The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
Many movies take on the feat of commentating on the genre they are creating in. Satire, the act of self aware humor, we aren’t actually saying we believe this or that or that we condone this or that we are just commenting on it. Sarcasm is to interaction as satire is to humor.
Starting with scenes of a blood sacrifices, cannibalism, and war taking place across multiple cultures and circumstances, depictions of torture and hell on earth we have our first clues to the mysteries of the plot.
Stockholm goes south and we find out it’s just Japan and us, most likely the USA, with Sitterson, played by Richard Jenkins, the highest up in command that we see and Hadley, played by Bradley Whitford, his second in command. The last time we had a glitch is 1998, and despite Lin from chem raising concerns they assure her they have a plan, and back then it had been the chem departments fault. Bam, Cabin in the Woods flashes across the scene and immediately if you’ve come in blind you’re probably thinking, “um, okay, what even?” while we cut to yet another different scene of a quaint college town.
Pants-less college girl, named Dana played by Kristen Connolly, pining over her professor and her roomie who just dyed her hair blonde, named Jules played by Anna Hutchinson, and has just the right thing for her roommate–a setup with the new guy on the football team, Holden played by Jesse Williams, whom her boyfriend, Curt played by Chris Hemsworth, is bringing on their trip this weekend.
From the start things are seriously unserious, with Curt throwing a football through the two girls and out the window only for Holden to catch it perfectly on time with them talking about the set up with Holden. My personal favorite character is introduced next, Marty played by Fran Kanz, the random stoner of the group who is endearing if not questionable morally, showing up smoking and driving just in time to make the trip. They treat him like the lovable idiot but he makes rather intelligent remarks and jokes that go somewhat unnoticed. So already there’s a weird feeling like you’re noticing something but since none of the other characters are you’re not sure if it’s actually a thing in the movie or not, luckily in this case it is. Marty brings along his retractable bong disguised as a metal coffee thermos with the bowl as the handle, an extremely sick accessory definitely conceived by some high people. A spy like man on the roof reports to the main office that they’re right on time but we still aren’t sure what for.
And just like that we have our squad of horror archetypes together: the not-like-other-girls quieter girl, the dumb blonde best friend and her jock boyfriend who’s cousin’s new cabin they’re visiting (with no further details other than general landmarks near the cabin), the too perfect guy they brought for the main girl, and the stoner tag along fifth wheel comedic relief.
We, the audience, are briefed alongside a security hire special agent type guy named Truman played by Brian White, that this is a serious and special operation that requires him to have been given the low-down by the big guys, whoever they are. The security hire is a really cool way of giving us narrator like information without having weird, unrealistic conversations between the other characters who are senior executives at this corporation.
Wasting no time we’re next introduced to the first milestone of any textbook horror movie, a moment where the characters make the choice to continue down the path towards doom rather than turn back and follow their instincts, The Harbinger played by Tim DeZarn, an old man who’s gas station they stop at to fill up and get directions to the cabin–which they only have landmarks to, extremely dangerous and reckless to plan a trip somewhere with no information at all about it. He scares the shit out of Holden who stupidly enters the closed gas station and snoops around looking for an attendant of some kind.
He’s an archetype himself, with a hardened but vague background of “The War” but when asked which war he snaps at Jules saying she knows which war. He had made it clear he doesn’t like people coming and going in regard to that property and Marty stands his ground to the old man, making jokes about the man being so old it could possibly be the Civil War. Despite this interaction the group pushes forward.
In a very Evil Dead like cabin the group finds themselves filled with unease and getting constant evidence that things are not right (like a horrifying painting hung on the wall covering a one way mirror into the bedroom next door and the general state of the cabin being in decline) they decide to continue on with their vacation.
The Harbinger, Mordecai aka Mordy, calls the office to report feedback about the interaction with the group to Hadley who puts him on speaker for Sitterson, Lin, and even Truman to listen in on and rambles on warnings that “The Fool” almost derailed the plans. He warns them about The Fool, seemingly talking about Marty who burned him and isn’t so much of a fool afterall.
Through Truman asking questions we learn that the group must choose what happens and that they have to incite some sort of punishment in order for “The System” to work the way it’s meant to. Everyone sets aside the obvious moral quandary of setting the group up for slaughter of some sort in order to make bets. We aren’t privy to what they’re betting on, each bet placed on a note and given to Hadley who is running the bet with Sitterson. Hadley tells an intern he’ll have to split the pot for his bet with maintenance because they bet the same every year, so we can assume that this happens annually.
We learn that the director and upper management don’t particularly care if the employees bet on the outcome despite controlling the outcome. But alas, they still need the participants to ultimately make their own choice and can only set the stage for them rather than make them.
The group back in the cabin goes on to play a game of truth-or-dare and like in most horror movies the game becomes oddly sexual, Jules making out with a taxidermy wolf on the wall. Midway through the game a door puts swiftly open, extremely odd yet the group brushes it off, Curt even saying it must’ve been the wind…from the basement cellar…that pushed the door up and open…anyways. After general childish taunting the group dares Dana to go downstairs and not opt out of playing by choosing truth instead of dare and she does, only to scream out for help prompting Curt to tell her she needs to strip now since she failed, which ew.
In the basement cellar they find a trove of creepy treasures, each of them becoming transfixed by a specific item: Jules on an old wedding dress with a black choker she wants to put on, Holden on a music box with a ballerina he’s gazing into the mirror of, Curt on solving a sphere shaped puzzle reminiscent of a Hellraiser cube, Dana on going through a desk full of old papers with clues about the family that owned the cabin originally, and Marty on holding old reels of retro footage negatives up to the light.
They end up all focusing on a creepy diary that Dana finds belonging to the girl who’s family lived in the cabin. Patience Buckner, played by Jodelle Ferland, wrote about her family’s torture and murders that took place at the cabin. She wrote as she died, after losing her arm, ultimately wanting someone to come there in the future to read included phrases in latin to bring them back to finish their mission of pain. Marty, acting like the only rational one doesn’t want them to read it, but the rest of the group thinks it’s a completely normal idea to do so, and so Dana does. Of course this summons the family from beyond the grave as murderous zombie hillbillies but the group doesn’t know that yet and continue to go about their night in the cabin.
Ronald The Intern and the maintenance team won the bet with their pick “Zombie Redneck Torture Family”, which we find out was for what monster would be summoned to take out the group. Options had been many and far between from merman (Hadley’s pick that he’s always wanted to see despite Sitterson warning him it’s actually disgusting), to Angry Molesting Tree and Dismemberment Goblins.
Word comes in that the Japan team is known to be successful, showoffs, and that things are going according to plan, raising the stakes slightly while still keeping the vibe that of regional office competition.
Jules and Curt are acting odd enough that the group notices, being aggressive and sexual, unlike themselves. We of course know there’s pheromones at play and hair dye infused with chemicals to make Jules dumber. Marty pieces things together, that puppeteers are up to something here. He reminds Dana that Curt is a sociology major who is a star athlete and Jules is extremely intelligent as well which makes their behavior even more odd. Dana states she notices the night is weird too but only after Marty goes off in search of a book with pictures in it after she brushes him off. His high thoughts literally help make him see reality for what it is but he’s too high so even he brushes it off.
We follow Jules and Curt into the forest, which the office team helps manufacture to ensure Of course even the possibility of seeing a naked college woman on the camera feeds causes every man back in the office to crowd into the main command center. There is apparently a customer that needs to be satisfied and somehow this display is important to make that happen so despite knowing it’s wrong, especially in light of her imminent death, they will still engage in it and rationalize it.
A rather brutal attack ensues while Curt and Jules get frisky in the very orchestrated scene of the forest night. After she’s murdered by the hillbilly group we get more clues about who the bosses are and what we’re doing for them when both pray and then the one goes over to pull a lever that activates Jules’ blood pouring down over a stone engraved design we don’t know yet. Her blood fills it and we now know that this is for sure the blood sacrifice referenced at the start of the film and that they are sacrificing the group.
Marty notices there aren’t any stars outside and says, “We are abandoned,” unintentionally referencing the circumstances and the religious group conducting the sacrifices. After Curt returns and informs the group of what happened and the hillbilly zombies she still wants
The group wants to stay together and barricade the doors, which is the smart thing to do but they have a fail safe for that, pheromones into the room that encouraged Curt to suggest breaking up and Holden to follow his lead as a beta to his alpha. Marty of course notices this and questions them but the group is separated anyways when the Buckner zombies break into the cabin. Marty smashes a lamp by accident and finds a camera in the lamp.
