31 Days of Wicked Watching [DAY 16]: My View of Woods and Cabins is Extremely Tainted

The sequence of modern horrors that I’ve shared over the course of this week is on purpose. They’re meant to be in direct contrast, yet symbiosis, with the pantheon of monsters that gave way for these tall tales to be celebrated. Today’s film, “Cabin in the Woods,” which like “It Follows” would make the top ten of horror films in the 10s, is another entry in the hall of fame of reflexivity. This, couple with its predecessor “Scream” from 15 years prior, make a dynamic duo of meta-horror that even a good academic or critic couldn’t provide.

Much like “Teeth,” this film is doused with the monicker that it is a horror-comedy. I’ll give you that Franz Kranz’s Marty provides a definitive comedic element, but I wouldn’t go as far to classify it with that additional genre tag. Instead, the film is quite dark and doesn’t shy away from the use of blood and guts to immortalize the monstrous stories we’ve heard our whole lives. The premise being that an underground organization is behind the horror tropes of the world, which offers a unique twist on the reflexive nature of both the genre and on film in general. Much like Craven’s “Scream,” Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s “Cabin in the Woods” explicitly talks about the rules of the genre and engages quite critically in what happens beyond the individual-level if those rules are broken. For them, the story is more about how we need these rules for our society and culture to exist. And a massive plot-twist, and appearance of a scream queen legend, will solidify that narrative.

The story follows five distinct stereotypes, both borrowing from the genre and from “The Breakfast Club.” These characters meet a number of untimely deaths and experiences, but the death, unlike many slashers, isn’t the celebratory act in the script. While, yes, there are ample celebrations at the spilling of blood, it becomes nearly second-fiddle to the dialogue and development of the purpose of the rules. Where “Scream” emphasized the rules and thus the punishment, “Cabin in the Woods” goes one step further by acknowledging the punishment by then emphasizing the greater gift that sacrificing those who fail to follow rules has on the greater society. Whedon’s work here, both visual and directorial, is incredibly clear. There are definitive give-aways as to his technical work and his over direction of movement and interaction. His stamp is hyper-present with a number of visual homages to some of his most celebrated works.

What a good horror film will do is take a number of relatively unknown young actors and allow their chemistry to develop into a story; however, many would chastise that belief as much of horror just uses the cheapness of those young actors and do very little to advance their storytelling capabilities beyond their death sequences and sex scenes. What’s done here is take actors into a more complex and interrelated world, and the actors aren’t relative unknowns. For example, Marvel’s Thor, good ‘ole Chris Hemsworth, is a predominant character in the film. Many of the adults are also well-known actors in the film and television industries. This is a better than good horror film for this reason.

From hilarious antics–including bong mugs, double-sided mirrors and making out with the head of a wolf–to solid elements of allusion and homage in storytelling, this is a beyond-must see.

However… I will not be staying alone in a cabin in the woods anytime soon.

Published by Patrick R. Johnson

Patrick is a Ph.D. student and graduate instructor in the SJMC. He comes from nearly a decade of teaching high school journalism and English, and an adjunct professor of journalism and media studies at Marquette University (where he received both his bachelor's and master's degrees). He is a former Dow Jones Distinguished National Journalism Teacher of the Year. His research interests include the intersection of news literacy, journalism ethics, journalism studies, and professional boundary work. He also focuses his attention on issues of deviance within the media industry, particularly as it relates to issues of sex and issues resulting in paradigm repair. Patrick is also deeply passionate about teaching and the role of journalism schools in the professionalization of their students. He focuses a lot of his thinking on mass communication and journalism pedagogy and identifying ways for journalism courses to be both rewarding in content and enriching in skill. He currently teaches Journalistic Reporting and Writing in the SJMC and taught a number of courses at Marquette, including Media Ethics, Visual Communication, Magazine Design and Production, Digital Journalism 1-3, Strategic Communication Writing, and the Journalism Capstone course for the department. His work in curriculum, instruction, and educational leadership includes serving as the Journalism Education Association’s Mentor Program Chair, designing curriculum to accompany Pulitzer Prize winning content for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, reviewing the Praxis national journalism certification exam, and developing a number of courses at the high school and collegiate levels. Patrick served as a 2021 Public Humanities Intern through the Obermann Center where he worked specifically with University Special Collections to develop public-facing exhibits and curriculum materials related to the Tom Brokaw Collection.

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