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Why 'The Cabin in the Woods' isn’t a game changer

Mike P Williams
13 September 2012

Note: this article contains spoilers.

Like numerous other cinema goers, I too went to see 'The Cabin in the Woods' -- the latest offering from co-writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard -- which had been branded a 'game changer'. I tried to enter without preconceived ideas, especially after the 5-star praise some reviewers had awarded it, and it was just as well, because I didn't find it something that redefines or offer anything different with the genres it explores.

Man of the moment, Joss Whedon, has mustered extraordinary popularity in 2012 with both this and the billion dollar-breaking 'Avengers Assemble', even though he's been around for over twenty years, penning TV shows such as 'Firefly' and the hugely popular 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'.

'The Cabin in the Woods' combines genres that include science fiction, fantasy, horror and comedy. Whilst this is fine, the genres that predominantly feature are horror and sci-fi - so contextually it's worth citing these in reference to its supposed game changer status, defined by investopedia as 'new and different ideas that stand out from the crowd... an idea that completely changes the way a situation develops.'

And whilst Whedon's premise of a generic horror film set within the confines of a form of reality TV is both interesting and innovative, it isn't executed in the same way as other movie game changers such as 'Alien' for example; a film that began as a sci-fi and evolved into a slasher (subgenre of horror). 'Alien' created a new genre hybrid that remains cemented in Hollywood with its subsequent sequels and over three decades later, with films such as Danny Boyle's 'Sunshine'.

People have decided that the film's narrative -- a set up horror scenario controlled by an external government company -- has redefined and revolutionised, whereas it merely exploits traits and clichés of horror and uses it, at times, to somewhat whimsy effect. The fact it is all overtly tongue in cheek means the film isn't scary, therefore simply offering a self parodying nod to the genre without taking itself seriously. The problem with that? Well it therefore doesn't fall into game changer territory.

It's not like the concept hasn't been thought of before, either. Films such as Sidney Lumet's 1976 'Network' as well as 'Battle Royale' can attribute as influences. More specifically 'The Truman Show and this year's 'The Hunger Games' all incorporate the element of reality TV and external manipulation for a specific purpose, so the idea of something taking place within the 'walls' of a Big Brother style show is but a common one.

What's more, if you're familiar with Joss Whedon's career, then the film - notably the final third - will feel like a polished, extended version of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'. Not that this is a direct criticism, but being aware of his previous works makes the revelations in the film seem predictable.

Sure, 'The Cabin in the Woods' takes a pop at the horror genre and its conventions. In fact, it might even inspire more filmmakers to produce some more original horror rather than the generic run-of-the-mill drivel, but to say the film has an elevated intelligence or esteem doesn't seem viable. It tries too hard to appear clever, but derives from genuine horror too much; instead of terrifying audiences, it makes them giggle, thus failing at what the fundamental purpose of the genre attempts to do.

In terms of subtext, there of course is some, just not on the profound levels I've heard being bandied around. It satires the horror genre heavily, as well as forms a coherent social commentary on the ideas of reality TV, as well as saying something about the validity and worth of the younger generation - the fact that five teens are willingly lead to their deaths via sacrifice is something the company behind it deal with in their job; denoting their lives as worthless.

Overall, it is difficult to see where the immense praise has come from. On a personal note, I found it neither ingenious nor groundbreaking. Yes, it had some interesting ideas, but ultimately is an enjoyable experience rather than a life-changing one.

In fact, thinking about it logically, horror is merely a device at the heart of the script, constructed and deconstructed for the purposes of the film's actual narrative. Therefore, it succeeds at tricking audiences into believing a) it's a horror film and b) that it's clever.

In short, 'The Cabin in the Woods' might gain admiration in the form of imitators, but it's not a film that can really live up to claims of it being revolutionary or indeed, a game changer. It's undeniably fun and entertaining adhering to a subtext of social commentary on reality TV, but offers little more.

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