Cabin Fever

by Wardog

In a shocking break from tradition, the Fb crew review The Cabin in the Woods while it's still in the cinema...
~
listen to podcast
(MP3, 68:14, 112 kbps, 54.56 MB)
Needless to say, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, if you care about that kind of thing.
~

bookmark this with - facebook - delicious - digg - stumbleupon - reddit

~
Comments (go to latest)
Arthur B at 03:43 on 2012-04-23
I was wrong, it wasn't The Others the masked peeps were referencing, it was The Strangers. In my defence, the titles are synonyms of each other.
Ibmiller at 15:56 on 2012-04-23
I love your podreview. I think it nicely helps me understand a wider context for the movie, and confirms my desire to not see it. So thanks for that :-)

However, I think you're perhaps a bit harsh to Joss and his stable. He does seem to have occasional falling out with actors, but he did write this very nice piece about Buffy and Sarah Michelle Gellar in EW in their admittedly failtastic list of 100 best female characters (http://angearia.livejournal.com/143942.html).

I also rather like Amy Acker. Especially since I found out her first gig was Catherine Morland in Wishbone's Northanger Abbey thing (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZeOGkBzOUk). Yes, she does get typecast by Joss - but she can play against type, as seen in Alias, and hopefully as Hero in Joss's upcoming (hopefully, again) Much Ado About Nothing.
I also expected the movie to end at the exact point Dan did, and I agree it would have been significantly better if it had. I have no doubt Whedon would have ended the movie there if "the networks" hadn't cravenly castrated his genius.

I do have a nagging doubt that actually fucking Whedon would get him off Amy Acker's back. He doesn't seem like a hit-and-run kind of guy.
Dan H at 11:12 on 2012-04-24
However, I think you're perhaps a bit harsh to Joss and his stable. He does seem
to have occasional falling out with actors, but he did write this very nice
piece about Buffy and Sarah Michelle Gellar in EW in their admittedly failtastic
list of 100 best female characters


We probably were a little harsh on Whedon and his stable, I'm just always a little leery of auteurs who develop stables. Similarly it's not Amy Acker we've got a problem with so much as the weird feeling that Joss Whedon keeps casting her in his private nerdgirl fantasies.

On a related note, I've suddenly noticed that when they did that one scene that established how none of the characters really fit the archetypes they were cast as (although this does raise some peculiar questions - since they had a guy who was clearly a scholar and a guy who was clearly a jock, why did they then cast them in the opposite roles) they point out that the girl who wound up being "the whore" was a pre-med student. Because apparently in ironic-reversal world, "being very clever" and "being sexually promiscuous" are opposites.
http://wrongquestions.blogspot.com/ at 20:35 on 2012-04-24
I rather suspect that if Hollywood were banging on Amy Acker's door offering her varied, meaty parts - as it should be - she would be in less of a hurry to accept every role that Whedon offers her. Alas, other than Alias (and a short-lived show called Happy Town that was so bad even Acker couldn't make workable stuff out of its scripts), she's had no regular work that hasn't come from Whedon, and most of the guest roles I've seen her in have cast her in a very narrow band of Loving Wife and Damsel in Distress. Pretty much every role Whedon has cast her in has been more interesting, and in Angel and Dollhouse she got to display considerable range.
Wardog at 20:39 on 2012-04-24
Being mean to Joss Whedon is kind of my hobby at this point, although you're right that I'm being slightly unfair to Amy Acker. I think it's because she's always ended up cast in typical Whedon!wank roles - I really hated Fred, for example, even though the show kept telling me I was supposed to think she was as cute as button, and I found her turn as blue-evil-Fred largely risible. But, yes, that's not her fault.
Dan H at 18:15 on 2012-04-25
Pretty much every role Whedon has cast her in has been more interesting, and in Angel and Dollhouse she got to display considerable range.


Fair point (although one of the many things I found annoying about Dollhouse was the niggling sensation that it was designed specifically to let actors demonstrate "range") - I think what made me facepalm so hard about her was the fact that it wasn't just Amy Acker again, but that it was specifically Amy Acker *in a labcoat* again.
Because apparently in ironic-reversal world, "being very clever" and "being sexually promiscuous" are opposites.

