“There is a greater good, and for that you must be sacrificed.”
You have proved to me that you’re smart, you’re passionate, and you’re fun! My expectations for The Cabin in the Woods were high, but I was disappointed by your ending, Joss Whedon. Not in you! You are all kinds of awesome, but you cheated me with your ending, and you deserve to know why I feel that way. Perhaps you will think that I’ve taken your movie far too seriously, and you may be right.
I admire the set-up of The Cabin in the Woods. It is very ambitious. I love that it is meta. But you know that almost everything is meta now. Meta is in! Scream already re-shaped the genre and flung it headfirst into the post-modern age, so I figured you had something far more ambitious up your sleeve.
I wasn’t as scared as I should be. This was meant to be a horror film, right? From the beginning, you’ve allowed us to be one step ahead of your characters. We don’t experience the story at their level, and can maintain a safe distance from their plight. It might have been more effective to reveal the grand set-up a little later, to allow us the pleasure of discovering the master plan, to become enlightened, with your characters, so that it can still be scary—but I digress.
Once you revealed the Facility, and the true nature and purpose of its operation, I realized you were trying to do something infinitely more profound and awesome than mere self-reference. You were trying to expose and comment on the very phenomenon of human experience. No, really! Life, if you really strip it down, is a balance of order and chaos. Order is what we forge out of the chaotic nature around us. Through knowledge and skill, we shape order—society and culture. And society and culture protect us from the chaos that lurks just outside of our safety zone—the vastness of all we can never completely understand or control.
The Facility works to appease the Gods and maintain order. Well, that’s what society is! We make all kinds of sacrifices, and place limits on ourselves so that we can keep the chaos at bay. That’s what laws are! And science! But society can become rigid, archaic and cruel, and must be challenged and updated. These are the ideas your story—as I saw it—is exploring. And I thought: Wow! How will he end it?
Joss, as a storyteller, you know that endings are very important. With The Cabin in the Woods, you set-up something very big, very ambitious, that functions on so many levels. You needed to find a truly awe-inspiring ending, one that acknowledges and pays allegiance to the full weight of your story. Instead, you dropped all of the dark underpinnings, and gave us something grandiose but flippant. If I may be blunt, it felt to me like a betrayal of the philosophy of your story.
So, our main characters decide not to continue to appease the Gods; instead of challenging or updating society and culture, they simply throw it away, and let chaos reign. Am I deconstructing it too fully? I certainly hope so. If not, then your ending is nihilistic! Nihilism is lazy. It is easy to say that life has no meaning, because then we’re all off-the-hook, aren’t we? But if life is meaningful, and our actions matter—if we can maintain order and yet also redefine it—then we all have an on-going and truly daunting responsibility.
Order has fallen and the Gods wreak havoc. Will the people of the world attempt to rebuild a structure that can hold the chaos at bay? Will we try, once again, to appease the Gods? There will always be forces we cannot control. Human society is predicated on the development of structures and behaviours that induce those forces to work for us rather than against us. However, the way you’ve presented it, our heroes are unwilling to accept their responsibility and society falls.
Perhaps I’ve taken your story too much to heart. Perhaps you didn’t really want me to think about it quite so much. That’s fair. Don’t get me wrong—I did very much enjoy the film! But I am very analytical, obsessively so. The Cabin in the Woods provokes me. I love to be provoked, and I imagine you do too. So I am sure you can appreciate that your ending has riled me up! Having invested in seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer—which was both light-hearted and dark—I expected more from The Cabin in the Woods. I wished you had gone to a darker place. It makes me sad to think your film was merely commenting on the horror genre. There are things you touch on that mean so much more; it would have been worthwhile unpacking all that philosophy and allowing your film to be more complex.
Many reviewers have suggested that you’ve provided the set up for a complete overhaul of the horror genre. I think that’s a gross overstatement. Scream did a far better job of re-defining the genre. It introduced post-modern self-reference while still maintaining the thrilling suspense and real scares on which horror audiences thrive. Since then, we’ve grown a little too in love with our own cleverness. I would like to see more horror films that are truly out to get us. I’ve had my fill of irony. For almost two decades, we’ve been seeing horror films that are just kidding. I’m getting bored. Give me a monster that wants to hurt me! Give me something scary!
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Director: Drew Goddard
Writers: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard
Stars: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison