MEGA SPOILERS AHEAD, PLEASE DON’T READ UNTIL YOU WATCH!!!!
You guys. What a truly great film. I was so invigorated and satisfied by the ending, and this is what I wish to discuss today! The reviews I’ve read of this movie do not talk about the ending, and I don’t think it’s just because it’s hard to do so without spoilering. The ever-clueless Denby, for example, just describes the movie as clever and self aware and fun. Yes, it’s self aware, and clever, it’s a meta-horror-film in a lot of ways, but there’s so much more going on than that! I mean, can you BELIEVE how that shit ended??
Up until the very last second of the film, I was just unproblematically expecting things to get resolved, like maybe Sigourney Weaver’s death would somehow finish the ritual, or something. Instead, what we got was two hideously exhausted main characters sharing a doobie and basically just shrugging about the end of the world. The line is literally: “Maybe it’s time for somebody else to have a chance.”
This is some sort of next-level modern nihilistic awesomeness that I have rarely seen on the silver screen. Apocalypse fiction ALWAYS does what I feel is a disservice to the reader/viewer, by taking for granted that the apocalypse is bad. Really, don’t a lot of us secretly long for the apocalypse? With global warming, nuclear bombs, slaughterhouses, the corporatocracy, the ever-growing Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare we all have to slog through every day, overpopulation but nobody being willing to talk about overpopulation, pollution, the Colorado fires, the Kardashians, the NRA, the Texas public school system, Israel/Palestine India/Pakistan etc. etc…don’t we secretly kind of think an apocalypse would be a relief, at this point? I know I do. Yeah it would be sad and scary, but come on, we haven’t exactly befitted ourselves as gentlemen, cosmically speaking.
Apocalypse fiction always wusses out on this point. It always takes for granted that the extinction of humanity is a terrible tragedy that must be averted AT ALL COSTS, whether that means sacrificing yourself/someone else, or whatever. It’s very rare that apocalypse fiction actually accepts the apocalypse as inevitable or even as appropriate. But Cabin in the Woods does that! The only other movie I can really think of that presents this worldview is Melancholia. What a cool double feature that would be. The triumphant end of humanity; the obliteration of everything we think is so important–our Jesus statues, our abortion bumper stickers, Beethoven, nuclear power plants, prisons, schools, the Constitution, Jerusalem, Mecca, whatever, the good and bad, all blobbed together in one colorless lump in a cold empty universe.
Where Melancholia presented these themes in von Trier’s customary hateful misanthropic style, Cabin in the Woods presents them way more jovially. We actually like these characters; we’re rooting for them; but even so it’s like, “oh well, fuck it.” In that final moment when whats-her-name is considering shooting the Stoner in order to save humanity, it feels so false and wrong. We, the audience, don’t want her to do it–we don’t want to see that dude die. In that moment, we, the audience, don’t actually give a shit about the fate of humanity. And it’s immensely satisfying when instead they just sit down and spark up a J and wait for eternity. She even says “Humanity,” with a disgusted sneer and a shrug.
So the end of the movie, to me, felt like it was saying: maybe it’s NOT worth it, living in a given system. Like, as the kids realize this system they’ve been living in–as they realize that their freedom has been predicated all along on this grisly, disgusting ritual, it’s like, IT’S NOT WORTH IT. If this is the way it has to be, then it’s actually not worth it! That’s a heavy thing to come right out and say, about whatever system you’re living in. It reminds me of that sci-fi short story about the planet where every single person is able to lead a life of constant pleasure and ease and happiness, so long as one child is kept locked in a dark cell for all eternity. You assign that story to your students as a means of sparking dialogue about morality and society and civilization and happiness and ethics and stuff. You’d be surprised how many of your students will have no problem whatsoever with the child locked in the room. Anyway, I feel like this movie was kind of raising those issues but even more direly, like it was going so far as to say “don’t you kind of wish evil gods would destroy everyone on the earth? admit it.”