Sluts are supposed to be stupid, though. Their stupidity is as crucial as their promiscuity. They're supposed to be "girly," vacuous, shallow, loud, and annoying as well as devastatingly hot.

It occurs to me that if we update the "slut" trope to "girl I probably don't have a shot with because she knows she could do better than me," and the "virgin" to "girl who might possibly fuck me or at least not laugh in my face if I ask her out," the Jules and Dana characters might fit those roles reasonably well.
Dan H at 20:51 on 2012-04-25
Sluts are supposed to be stupid, though. Their stupidity is as crucial as their promiscuity. They're supposed to be "girly," vacuous, shallow, loud, and annoying as well as devastatingly hot.


True, but that aspect of the "archtype" was weirdly underplayed in the actual scenario, which is why I found it a bit jarring. The only evidence we have that her behaviour in the scenario is out of character for her is the fact that we know she possesses traits which, within the scenario, would be considered incompatible with her assigned role. "Scenario" Jules never acts in a way that is remotely incompatible with her being a medical student unless you assume that within the "real" world of the movie medical students never get drunk and make out with inanimate objects in a game of truth or dare.


It occurs to me that if we update the "slut" trope to "girl I probably don't have a shot with because she knows she could do better than me," and the "virgin" to "girl who might possibly fuck me or at least not laugh in my face if I ask her out," the Jules and Dana characters might fit those roles reasonably well.


You mean their "real" selves or the versions in the scenario (to be honest, I suspect the answer is "both").

I really wasn't sure how I was supposed to react to Dana in particular - because everything we see her do even *after* they break free of the scenario fits pretty much perfectly with the archetype into which she was cast. Sex aside, she basically plays the virgin/final girl role to a T.
Jules never acts in a way that is remotely incompatible with her being a medical student unless you assume that within the "real" world of the movie medical students never get drunk and make out with inanimate objects in a game of truth or dare.

It could be that Whedon's particular Nice Guy mentality does not allow smart girls to act silly and lighthearted, especially not in a sexual way, and this kind of behavior absolutely must be out of character for Jules. You're right that basically the only indicator we have that she's acting out of character in any way is that she dyes her hair blonde just before the trip.

The way I chose to read that scene was that the poor girl was just being her normal, silly self, and because You The Viewer can't handle the sight of sexy girls you don't get to fuck, you want this bitch to die painfully. Admit it, asshole. You wanted to see her tits, you disgusting bastard, and you wanted to see her die, just because you're an ugly piece of shit who'll never get more than a pity fuck from a hot girl. You should be ashamed of yourself.

I don't think that actually requires Jules to be acting "out of character" at all. It only requires that you think the way Joss Whedon "knows" you're thinking. I think that message gets muddled because it's mixed in with instances of the characters explicitly being manipulated to act "out of character."
http://scipiosmith.livejournal.com/ at 21:20 on 2012-04-25
We probably were a little harsh on Whedon and his stable, I'm just always a little leery of auteurs who develop stables.


Don't you find it can be quite fun waiting for all the regulars to turn up? A fund diversion during John Ford movies is trying to spot the Irish cavalry sergeant who is always there (even in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon in spite of the fact that he died in Fort Apache) and always played by the same actor.
Sex aside, she basically plays the virgin/final girl role to a T.

I'm now thinking that Jules and Dana, as opposed to the boys, don't actually need to be acting out of character at all in order for the tropes not to fit them. The problem is that the tropes themselves suck and are totally inconsistent with anything in reality. It makes sense to call someone a "jock" or a "scholar," but calling them a "slut" can mean any number of things.
Dan H at 21:55 on 2012-04-25

I'm now thinking that Jules and Dana, as opposed to the boys, don't actually need to be acting out of character at all in order for the tropes not to fit them. The problem is that the tropes themselves suck and are totally inconsistent with anything in reality. It makes sense to call someone a "jock" or a "scholar," but calling them a "slut" can mean any number of things.


I think that's probably a more interesting reading of the film, but it's a bit undermined by the fact that Jules at least is fairly explicitly only acting the way she acts because of Amy Acker's "chem department". After all, it is *completely unthinkable* that a clever ambitious girl could be sexually playful on her own account.
Yeah, I guess I'm being too generous. The fact is Joss Whedon isn't accusing me of slut-shaming Jules per se, but slut-shaming her himself and blaming it on me. Love it.
Ibmiller at 22:55 on 2012-04-26
Oh, how I love complicity.

Interestingly, the analysis of horror tropes and their popularity with Nice Guys eerily echoes Aaron Allston's analysis: http://community.aaronallston.com/2011/09/24/conan-the-carbarian/

I, unfortunately, am not quite sure how it all works, since I deliberately avoid both horror and high school films in general (the former more successfully than the latter).
Who survives until the end of the movie? The likeable, not-snotty girl who might give you a chance some day. So it is at that point in the movies, over and over again, that (sadly) Jason must be put down — before he kills the one nice girl who might show you the time of day.

Nailed it.

It's interesting how the idea of the child rapist Freddie Krueger seems to be aimed specifically at girls - he attacks you when you're at your most vulnerable, he gets into your head and taunts you before killing you - and how Freddie's victims seem to always be you, your friends, your children, the people you love.

As this writer points out, Jason, the hero of "disenfranchised teenage boys," goes around specifically killing people *you don't like* so that you don't have to, so you can pretend to feel bad they're dead and look like the good guy, which might just get you into the "last girl's" pants. Interesting how that works.
Really, if you want an example of the classic type of horror franchise Whedon is lambasting, you probably couldn't do better than Friday the 13th. As I see it, Nightmare on Elm Street, or at least the little I've seen of it, is just that little bit divergent from the formula, and its target fears slightly more sympathetic.
Arthur B at 15:37 on 2012-04-27
The Nightmare on Elm Street movies layer on so many dream sequences and dream-invading-life phantasmagoria that they're barely in the same subgenre. I think they're only lumped in with slasher movies because they have lots of sequels.
True enough. Freddie himself is more explicitly a "nightmare" than a classic slasher.
"Freddy." Dammit.
Melissa G. at 23:44 on 2012-05-03
My roommates and I just saw this film last night, and as people who have seen way too many B-style American horror movies, we figured we'd add our insight to the whole thing.

First off, I would like to remind everyone that Drew Goddard was in charge of this movie (being it's co-writer and **director**). I have no doubt that Joss Whedon was a hands-on producer (as well as second unit director), but let's not forget whose movie this was. He tends to be completely forgotten in conversations about this movie, and we think that's not really fair.

Now, about the horror movie tropes: Whore, Jock, Scholar, Fool, and Virgin. There are actual transgressions that lead to the deaths of each of these characters in the formulaic horror movie.

The Whore: She has sex, often by bearing her boobs. Promiscuity is a no-no, and leads to death.

The Jock: Hubris, usually. He's arrogant, often sexist, and displays an overconfidence that leads to his death. You can see this in Cabin in the Woods when he is sure that he can make the jump with no problem on his bike.

The Scholar: Could also be called the skeptic. He doesn't believe and usually doubts the virgin/main girl. Often time he doesn't believe there's a danger at all, and in supernatural stories, he doesn't believe in ghosts or werewolves, etc. In Cabin in the Woods, his death comes directly following his doubting the conspiracy and that they are being manipulated.

The Fool: He is usually into drugs or alcohol in excess. And this, again, is a morality no-no.

The Virgin: Almost always lives. When she does, it's because she's done everything right. I'm having trouble thinking of an example where she does die. She tends to exist as the example that if you do everything (morally) right, you get to live.

This all has a lot to do with the fact that American horror movies are, at their core, conservative morality tales. This is most obvious when you look at the old urban legends (Hook Man, etc).
Those character descriptions sound about right, and the whole thing neatly covers the American disdain for sex, drugs, youthful confidence, and skepticism.

I don't think Cabin in the Woods does a very good job of either exemplifying or overturning any of these tropes, but that's probably because the story was so rushed that I wasn't left with much of an impression of any of the kids. I do remember being a bit confused that the "scholar" was being branded a scholar, because he didn't seem to do anything scholarly except mention something about Latin, so I guess that one worked.
Arthur B at 08:31 on 2012-05-04
This all has a lot to do with the fact that American horror movies are, at their core, conservative morality tales. This is most obvious when you look at the old urban legends (Hook Man, etc).

In retrospect this is probably the biggest problem with Cabin: "US horror movies are conservative morality tales" is clearly the point it's trying to make, but it's sufficiently muddled that you're going to struggle to get there unless you already understand the idea. So a) it's a movie which wants to educate and enlighten its audience, which is always going to bug some people even if they agree with the lesson, and b) it isn't especially effective at doing that.

Also it's kind of an old, done to death point. It's not like Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz where the film actually manages to do something moderately novel within the very tightly defined genre it's exploring, deconstructing and lampooning; Cabin can only attempt to do something new by cheating and letting the characters just stroll outside the boundaries of the genre and into a Buffy season finale.

(As for Drew Goddard, I think we glossed over him mainly because he failed to show any personality or directoral motifs or ideas which weren't Whedon from top to bottom here. I remain unconvinced that the guy isn't just a pseudonym for Whedon.)
Dan H at 09:27 on 2012-05-04
@Melissa

I honestly think it's overreaching to suggest that the three non-girl archetypes are punished for any kind of transgression at all.

Trying to jump the chasm isn't hubris, it's desperation, and he only fails because there is an invisible forcefield in the way, which puts his death completely outside the scenario that Josh Lyman and the Dad From Six Feet Under are so painstakingly constructing.

Similarly, while "the Scholar" doubts the existence of the conspiracy (but then so does everybody else, including the Final Girl) he doesn't for one second doubt the authenticity of the monsters and neither, for that matter, does he demonstrate any consistent skepticism about, well, anything.

And of course the Fool, who plays his Horror trope *to a T* and (unlike the others) actually embodied it in "real life" as well is actively *protected* not only from the zombies but from the conspiracy as well by the very thing he was supposed to be being punished for.

I'm more or less willing to accept that the "archetypes" in the film more or less correspond to real horror movie tropes (although I suspect that part of the reason for that is that *any* character in *anything* can be made to fit a trope with fairly minimal effort), but the problem is that the film doesn't deconstruct those tropes in any consistent way.

Sometimes the characters are forced into their roles. Sometimes they aren't. Their "transgressions" sometimes cause their deaths (driving a motorcycle off a cliff), sometimes occur in parallel with them (doubting the conspiracy), sometimes trigger a hostile reaction in the monsters (boobs) and sometimes actively protect them (weed). It feels, ironically, like the film took the old horror staple of having people killed for transgressing against conservative values and "subverted" it by instead having the characters killed for transgressing against *liberal* values.

So Jules dies because she shags somebody who isn't me. Thor dies because he threatens my sense of masculinity. The Scholar dies because he's trying to get with the girl I fancy. The pothead lives because he embodies my value system, and the redhead lives because I want to do her. Josh Lyman dies because her reminds me of my Dad, and Amy Acker dies because I am far, far more threatened by intelligent women than I would ever let on.
Arthur B at 10:06 on 2012-05-04
The conspiracy dies because it's the Man, the world dies because we're talkin' 'bout a revolution, the Japanese schoolgirls die because the accomplishments of women from furren parts don't matter in the long run...

The Japanese conspiracy failed by reaching a conclusion which doesn't at all resemble Japanese horror, whereas the Spanish one failed by reaching a conclusion which looked a lot like the end of The Orphanage. Assuming we're not meant to be rooting for the conspiracy, this looks an awful lot like the film saying "Spanish horror is cool, but Japanese horror is just as bad and formulaic as American horror". Which, again, is a fairly dubious statement to make since the film exhibits little in-depth understanding of the conventions of Japanese horror in the tradition of The Ring/The Grudge.
Similarly, while "the Scholar" doubts the existence of the conspiracy (but then so does everybody else, including the Final Girl) he doesn't for one second doubt the authenticity of the monsters and neither, for that matter, does he demonstrate any consistent skepticism about, well, anything.

