Friday, 17 October 2014

The Cabin in the Woods That Was Scary and Stuff

Pure horror movies often bore me. Now, I like horror. Horror is an essential element of literature, film, and Thomas the Tank Engine. It's a vital ingredient in the engine and a key cog in the soup. That being the soup engine of human existence. Horror is an important part of that soup engine. The scary part, to be precise.

Since horror taps into that flight or fight response, causing that sweet, sweet adrenaline rush when you get good and scared, like that one jump scare you actually didn't see coming somehow and made you jump cut several scenes (ah, film student humour - classic). The sensation of being scared can become quite addictive since I already mentioned you get an adrenaline hit, right?

And the greats of horror tapped into those frighteningly disturbing thoughts that lurk around the edges of human imagination and brought them to the foreground, throwing them in our faces. Confronting us with images of terror too terrible to contemplate such that we often have a visceral reaction to them we cannot control.

"I can't even tell what parts it's made of that aren't scary parts... Just throw your arms in the air and pray to it. I dunno, I'm terrified."

But pure horror movies often bore me. And by 'pure horror', I mean movies that are generically labeled horror and can be identified as straight horror films. A movie no one would confuse for a romance, action movie, or metaphor for abstinence. This doesn't mean there aren't a lot of pure horror movies I don't enjoy or even love.

Of course I love a lot of horror films: from the Universal Studio original Dracula, Frankenstein, and the surprisingly photogenic Invisible Man, to the terrifying work of Robert Wise, who brought us The Haunting and The Sound of Music. Not to mention zombie classics like Night of the Walking Dead, or Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, '80s slashers, and modern masterpieces like [Rec] and Let the Right One In.

But generally, I don't like pure horror movies. I was even cheating with Let the Right One In, since it's also a coming of age story with the growing relationship between Eli and Oskar at the core of the film. So yeah, that one's not a pure horror film... sorry about that. I'm sure you'll forgive me and learn to trust again.

Like the trust Oskar has that Eli won't bite his neck... again.

Now the reason for this isn't one that is unique to horror necessarily, but one that horror suffers from the most. Because more than most genres, horror suffers from formula. In addition to the aesthetic and visual tropes that identify them, all genres have a certain structure to them, a formula that defines the genre.

For example, everyone knows the narrative for the standard romantic comedy. It starts, the couple meet, have a flirty dating period, get together, one of them will mess up, they'll break up, cue post break up sad feels montage, then the one who messed up performs a grand gesture, they get back together and live happily ever after, the end.

Now, the thing with romantic comedies is that they can play with that structure a lot more than other genres since that structure only really serves as a frame to hang the jokes and interaction between the two leads (assuming they have chemistry or at least took biology in high school). So, while the narrative can be predictable or boring, that might not matter too much as long as the script delivers the laughs and the actors are likable and relatable.

Oh yeah, I can totally relate to how dreamy Zac Efron is.

However, horror, possibly more than any other genre, can be stifled by its formula. So much of horror relies on the unexpected or on creating a creepy atmosphere. But this kinda becomes hard to do when you can predict when the jump scare is gonna come or if you're so familiar with the generic conventions that you can't get into the atmosphere the movie is trying to set up since you see all the tricks they're trying to pull.

You can't get scared by a movie if you're spending most of your time going, "Oh, I see what they trying to do here, next they'll release the bunny and he'll stalk the hell out of that carrot all creepy-like... fuck, bunnies are terrifying with them hoppy legs and twitchy little noses".

Behold! The devourer of souls!

So, yeah I often have trouble getting into a straight horror movie because of this adherence to formula. Which I guess could be said of a formulaic movie in any genre, but even more so with horror since horror's allergic reaction to formula makes it break out something awful.

That's why I've always liked horror movies that straddle other genres or are self-aware and play with the generic conventions and structure of horror. Movies like Shaun of the Dead, which is a romcomzom, or romantic comedy with zombies.

But Shaun was more than just adding romantic comedy elements to the zombie horror genre. It is so well verse in zombies and horror movies that it serves as a perfect satire/homage to the genre, showing its love for the genre as it's making fun of it, while still doing something new and inventive. And other films have come along to shotgun comzom horror to the head like Zombieland.

And while Zombieland was a seriously entertaining move, it didn't really satirise zombie movies much but rather just set a comedy within a zombie apocalypse. Rather, the movie since Shaun that really played with the conventions and tropes of horror was The Cabin in the Woods.

This cabin. That one there in the woods.

For Cabin in the Woods is perhaps the most distilled satire of horror movies ever. As much as Shaun teased with the conventions of horror, the many, many, many in jokes and references to other horror movies means it played more as a loving homage to the genre, a movie chocked full of horror Easter Eggs.

Cabin in the Woods incorporates the tropes of horror into its very narrative and not only as Easter Eggs but by making those tropes key components of the plot. Every conceivable cliche or generic convention is used, not as the basis for a joke or reference, but is incorporated into the fictional world of the film as a part of the reality of that fictional world.

For example, the five well known archetypal horror characters are the Athlete, the Scholar, the Whore, the Fool, and the Virgin are seen in like every horror movie that feature teenagers. They even die in a particulare order, usually the Whore followed by the Athlete, then the Scholar and the Fool, but the Virgin either survives or dies last.

I wonder if the one in the sport jacket is the Scholar or the Fool?

Now, usually this would be just the description of thes stock characters within film theory but in Cabin in the Woods, the main characters are literally are those archetypes in the fictional world they inhabit. And they have to die in that order for a reason. In this way, Cabin is internalising the tropes of horror, rather than merely touching on them or making fun of them, it fully embodies them within its fictional world to comment on them.

But none of this is done with a wink and a nod to a blind horse. Instead it is played completely straight. This doesn't mean that it's not funny, there is a lot of humour in the film. But the film doesn't come off as a parody or spoof since the actors aren't performing caricatures of the stereotypical characters they're playing but as well rounded characters. They just so happen to be those archetypal characters due to forces beyond their control.

"I just realised I'm not the Athlete."

For Cabin in the Woods is set in a world where those things we know as the cliches of horror movies are instead incorporated into the very fabric of that fictional world. Where all the monsters, supernatural creatures, evil spirits, and whatnot that haunt our nightmares exist, but are the means for a ritual to keep even more hideous evil at bay.

Now, I won't say more because every time someone spoils this movie a kitten loses its wings, but suffice to say, Cabin in the Woods is a ridiculously smart horror satire that I have done no justice to here. Did I mention it was written by that guy who wrote for Rosseane before he did some show about vampires or something?

So, yeah... go watch it. It's good.


References:

The Cabin in the Woods Wikipedia page

Plot - The Cabin in the Woods Wiki

The Cabin in the Woods on 10 Best Horror Movies of the Last 10 Years - Complex

We Must Discuss The Ending of The Cabin in the Woods - Decider


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This introduction is supposed to let you know that you have found the correct Caleb. 

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