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Why “The Cabin in the Woods” is redefining horror

Claire Stephens | Sunday, September 16, 2012


If you haven’t heard any buzz about “The Cabin in the Woods,” it very much looks like every other horror movie you’ve ever seen. A handful of college-age friends go on a trip out in the middle of nowhere, and bad things happen. There’s the witty stoner, the lusty couple you know will die first and the smart friend who is the love interest of the innocent and kind-hearted girl, who will likely make it to the end.

Even the logline convinces you this is another run-of-the-mill scary movie: “Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, where they get more than they bargained for. Together, they must discover the truth behind the cabin in the woods.”

If that’s all you’re expecting, you’re in for a big surprise, and a good one. You as the audience are watching the truth unfold about the cabin in the woods too, and it’s not what you think. If you still want to be surprised, stop reading now. For those of you wondering why people have claimed the movie redefines the horror genre, read on.

Why is “The Cabin in the Woods” better than a typical horror movie? Because it’s only half of the horror movie you’re expecting – the other half makes twisted fun of what happens in horror movies, and ends up being the truly horrifying half. 

The classic-horror setup half is the five friends going to a secluded cabin and horrible supernatural things coming after them. The black comedy half of the film is discovering the cabin is filled with cameras, and the friends are being surveyed and manipulated by a corporation who unleashed the supernatural. 

Don’t be mistaken – this is not a parody movie. While parodies like “Scary Movie” make fun of the horror movie genre, this film’s real plot makes a black comedy out of horrors unfolding, but is not a commentary on horror films. 

Even the typical horror-film half of this movie, while predictable, is still better than the average horror flick, which is notorious for being filled with gratuitous sex and violence. The audience follows how and why this corporation is orchestrating their deaths, rather than following the suspense of the doomed friends. There is something truly disturbing about watching employees in white jackets drink cocktails and mingling while someone is being tortured on a surveillance screen in the background. 

Another unexpected element is the dark sense of humor. You don’t laugh because it’s so bad, it’s good, but at the intentionally black sense of humor. You’ll laugh when the protagonists fall into the regular, stupid traps that people in horror moves fall for. You’ll laugh because the corporation’s employees monitoring it are making bets and jokes on what kind of horror will befall the young people this time around. You’ll feel uncomfortable when you realize you’re just as awful as the employees for laughing at someone’s gruesome demise. 

The horror elements are still there too – what is happening to those unfortunate five friends is real. Even though you fully know it’s coming and know it’s being all planned out by the corporation, you’ll still jump when the monsters pop up, cover your ears in anticipation when it’s been too quiet for too long and wince when someone loses a limb. Even though you know they are pawns for the corporation, the supernatural monsters will give you the absolute creeps, and if blood painting the walls will make you queasy, brace yourself.

“The Cabin in the Woods” is a refreshing twist on the horror movie that will leave you wondering what it means to watch something horrible and who or what is truly horrifying. 

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