And doubting *the conspiracy* shouldn't have been a problem. He shouldn't have known anything about the conspiracy in the first place. If the Old Ones are the strawman audience, they should be suspending their disbelief about the conspiracy themselves if this setup has any chance of working as a horror movie. The poor boy shouldn't be killed as soon as he expresses doubt about anything at all, whether it has to do with the horror scenario or not. I don't see how that could do anything but confuse the Old Ones.

the film took the old horror staple of having people killed for transgressing against conservative values and "subverted" it by instead having the characters killed for transgressing against *liberal* values.

Replace "liberal values" with "Joss Whedon's personal brand of Nice Guy philosophy" and I'm convinced. Not that we liberals aren't really a bunch of Nice Guys in deep denial.
Arthur B at 18:47 on 2012-05-04
If the Old Ones are the strawman audience, they should be suspending their disbelief about the conspiracy themselves if this setup has any chance of working as a horror movie.

I think Whedon and Goddard get themselves into a real trap here. They gloss over why the ritual is the way it is and why it's at all acceptable for the Jock to die by smashing into an invisible barrier rather than dying as a result of the scenario established within the parameters of the ritual and all that because they're going for the Old Ones as being the ancient and unknowable and alien things. Which is cool... except the Old Ones' thought process are made absolutely central to the plot.

It's not like in Creepy Howie's stories where the Old Ones are just going to appear one day and happen to destroy everything whilst passing through and their motives don't really matter because they're operating on a completely different scale from us. The ritual is explicitly about appeasing and soothing the Old Ones and keeping them happily snoozing away, and once you make the central ritual of your story a matter of pleasing someone, suddenly the perceptions and opinions and tastes and likes and dislikes of the entity in question become absolutely central to the plot and something you really need to have a grip on. Here, the Old Ones' motivations and desires and appetites make absolutely no internal sense and are completely illogical, and in a "you haven't fucking thought this through" way as opposed to a "this is unthinkable and loathesome!" Lovecraft-getting-the-vapors sort of way.

Explaining why a dark god likes human sacrifices of the simple dagger-in-the-heart variety is simple: the god enjoys/requires/is soothed by suffering or innocent souls or blood or whatever. Explaining why the dark gods of Cabin require their rituals to be just so in some respects but are willing to accept absolutely insane deviations from the ritual format in other respects is nigh-impossible without throwing your hands in the air and saying "It's like that because the plot requires it to be like that", at which point you just plain have a shitty plot.
Alasdair Czyrnyj at 01:24 on 2012-05-05
Good point, Arthur, and that line of questioning leads to other problems with the movie's premise. After all, if the Old Ones feed off of our suffering, why did they agree to this sacrifice deal with the earliest humans millenia ago instead of just preying on us whenever they want? And if this sacrifice is essential to the continued existence of humanity, why has it not become a central, openly celebrated element of modern culture instead of an underground conspiracy? (and why were belief systems that would look upon this sacrifice as immoral permitted to spread across the world and thrive?)

The sacrifice question has me wondering about some other issues. I'm not up to speed in anthropology, but aren't sacrifices supposed to be big public events designed to foster solidarity in a community? As it was once pithily described to me, if a audience sees a thousand hearts torn out in an afternoon, they may either cheer or storm the temple; they cannot remain neutral. There might be some merit in using the evolution of sacrifice from a public institution to a conspiratorial rite as a metaphor for the atomization of modern society, the increased distancing of the ruled from their ostensible rulers, or even the dangers of selfish individualism to the upkeep of civilization, a point that would be further supported by Joss-Whedon-stand-in's decision to have the human race exterminated because they fail to measure up to his arbitrary "moral code."

Slightly more on topic, the movie's utility as a critique was viciously hacked apart here.
Arthur B at 13:08 on 2012-05-05
The more I think about Cabin the more I dislike it. Which is rather a problem for a film which so earnestly urges the audience to think about what is going on onscreen.
why the dark gods of Cabin require their rituals to be just so in some respects but are willing to accept absolutely insane deviations from the ritual format in other respects

Well, obviously, it's because they're so on the edge of their seats waiting to see what will happen next that they aren't worried about silly details like plot coherence.

