*SPOILER ALERT* If you want to go into this movie knowing as little as possible about it, you should probably wait to read this post till after you’ve watched it.
I’m not a fan of horror movies. I watched this one because Joss wrote the script, along with Buffy alum Drew Goddard, who also directed. Even though I knew it wasn’t going to be your standard horror flick, it still wasn’t what I thought it would be. I expected a switcheroo of some kind – those in charge would actually be the ones manipulated; or the people being killed would somehow still be alive because the whole thing was a movie. So kudos to Joss and Drew for steadily, horrifically, raising the stakes throughout the film, for not pulling a “Ha-ha, none of what you saw actually happened/matters,” or resetting everything to a comfortable status quo. The film basically takes a conceit familiar to Buffy watchers – that if the Slayer fails, evil and horrors from all dimensions will be unleashed on earth – and follows through on that scenario.
I heard a lot about this movie subverting horror conventions. I think it affirms them and gives them deeper meaning: horror conventions, all our ritualized fears and nightmares, are actually offerings to appease a greater evil, a cosmically destructive force. The film re-imagines the silly clichés of horror flicks as the elements of a profound, humanity-saving sacrifice (it essentially spills the beans in the opening sequence of images depicting ritual sacrifice across history and cultures).
Sacrifice is a theme of Buffy as well. Buffy saves the world every season, often at great cost to herself, by sacrificing her love and even her own life. In this film, there’s a less heroic mechanism in place to enact sacrifice and hold evil at bay. The system lacks the moral compass of the Slayer, though, so the sacrifice becomes devalued. While the engineers and technicians who orchestrate the scenario understand what’s at stake, they don’t seem to place much value on the lives being lost. The system sort of negates the point of the sacrifice because it doesn’t come at any personal cost to the people in charge.
In a bold, disquieting move, The Cabin in the Woods offers no reassurance, no attempt to make us feel better about humanity’s destruction. There’s just Dana’s mordant remark, “Humanity – eh. Maybe it’s time to give someone else a chance.” I did keep hoping for a miracle till the very end, something like the Japan scenario that we briefly glimpse, in which the girls’ apparent goodness transforms evil. I thought Dana and Marty would figure out some way to appease the ancients and save humanity, but no; there’s no Slayer here to heroically redefine the terms of sacrifice, to recast loss as empowerment.
You know, it never occurred to me that this movie was the premise of Buffy taken to its logical (and horrific and comedic) extreme, but you’re totally right. And what I love about it is how it shows the flip side of Buffy’s heroism: the way that allowing (or forcing) someone else to sacrifice everything helps to maintain the status quo. In the scenes with Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins it’s like we’re watching the Watcher’s Council manipulate Buffy’s life for her, all in the name of a greater good that, while it might be real (the world actually *will* be destroyed if the Slayer/these kids in the woods fail), still doesn’t actually justify the way those who sacrifice are treated.
I love how it plays with the “virgin sacrifice” tradition by featuring a nice girl who isn’t actually a virgin; it totally goes along with Joss’s refusal to equate virginity with innocence and sex with loss.
Also, f*&$%ing Sigourney Weaver!
I probably have more to say. I’ll get back to you.
Yes, the engineers are very much like the Council. Unlike Buffy, Dana and her friends don’t get to wrest control from them and come up with some more empowering way to save the world. I think Sigourney (indeed, always awesome!) says something like, “You don’t get it; there’s no fighting. You either die with humanity, or you die for it.”
About the virgin iconography: It’s almost too obvious to point out that the male icons represent different characteristics/achievements (warrior, scholar, fool) whereas the female icons (virgin and whore) represent women based on the only characteristic that matters, the only metric with which women are measured – sexuality. This being Joss, I feel comfortable in saying that he’s drawing attention to and criticizing the stereotypes – right?
Yes, I think he’s drawing attention to the ridiculousness of the stereotypes (male and female) by pointing out how the engineers have to drug the teenagers to make them fit what the demons want. Jules is obviously intelligent (“When did Jules become a celebutard?” Marty asks during the trip, and the joke about books that happens before the trip–“From you, Dad! I learned it by watching you!”–shows she’s both witty and a good student), Curt is not a dumb, aggressive jock, and Dana is neither a virgin nor a whore. Part of the point that Joss is making, I think, is one about how our stories/traditions/stereotypes force young people, male and female, into predetermined roles and then punish them for playing those roles. In that sense the film reminded me very much of The Hunger Games: “Act out this fantasy for us so we can inflict on you young people the guilt that we have incurred as adults.”
Yes, I saw a lot of connections to The Hunger Games, too. The engineers are like the gamemakers, controlling and manipulating the kids’ environment. Also, *Spoiler Alert* if you haven’t read Catching Fire: the energy field that kills Curt is just like the one encompassing the arena. And for most of the film, Joss is playing with our expectations that this life-and-death struggle is being broadcast as reality show entertainment.
There’s a song on The Hunger Games soundtrack called “Come Away to the Water” that speaks to your point about the kids being sacrificed for the adults’ sins: “Come away little lamb, come away to the slaughter.”
This one has definitely been on my list for when it comes around on cable. (And I don’t mind spoilers; it sometimes helps me focus on the movie rather than being swept up in wondering what happens next.) ((There are exceptions… I would NOT have been pleased to know the ending of, say, The Sixth Sense or Wild Things, but probably (!!) would have been okay knowing about The Usual Suspects.))
I never got into Buffy (more a time constraint than a taste one), but generally do like Whedon’s work (LOVED Firefly). [And I did like the movie version a lot, but of course that wasn’t Whedon and had a different tone.]
I adore Firefly! Set your DVR for the 10th anniversary reunion special airing next month on Science Channel:
Yeah, Joss didn’t direct the Buffy movie; he just wrote it. Based on some Buffy episodes, I sometimes think that’s almost more important than the directing when it comes to creating a recognizably Whedonesque product; his writing is just so damn strong.