"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, AnnaHutchison, Jesse Williams, Amy Acker, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. There's also a book adaptation. In 2013, Universal Studios Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights event will feature a haunted attraction based on the film.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.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.
And when Lin has to increase the drug dosage.
Lin: Do we pipe it in, or do you want to do it orally?
America Saves the Day: A decidedly grim version. All of the other scenarios fail, even in Japan - earlier stated to have a 100% success rate. 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.
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: Matthew Buckner's Bear Trap-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.
Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: Dana presses the button "System Purge", and the guys intent on killing them are slaughtered by various monsters.
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.
The Cassandra: Nobody pays attention to Marty's warnings, because he's always smoking pot. It's actually his pot - coupled with the Chem Department's failure to treat his current stash with intelligence-reducing drugs - that negates the effect of the chemicals the Nebulous Evil Organization is pumping in to alter their behaviour, so that he's the only one able to notice that things aren't as they should be.
Marty: I've seen Curt drunk! Jules too!
Dana: Well, maybe it's something else... *Glances at the joint Marty's holding*
Also Mordecai and his unnoticed warnings - pay careful attention to his phone conversation with the Controllers. He is the Harbinger for them as well, but they laugh him off, even more oblivious to his dire warnings than the kids are!
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.
Steve, the control room honcho who gripes a few times about never getting to see mermen kill the co-eds is himself killed by a merman. He even says, "Oh, come on!" when he realizes it.
The workers in the organization that manipulates the sacrifices and controls the monsters all die horrible deaths when they finally lose control of the monsters. It's ironic in that they manipulated the sacrifice that was the Virgin ("purest") to the point she no longer cared about their lives.
Decoy Protagonist: While Dana's status as the Final Girl is enforced by the movie itself, she spends most of the movie either completely oblivious to the events going on around her or having a mental breakdown, while it's Marty who throws the film Off the Rails, succeeds in (sort of) foiling the evil organization, and generally plays a more traditional hero.
The Determinator: Curt. He goes from sensible, level-headed guy to headstrong savior to grease spot at the bottom of the canyon.
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.
Eating the Eye Candy: On finding a one-way mirror, Holden wrestles over whether to tell Dana, who is undressing on the other side of it. He decides to do the gentlemanly thing and they agree to switch rooms. The first thing she sees on the other side of the mirror is Holden taking off his shirt, which she clearly appreciates. When he starts unbuckling his pants though, she covers the mirror.
Eldritch Abomination: The Ancient Ones, a bunch of sadistic god-like beings who want the humans being sacrificed to die in fascinating, troperiffic ways to be appeased. Just like a horror-viewer. Fittingly, they're human-shaped.
Empathic Environment: Invoked when Hadley and Sitterson fine-tune the weather to encourage Curt and Jules to fool around.
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, with some even shown to be working together.
So much so that a gigantic bat thing blatantly ignores a helpless person right in front of it because a Creepy Child has him in its sights.
To a more literal extent, the Buckners.
Evil Only Has to Win Once: Zig-zagged hard. 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. So good (in the form of Necessary Evil) only has to win once each year, but they only have to lose completely once to doom the world.
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."
Lampshaded by Hadley, who admires how it's so effective.
Hadley: It's so strange, I'm...rooting for this girl. She's got so much heart, when you think of all the pain...
Ultimately averted. Dana and Marty both live to the end - and she is the one closer to death, having just been mauled by a werewolf.
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, presumably the Buckners (note the missing left arm of one of the hunters in the painting), tearing a lamb to pieces as a mysterious figure in the background watches referencing the Ancient Ones watching as hunters savagely kill the sacrifice—lambs often being thought of as the go-to sacrifice.
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, by pure luck but also by being sensible.
Interestingly, this is foreshadowed itself by his Actor. Fran Kranz' most notable role to American audiences is a similar "dorky" character who is fragile and inept in a life or death situation, while Fran himself is 5'10" and over 200 lbs of muscle.◊
Foreshadowing: In a very unique way. The whole house and the area in general has items that potentially foreshadow almost every monster that could be used, even though most of them never are. There's even a huge wolf's head on the wall... while there's a werewolf in storage.
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.
Godzilla Threshold: Marty and Dana reach it when they are cornered by the security team. They respond by releasing things almost as bad as the Trope Namer.
Hypno Trinket: Presumably, the necklace that Jules almost put on before being interrupted by Dana in the cellar. In fact, all the trinkets seem to have hypnotic lure to the people interested in them.
Idiot Ball: Another Invoked Trope. The controllers preiodically releases a stupidity-inducing gas into the cabin to make sure the victims get themselves killed through irrational behavior.
Impaled Palm: Jules introduction to the Buckners. And let the slaughter commence!