I agree that if the Old Ones are dark ancient gods who want nothing else but to see naughty children get their comeuppance in a tightly controlled morality play format, this bullshit isn't going to fly. If they're dark ancient gods who like to watch silly deconstructions of horror movies, it almost might. The problem for me is what level of meta awareness they're supposed to have. Do they know the conspiracy exists and not care, or is it part of the fun to them?

I'm perfectly satisfied if the answer is, "who knows, just shut the fuck up and enjoy the movie."
Arthur B at 17:04 on 2012-05-06
I'm perfectly satisfied if the answer is, "who knows, just shut the fuck up and enjoy the movie."

Except, of course, the social justice point they seem to want to make with the script is that you should never "just shut the fuck up and enjoy the movie" because then you are ZOMG COMPLICIT!!!
Yes, I'm sure Joss Whedon would be horrified at the suggestion that he's a genius and that we should accept everything he says at face value, filling in any necessary gaps we need to like good fans. What a disgusting thought that would be for the poor man to contemplate.
Sister Magpie at 19:48 on 2012-05-06
I've been really conflicted about this movie because people tell me I should see it because I like horror movies, and I've heard people say it's great, but I'm just so completely wary of anybody making this kind of meta-commentary on horror. That critique that Alisdair linked to above was exactly what I kept thinking about the movie. I'll probably eventually see the movie, but wouldn't be surprised if I wind up as annoyed as that guy.
I honestly couldn't imagine the movie working for me if I had known anything at all about it going in. Yeah, the "twist" is revealed in the first few seconds of the movie and there are few actual surprises from that point on, but I think finding that out *while in the theater watching the movie* works in a way that being told ahead of time doesn't. Not that I would know. But I don't think the odds of your unabashedly enjoying it the way I did are very high.
Arthur B at 20:29 on 2012-05-06
Yes, I'm sure Joss Whedon would be horrified at the suggestion that he's a genius and that we should accept everything he says at face value, filling in any necessary gaps we need to like good fans. What a disgusting thought that would be for the poor man to contemplate.

Oh goodness no, the point isn't to encourage us to criticise the stuff Joss Whedon actually believes in, like Buffy and Angel and Firefly and Dollhouse and all that! The point is to encourage people to criticise stuff Joss Whedon doesn't like, like slasher films.
I suppose I forgot that since Joss Whedon is a Serious Writer, nothing he creates could be mindless fluff, just as his being a Man!Feminist means nothing he does could ever be sexist.

I also realize we're neglecting the contribution of Whedon's "little monkey" Drew Goddard. I imagine the neglected creature is screeching loudly and shaking his tiny, furry fists in protest.
Arthur B at 22:25 on 2012-05-06
Sadly, the Whedonisms in the film are so loud Goddard's screeches are more or less drowned out...
TheMerryMustelid at 22:23 on 2012-05-14
Could someone review something fun & lighthearted for a change, like Ghibli's 'The Secret World of Arritty?' I never really understood this obsession with zombies and horror played for laughs. OK, I admit enjoying 'Army of Darkness' as much as the next film geek but I don't immerse myself in that genre as a rule.

What's wrong with happy, I ask?
Andy G at 23:50 on 2012-05-14
@TheMerryMustelid But Arrietty was so *boring*. Albeit in a charming, beautifully animated way. Ponyo was much better.
Robinson L at 15:30 on 2012-05-15
The Merry Mustelid:What's wrong with happy, I ask?

Nothing at all. I've got a couple of fun/lighthearted movie reviews in the works, though I don't know if they'll come to anything yet.

Haven't seen The Secret World of Arrietty yet, but since Andy mentioned Ponyo, I did write a short response to that one over on my livejournal. It is pretty lovely.
In order to post comments, you need to log in to Ferretbrain or authenticate with OpenID. Don't have an account? See the About Us page for more details.

Show / Hide Comments -- More in April 2012