A Post-Modernist Reading of ‘The Cabin in the Woods’

December 31, 2012 12:00 pm

So, for this article I thought I would try something a little different. Stop me if I am going off on a tangent.

I’ve just finished a semester at University studying postmodernist literature, which, in a nutshell, is a genre of fiction that thinks outside the box, experimenting with the conventions that readers expect from a novel. For example one writer, Georges Perec, wrote a 300-page book without the letter ‘e’ and William Burroughs, who wrote a book that could be read in any order. So with these ideas in my mind, when I was re-watching The Cabin In the Woods, I began picking out evidence to support a postmodernist perspective on the film.

First, I will summarise the film to help me get my point across. I will be using spoilers, so if you haven’t seen this film, please come back to this article once you have. It’s the kind of film where the less you know about it, the better it will be when you do see it.

Richard Jenkins

The film is about a branch of the government that sacrifices teenagers for what are called, ‘Ancient Ones’, by unleashing horror-movie monsters onto them; werewolves, zombies, etc. There are certain rules to follow and when the teenagers figure out that they are being set up to die, these Ancient Ones destroy the world.

So, the Ancient creatures are implied to be demi-gods from Hell. However, before this is revealed, it wouldn’t be foolish for the audience to suspect that the government office workers are creating a horror movie with actual victims. The victims must unleash the monster themselves and there are several references that the government branch is trying to make it as entertaining as possible—even their mysterious employer is known only as the Director.

But what if this was still the case by the end of the film? Imagine that the Ancient Ones, or the overseeing gods, are us; the viewer of that film. This branch of government is put in charge of entertaining us, in the goriest way possible, highlighting the audience’s love for violent cinema. And when we are displeased because the action didn’t progress the way we wanted it to, we lash out, destroying the film and everything the government (or film crew) worked hard to build.

cabin-in-the-woods

Now what could this be telling the audience? It could suggest how close-minded we have become as readers. The gods lash out when the story moves away from the conventions we are used to: the innocent virgin character survives, while the others are punished for their crimes. It might also suggest that the writers are attempting to create an original storyline, which we just reject. By the end, this idea is backed up by the revelation that the government is trying to stick to the conventional characters: virgin, fool, scholar, jock and the promiscuous woman, but they have little to work with. The innocent girl is not a virgin, just sweet, the other girl is not completely stupid, as most horror movie blondes are, and the jock has a degree in quantum physics. Yet we blindly view them as the archetypes created by the cinema. This suggests that the typical narrow-minded horror movie genre is partially our fault as the consumers of these movies.

Horror Film

But is it simply putting an unusual perspective on our interests? When we sum up a horror movie; characters getting slaughtered for our entertainment, we are reminded of a Roman gladiator arena, where the audience craved blood, finding the idea of someone being killed off in front of them exciting. Have we moved on? The writers of The Cabin in the Woods certainly do not think so. Or maybe the focus is meant to be on the film crew? The manipulators, or puppeteers, as they are referred to, are desensitised to the horror that is in front of them. Some of the newer recruits are shocked at how easy-going the veterans are, while the veterans show immunity from doing these films for so long. They crack jokes, they make bets, they high-five at the nudity of a girl, moments before sending zombies in to kill her. Is film making an observation at how this industry is sucking their life out of them? This is the more far-fetched of my theories, but maybe it is making a slight criticism on the life of an on-set crewmember.

Either way, The Cabin in the Woods opens up a lot of questions when viewing. This is truly a great piece of cinema—it is a film that allows you to take a step back and look at a bigger picture, as well as being a damn good horror flick.

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  • Very interesting article. Although I would be hard pressed to call The Cabin in the Woods ‘a truly great piece of cinema’, it is certainly an interesting text when examining it from a post-modernist perspective. Your argument is in this sense is very apt but The Cabin in the Woods isn’t exactly subtle in constructing itself as a film based on inter-textuality and genre subversion, thats the point, which it makes quite clear from the get-go. It also isn’t new in that sense: Scream (Craven 1996) springs to mind, but the genre as a whole is one that continually plays with convention in such a manner. In regard to your interpretation regarding the puppeteers/film industry analogy, I wouldn’t consider that far-fetched at all, but it is of course formulaic genre films which are keeping mainstream Hollywood industry afloat.

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