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. Though several other monsters are shown to shrug off bullets, but without as much emphasis.
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.
Infant Immortality: We see a classroom of Japanese schoolgirls (all age nine) being terrorized by an angry spirit. Later, they are seen subduing the ghost with a ritual song. We are then told that there were zero fatalities. Later, the end implies that they're doomed anyway as is the rest of humanity.
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?
Jerk Jock: Subverted by Curtis, who is pushed into this role via pheromone manipulation. Up to that point, he was shown to be a Lovable Jock, and an intelligent sociology major who never acts like an alpha male douchebag.
Jump Scare: One happens when the title appears. Lessened by the pop music that occurs afterwards.
Just A Flesh Wound: Several characters are beaten and stabbed yet manage to run and dart around just fine afterwards.
Just Desserts: The fate of several Organization members during the rampage, most notably an employee tossed into the maw of the giant cobra and Hadley at the teeth of his merman
Hadley finally gets to see what a merman looks like. Emphasis on finally.
The deaths of almost everyone in the control complex are generally more sadistic and far more on-screen graphic than what happens to the five at the cabin.
Sitterson dies by the hand of one of the people he was trying to kill.
A few of the cabin mates also die in accordance with their sacrificial roles: Jules the whore was attacked during sex, Curt the jock dies during a not so death defying stunt, and if Marty had died when the audience expected him to he would have been ambushed making jokes. Played with though in that they are being pushed into these roles.
Kill All Humans: Once the monsters are released, they clearly don't want to fight each other, only kill normal humans, be the Facility workers or Marty and Dana.
Killed Offscreen: Subverted. The stoner Marty is wounded and dragged offscreen by one of the Buckners to be killed, and the Controllers assume he died a gruesome death. It turns out that they really should have made sure, because during that time he dispatched the zombie, found an entrance to the Organization's HQ, and went back to save Dana from Pa Buckner. No offscreen inertia here, folks.
The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: Werewolves, robots, ghosts, zombies, giant snakes..... and a bloodthirsty unicorn. Interesting subversion, perhaps, in that unicorns were traditonally said to attack and kill anyone who was not a virgin.
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.
When the Doctors are seen about to operate a worker, he screams "Please don't cut", but the camera cuts away.
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.
Made of Iron: Dana. The motor home she was in crashes into a lake. Then she gets stabbed, clawed and otherwise beat up by Matthew Buckner, and mauled by a werewolf. She's still together enough to philosophise with Marty at the end.
She was probably chosen with this in mind since she's supposed to be the Final Girl.
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.
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. Only the Director seems to truly get a kick out of it; the others are said to be letting off steam.
Rise from Your Grave: The undead Buckner family when Dana inadvertently summons them, and the Ancient Ones at the end of the movie when a huge hand smashes through the eponymous cabin and comes down on the camera. Smash to Black.
Schmuck Bait: The cellar isn't just this, it's filled with these.
Sealed Evil in a Can: Played Straight, taken Up to Eleven, then subverted. It's made clear early on that the facility has a stockpile of Nightmare Fuel. Eventually, it is revealed that their stockpile is a well organized collection of every type of horror movie monster one can think of, including a few one would never have expected (e.g. unicorns, mermen, treesnote unless you've seen Evil Dead, of course). But it's then revealed that even this encyclopedia of terror is just a part of a bigger can that holds even bigger evils.
Shout-Out: As a parody of horror movies, the movie has loads of these. Also see Expy above.
The betting board. There were a slew of them in that one scene.
Angel: The symbol on the floor and the one on the controllers' talismans sure looks like the Circle of the Black Thorn...
Not to mention that the whole facility (as well as what's happening to it) is veryBlack Mesa-ish.
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.
The scene where the basement trapdoor swings open is nearly identical to the scene from the original Evil Dead. Watch them back-to-back and the recreation is strikingly faithful.
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 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 1: 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.
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.
Spoof Aesop: In the commentary, it is mentioned that "Pot saves lives."
Spooky Painting: The hunting scene portrayed in Holden's room is kinda.... visceral.
The Stars Are Going Out: Marty steps out for a leak and is surprised he can't see any stars, even though they should be miles from any light pollution source, a possible hint the cabin is in an Eldritch Location. Given what happens at the end of the movie, the apocalyptic version of this trope also applies.
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.
Throw Away Guns: After Dana stabs a zombie Sitterson pulls a switch, and a charge of static electricity causes her to drop the knife.
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.
Some characters (be monsters or troops) in the last half are also shown in brief glimpses.
Trapped in TV Land: Borderline example. It's implied that the monsters that appear in the last third are inspired by movie monsters.
Truman Show Plot: Albeit the thing staged is not a reality show, but a slasher movie.
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.