Of course, due to being the burnout he thinks his parents would think of him if they could see him, he assumes this means he’s on a reality TV show and is grabbed through a window. Luckily, he has his trusty bong mug which might’ve saved him if the Buckner’s didn’t have a 100% clearance rate level of abilities. Marty is killed and another lever is pulled but this time we see the image, a person outline dancing with a cup which we can assume to be The Fool.
Unfortunately the group finds themselves in The Black Room from the diary they found the Latin incantation in earlier, the room used to kill the victims. Using a bear claw trap the big guy of the Buckner’s gets ahold of Holden but Dana is a bad bitch and kills him anyways, her man, her man, her man.
They use shock to make Dana drop the weapon which is really smart and interesting as there isn't a reason for any sane and in control person in this circumstance to leave behind a weapon despite it always seeming that they do in horror movies. Unfortunately for our office peeps the kids in Japan defeated the evil and vanquished the spirit with zero fatality. It’s confirmed we’re watching the American team when they make a comment about buying American.
We are sacrificing to something to keep ancients at bay and without said sacrifice they will rise up, we still don’t know what that means at this point but someone is about to lose their job–the tunnel that’s supposed to be blocked with rocks is completely open and the last three sacrifice victims are heading through that tunnel out of the controlled environment of the dome with which the cabin is.
At this point we know that the cabin is in a dome on top and below the cabin at an undetermined depth is the office where the employees are orchestrating the sacrifice offering. Below all of that even lower is where the boss or upper management or the ancients (which could all be the same at this point) are at.
Demolition didn’t get the orders to blow and block the tunnel and there’s a glitch in electrical which sends the whole office into mayhem wondering why the tunnel hasn’t blown. Midway through the tunnel our guy sparks the right wires and gets that baby blown. It’s hard to decide who you’re even rooting for because on one hand they don't deserve to be sacrifice but on the other hand we don’t know what happens if “the ancients” rise up and if they’ll be killed regardless. We now have the last three of the group stuck on one side of the road and the tunnel on the other. Curt decides to cross it on his dirt bike in order to go get help and bring cops back and seek revenge on the Buckner’s in honor of Jules.
What starts as a majestic and heroic feat quickly turns into one of the most, “oh shit?” moments of the movie, him flying right into the dome wall and crashing to his dead below. Dana realizes that Marty had been right but we have another lever pulled and another image sort of revealed, a man with a spear and a ball, athletic and active looking.
Holden still doesn’t believe this is some sort of weird set up, rather believing there has to be another way out, another way through but Dana is steadfast in her certainty that something else is happening other than just zombies. Out of fricking no where however Holden gets stabbed through the neck by the big dude from the Buckner squad, which took me by very much surprise even upon rewatch.
After crashing into the lake below Dana fends off the Buckner zombie as she escapes to the surface and the dock. The new hire asks the group how it’s possible that everything is complete if she’s alive and we learn that the “virgin death” is optional and as long as she suffers they’re good to go. What would normally be the final scene of a horror movie about a cabin in the woods, Dana having a final battle with the Buckner zombie, pulls out to an office party.
The office party celebration of completing the ritual and the office shmoozing and gossiping. Demolition is still adamant they didn’t get the order, informing them the power glitch came from upstairs. Suddenly, the red phone on the wall next to the ritual levers rings and everyone goes silent, “That’s impossible….” and just like that Marty my man is back.
Just as things are about to be over THE BONG is used to stop the bear trap and Marty gives a simple, “hi,” the true prophet returns! Marty has not only survived but he’s found a trap down in the grave the zombies climbed out of and pulls Dana down into that grave. He dismembered the zombie with a trowel, and is truly the hero we need. Marty has also found out how to open the elevator and figured out about maintenance overrides which would allow them to go down into the unknown below.
All of a sudden our horror story is not in a cabin in the woods, but an underground Resident Evil style bunker. We are taken on a sideways, down and around elevator that momentarily pauses in front of various monsters like a ghost skeleton head, a werewolf, a ballerina with a gullet tooth thing for a mouth, and a Hellraiser demon with a sphere puzzle instead of a cube. Dana puts together that they chose, that they made them choose how they’d die and she’s encensed, banging the wall as we pull out to reveal an entire collection of horrifying demons.