This is not the way we have been trained to think about ourselves as a species. This is not the way the 19th century would want us to think! Self-preservation at all costs!! The first goal in any apocalypse fiction, post-apocalypse, is usually REPOPULATING THE EARTH. Oh my god, so many of us have died, lets now have as many babies as possible! Which is baffling and exhausting to me. Seriously, we just destroyed ourselves with technology and your first goal is making more of us?? Or like how there’s this running theme of colonizing other planets so that the human race will never die out. Why is that a priority? We’ve done almost nothing but fuck up the planet we’re currently on–why is it taken as such a given that interstellar colonization would be beautiful? Finally, these movies are coming out that are calling all this bullshit into question. Are there older movies that do this, in a similar way? I have been thinking about it for a day and I can’t think of any. Maybe there are some, I don’t know. Surely people throughout history have felt this way–this kind of exhausted acceptance of obliteration–but I think it’s becoming more of a culture-wide phenomenon.
Also there was obviously lots of darkly comedic stuff about The Audience–I read the evil gods as representing mass culture, this ceaselessly hungry, mindless, blind, dark force that wants to see blood and guts, wants to see rape torture fantasies. Placating that mindless force with banally horrifying violence so that it doesn’t destroy the world. How we are kept numb and docile by the media we consume, and meanwhile a small cadre of elite are making all our decisions for us.
Also it was about how we agree to play these roles society assigns us. I liked that the kids were actually NOT the jock, the whore, the virgin, etc., but due to media manipulation they started behaving in those ways, believing those things about themselves, acting they way they thought they were supposed to act. When they’re making out on the couch and she’s like “I’ve never done this…wait, I don’t mean ‘never,'” like she’s even confused by the dissonance between her actual lived experience in all its complexity and this archetypal role she’s boxed into by virtue of certain aspects of her personality. Amazing!
It was really a movie for our time. It’s not just a meta-twist on the horror genre, which is the main thing critics are saying about it, to my bafflement. As though it’s just another Scream! What? It’s so beyond Scream’s clever media critique. It’s so beyond just boring Funny Games-style nudge-nudge-wink-wink audience-shaming. It evinces a profoundly eschatological worldview that I think says so much about the way we currently experience modernity. Deep shit!
AND ALSO, it’s obviously incredibly fun to watch, a very well-made and entertaining romp. I laughed so hard at so many parts. When the Japanese girls defeat the evil and it turns into a frog! The opening title! Eric from Billy Madison finally getting to see a Merman, and the romantic music and the fog and then the merman is so hideously gross. The scoreboard with all the monster options on it! “No, you chose ‘zombies,’ but this is ‘zombie redneck torture family.'” Also “Angry molesting tree”?!?!? The way they’re all partying at the end, having these boring office conversations while on the screens behind them the Virgin is being horribly mangled to death. “It’s interesting you like the ballet, because I just happen to have two tickets, to your favorite—” And of course the hallway scene, I died laughing. When the SWAT guys come around the corner and it’s just completely drenched in blood and horrible dripping guts, but it’s all quiet and peaceful, with just a couple zombies peacefully eating. Also “good work, zombie arm” and subsequent slow zombie-arm-crawl onto unconscious SWAT guy’s face. So many funny lines and weird good jokes. I liked “husband bulge” a lot. “No matter what, we have to stay together! No wait, we should split up.” That first pan up from the receding RV to the guy perched on the roof with the earphone? “The eagle has flown.” So many good jokes I am forgetting! Definitely need to see it again. Richard Jenkins is a genius, as is Eric from Billy Madison. Also why does that one guy look so much like Channing Tatum but he isn’t Channing Tatum????
But yeah, I thought it was way more than just a fun, meta-horror movie. I thought it was saying something real about modern culture!!! Did you?
Also is it just me or is one of the options on this scoreboard just “Kevin”?