*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.