The teenage slasher genre has been terrible for a long time. but it must make a good amount of money, because by my count there are: 14 “Friday the 13th” films, 12 “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” films, nine “Saw” films, six “Nightmare on Elm Street” films, and five “Final Destination” films. All of these movies have essentially the same plot and purpose. Only the villains and names of dead teenagers are different. They have even been parodied to an excessive degree. Wes Craven’s “Scream” picked the genre apart, introducing mainstream audiences to the various rules and conventions before finally falling victim to its own mockery by making four sequels. It takes a special talent to breathe life into such a thoroughly massacred style.
Enter the writing team of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, who seem to have a strong love/hate relationship with the genre. In “The Cabin in the Woods,” the duo take the conventions of the slasher movie, give elaborate, nonsensical reasons for them, and in the process create a genuinely engaging film-going experience.
The premise of the film centers on a secretive government agency, an agency with massive underground facilities around the world, which entices the youth of the world to isolated locations in order to eliminate them one by one using various supernatural forces. The American team, led by the wonderful Bradley Whitford and my favorite “that guy” actor Richard Jenkins, is in charge of this year’s murder. Our teenagers are the normal stereotypes, carefully selected by the team. The narrative is told from both perspectives. We see the action as it happens to the young victims, and we see the behind the scenes manipulations by the organization.
The filmmakers do a good job of both creating and relieving tension. Most audiences have seen enough slasher movies that they detach themselves from the characters at the onset of the film. The filmmakers encourage this detachment by showing the deaths as routine within the agency, freeing the audience to look at the genre from a new perspective. This clean, voyeuristic perspective allows for a more aloof deconstruction of the style than films like “Scream.” It gives the filmmakers a strong foothold for dark humor and sardonic wit while maintaining the gory, “jump out and grab you” types of scares the genre is known for.
“The Cabin in the Woods” is meant to both take slasher films to task for unoriginality and show a genuine love for the genre itself. It includes reference upon reference upon reference to the titans in the genre—the filmmakers know their subject matter well. It may be a bit too meta for some audience members, but with such a pervasive and overdone style, a film with this much self awareness is an enormous amount of fun.
John DeVore will appear on Channel 12 WDEF-TV’s “Prime News at 7” on May 16, 23 and 30 to discuss upcoming summer movies.