The Cabin in Woods is composed of two plotlines — that of the Scream-sequel style cast and their unwitting doom within the confines of a titular cabin in the woods, and that of a corporation staffed by cynical employees tasked with killing off the five friends by rigging their surroundings against them. At the beginning, the hot blonde/brawny alpha male/hapless stoner combination seems as much the beginnings of a promising episode of Scooby Doo as it does the framework for a great thriller.
But the film definitely falls into the latter category—it fleshes out its stable of horror movie tropes almost to the point of tired repetition, but at the perfect moment reins them back in with a quip from the office-bound merchants of death or a wisecrack from the shaggy pothead, who stands in for every viewer who’s ever yelled “No! Don’t open that door!” at a movie screen. It’s a delicate tension, but director Drew Goddard manages it perfectly.
Ever since the shy, good-girl archetype character pulled a diary out of a dusty basement littered with other scary-movie symbolism, read its Latin incantation that awakened a zombie (while at the same time the office-bound merchants of death rejoiced because they guessed the monsters correctly and won the office pool), I was hoping for something truly unexpected to cap off the movie’s absurdity. One by one, zombies stab, beat or throw a mace-like bear trap at the five kids, eventually whittling the group down to the nice girl. As the guys in the office crack open a beer and celebrate having killed enough people to satisfy the sacrificial requirements, the meta-horror movie appears to provide a deflating but neatly composed ending.
But boy, does the movie go on to deliver. The stoner, seemingly killed off after home-run swings with his bong failed to vanquish any of his zombie assailants, steps in to save our heroine, and takes her back to the zombies’ grave, where he reveals a brushed-steel elevator.
The duo ride the lift down into the earth — on some hellish version of a trip on the Tower of Terror — where they witness a sideshow of horror movie villains. By now, my synapses were firing as I tried to piece together how the stoner wasn’t killed — how this could all be possible. My own adrenaline rush was complimented by the one experienced by the characters, who realize slowly that all of the freaks sliding by them are actually stuck in elevators like their own, and it was only the unwitting reading of the diary that caused the zombies to surface.
When the camera zooms out to reveal the world’s most terrifying Rubik’s Cube of rotating baddies, my mind reeled enough to think this could be a perfect twist ending. Then the elevator doors swing open, a guard shoves his rifle in their faces and threatens to end the movie there. But they overpower him and find a control room with switches and knobs that literally cause all hell to break loose, and the movie starts to zero in on its absurdist end.
Just imagine a room full of every horror movie memory you’ve supressed over the years having a go at each other. An almost comic level of blood is spilled in quantities that would make even Jigsaw blush.
Oh, and a unicorn impales some guy.
And when they finally get to the inner sanctum, the home of the gods, and you’re expecting a totally mind blowing, “oh-my-god-Jigsaw-is-actually-that-dead-guy-in-the-center-of-the-room” twist ending, and the remaining two characters evade a decidedly Kantian challenge of whether to kill each other and save the world or save only themselves, the stoner and the saint rest their weary bones on a stone staircase, smoke a joint and have a chat.
“Giant, evil gods,” the saint muses, mentioning her longing (and, essentially, ours) to have seen them in the flesh.
“I know, that would have been a fun weekend,” the stoner replies, in one of the more groan-inducing penultimate lines of a film I’ve seen.
And then a giant god hand raises up from the center of the earth, and dramatically high-fives the movie screen causing the credits to roll.
They had this movie running like clockwork — each cliche carefully counterbalanced with an incisive comment on the absurdity of the genre and carefully meted-out doses of action and gore. And then they blew the ending? Smoking a joint as the world ends? That was as clever as it gets?
To be fair, that was the final scene after a “holy crap!” ending. But really? The world ends, tied up nice and neat by a fist of magma-oozing godly fingers? I never thought I’d feel jealous of the guy who had his mind blown (or rather, made into a shish kebab with a zombie dagger) halfway through the movie, but I was expecting an ending that would leave me as wide-eyed, shocked and enthralled as the 10 minutes of plot-twists that came before it. Not so.
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