The main office knows that they’re in one of the monster cages and chem informs them that what he’s been smoking makes him immune, so not so much the fool after all. It’s revealed that he, as The Fool, needs to die before her, The Virgin, or the ritual will be ruined. They’re confronted by a man with a gun only for him to be thwarted and them to get out of the cage and into the facility. A voice over an intercom system informs them that they’re sorry for the circumstances and that this ritual is older than time and that it’s their task to “placate the ancient ones” and for them to be offers, they just want to get this dirty task over with.
Dana and Marty are able to secure themselves in a guard booth that’s bulletproof and release the monsters that the overcome voice had just informed them are the worst of the worst monsters (but not as bad as the ancient ones). Being the bad bitch she is Dana releases all the monsters.
An extremely funny and gross scene ensues–the SWAT-like team that came in to kill Marty and Dana, in that order, hears movement of the cages so halts advancing and pauses all sound only for an elevator ding to happen, a brief pause, the squad leader saying, “oh shit,” and a flood of monsters crash into and gruesomely kill them. This is probably the most known scene from the movie and definitely the most fun when all someone knows is that and the title.
More special forces dudes come in and all of the walls are covered in blood and remains as yet another round of monsters are released from the elevators. We see everything from supernatural, to demon, to beast, and back. It’s a code black, all of the sectors are down and things are mayhem, in the background you can see the intern holding up a sign to the cameras assumably asking for help as he barricades.
Dana and Marty’s respite doesn’t last for long, a screeching bat creature crashing through the window causing them to make a break for it. A zombie horde comes after them while we see a murdering clown impervious to bullets, a unicorn using it’s horn to murder, and the Buckner zombie girl making her way down.
Despite weaponry, security protocol, and barricades the security dude gets got and decides to blow himself up, also blowing up the control office area. Only for a merman to come and devour him right as he says, “oh, come on,” and a gruesome blow hole death ensues. Our lady is taken out from the ceiling via a reptile creature and he makes it into the ancient tunnel below only to be stabbed by Dana.
His final words to Dana are to kill Marty which throws her off enough for her to second guess what he’d been talking about. They make their way down even further into the room we’ve been seeing with the blood and the photos. All five are archetypes connected by a pentagon with spokes coming off of it in a circular pattern. Marty peers below the platform that the stone images are surrounding to see fiery pit down below.
She realizes it’s a ritual sacrifice and that it’s intention is to punish them. Sigourney Weaver is the director and comes out of no where to explain. Every culture is different but for us there’s five, the whore who dies first, the athlete who dies, the scholar, the fool who all suffer and die at the hands of the horror they raised. The last is the virgin who lives or dies by fate, they acknowledge she’s not a virgin and they work with what they have. The ancient ones below will remain there if they complete the sacrifice but if not they’ll rise up.
Marty is about loyalty and Dana about the ethical thing but it doesn't matter because a wolf attacks her and she’s dying while Weaver fights with Marty on the mount. The Buckner zombie, ever persistent, returns to finish them off and kills her rather than Marty, allowing him to knock them off the mount.
Marty has survived and walks over to sit with the still dying Dana who tells him, “I don’t think Curt even has a cousin,” which is even funnier. She apologizes she almost shooting him and he apologizes that she’s dying, telling her he gets it and pulling out a joint and a lighter. Marty apologizes for letting her get attacked and for letting the world end and they are chill with that as they smoke the J because eh, humanity, which is very 2012.
Dana tells him she wishes she could’ve seen humanity end and Marty agrees it would’ve been a fun weekend as they brace for the collapse of the temple they’re inside of. Out from the cabin in the woods comes a giant hand crackled with fire within that slams down onto the forrest floor and the camera to bring on the end credits.
This is a badass movie that makes me laugh every time I watch it. I’m a sucker for attention to detail and easter eggs and this movie is littered with them from start to finish. With so many that I find new ones even now like the intern in the background security footage this go around.
Cabin in the Woods is still one of my favorites, especially because it’s an underdog of a favorite, with many people writing it off early on due to the premise and cast. I recall this being around the time when you couldn't think anything was cool or that would be lame. This is definitely something cool however, creating an interesting and fun world that we discover as we go, albeit sometimes a little too on the nose, it’s fun and keeps you entertained.