The Shining: The twin girls can be seen when all the containment cells are shown. Later a pair of elevator doors open to reveal a flood of blood.
The Strangers: some of the villains in the carnage are a group of silent, well-dressed men and women with white porcelain masks. They are later seen dousing some bound technicians with gasoline and lighting them offscreen.
Funny Games: The rather jarring title card at the beginning is the same effect (red block letters, sudden sound, quiet conversation leadup) in both films.
Silent Hill: The Vampire Bat bursting through the plate glass window toward the end is pretty much exactly how the first fight in the first Silent Hill game begins.
Slashers Prefer Blondes: Enforced as Jules dyes her hair blonde just before the trip. The controllers even put toxins and pheromones in the dye to influence her behavior.
Smart People Know Latin: Played very deliberately. There is literally nothing to establish Holden as the Smart Guy except that glasses suddenly appear on his face in the basement and and he equally suddenly remembers enough high school Latin to decipher the incantation. The only reason he's The Scholar is because the controllers decided he is.
Sound Track Dissonance: The big office party with cheerful music playing while Dana gets savaged by a zombie in the background.
Spooky Painting: The hunting scene portrayed in Holden's room is kinda.... visceral.
The Stars Are Going Out: Marty notices that there are no stars outside, despite being out in the middle of the woods.
The Stoner: One of the protagonists. Interestingly, since the Chem department forgets to tamper with one of his weed stashes, his drug-use makes him immune to the pheromones, making him immune to the enforced genre-blindness.
Truman blows himself and a bunch of scarecrows up with a grenade. Still doesn't save Hadley, Sitterson and Lin.
Marty and Dana do it to the whole of humanity.
Targeted Human Sacrifice: The sacrifices have to fit certain archetypes for the ritual to work. Amusingly, many of them do have elements of the archetypes required, but not the ones they are manipulated into. For example, Curtis is a smart guy with an in-depth knowledge of Russian philosophy and a full academic scholarship, but he's "the Athlete." Holden, on the other hand, has "the best hands on the team" by Curtis's admission, without any academic merits mentioned, but he's "the Scholar" (we later learn that he can read Latin). Marty notices that Jules's newfound sexuality and Curtis's alpha-male posturing are out of character for them. Dana is shocked by being dubbed "the Virgin," and the beginning of the movie even establishes that she recently had an affair with her professor.
It is justified, if you think about it for a bit. With Curtis and Jules being in an established relationship, they had to be the alpha couple. Alpha couples in horror movies usually consist of a Big Man on Campus type and his trophy Alpha Bitch. Nobody else is allowed to be in a relationship at the start of the story unless they are in a relationship with another example of their archetype. Everyone else just had to fit into the other roles, so, as the Director said, they worked with what they had.
Taxidermy Terror: Beautifully played with. The cabin that the college kids go to has a mounted wolf's head on one of the walls, which creeps them out. In the evening, when they're playing "truth or dare", Jules has to make out with it on her dare. She does so, and then nothing happens. It was never alive.
Too Dumb to Live: Seriously, what organization in their right mind would have a BIG RED BUTTON that releases every single monster at once, and then puts it in an unguarded, unlocked room? Better yet, why is the process of opening an escape hatch more complicated than releasing all of the monsters?
Trailers Always Spoil: Played straight with Marty's apparent "death". The double-bluff structure of the film averts this trope; the trailers spoil that there's science behind the magic, but not the magic behind the science.
Trapped in TV Land: Borderline example. It's implied that the monsters that appear in the last third are inspired by movie monsters.
A possible reference to Whedon show Dollhouse in which Topher Brink, also played by Fran Kranz, is uncomfortable with the word "erection" and prefers the term "man reaction".
Virgin Sacrifice: The controllers regret that they can no longer just toss a girl into a volcano as a sacrifice, referencing this trope. They now have to go by stock horror film cliches, which ironically often leaves the virgin Final Girl alive. There's also the problem of getting an actual virgin; they just work with what they can get.
Well-Intentioned Extremist: The scientists controlling everything are doing so as part of a ritual that prevents the Bigger Bad "Ancient Ones" from rising and destroying the world.
Cube Zero (showing things from the perspective of both the trapped protagonists and the bored workers charged with monitoring and manipulating them) and The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (a secret organization with paranormal ties uses captive psychos to terrorize and kill people in the name of horror).
You Bastard: The Ancient Ones are basically horror movie viewers. They watch people die in horrific, troperiffic ways, and, when their world does not go as they wanted it to, want to make it go away. And it's hard to not see the scientists/puppeteers as a metaphor for Hollywood's current horror output, repeating the same formula ad infinitum to appease its target audience's appetite for sex and gore as religiously as any ancient ritual. And you can see the two main scientists as a metaphor for a writer and a director, forced to keep putting out the same dross and lamenting their inability to try anything creative. 'I'll never see a merman,' indeed.
Hell, the head of the puppeteer's agency is even called 'The Director'. And she's gonna make sure the audience gets what it wants.
Apocalypse How: Class X with the Ancient Ones destroying the the planet after the ritual has failed.
The Cassandra: Marty's use of marijuana- coupled with the Chem Department's failure to treat his current stash with intelligence-reducing drugs- negates the effect of the chemicals the Nebulous Evil Organization is pumping in to alter their behavior, so he's the only one to notice that things aren't as they should be... but because he is smoking pot, his warnings are ignored.
Marty: I've seen Curt drunk! Jules too!
Dana: Well, maybe it's something else... *Glances at the joint Marty's holding*
Playing Against Type/Square Peg Round Trope: In-universe, the forced roles of the victims are dismissed as working with available tools, but Holden ("The Scholar") and Curt ("The Athlete") both qualified for the other's archetype better than they did their own, Dana ("The Virgin") is pointedly not a virgin, and was in fact screwing her professor, Jules ("The Whore") was the smarter and more wholesome of the two girls, and though Marty ("The Fool") really was a stoner and a bit of a nut, it becomes clear that he's a bit cannier than first impressions suggest- clear to everyone except the Chem department, of course. This can make for a fair bit of foreshadowing as to the eventual failure of the ritual—the technicians couldn't even get the casting right, how were they gonna get everything else right?
Physical God: Judging from the giant fiery hand we see at the end, it can be inferred that the Ancient Ones are this.
Ramp Jump: The motorbike jump. Apparently it didn't work.