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Hunger Games for Horror Fans,
As a fan of the Delta Green fiction and role-playing game setting for Call of Cthulhu, I'm fond of conspiracy horror. The Delta Green mailing list was buzzing about The Cabin in the Woods without managing to spoil the details, so I knew I had to see it. Now I'm sharing that gift with you: GO SEE IT. Go see it right now.
Still on the fence? Let me do my best to convince you. The Cabin in the Woods is the next evolution of Scream, elevating the winking genre horror conventions to a new level by tacitly acknowledging that everyone knows what will happen. The film kicks off immediately with a pair of working schlubs, Richard Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Steve Hadley (Bradley Whitford) going to work in a secure underground facility. SPOILER IN THE WOOD: They are, we discover, just cogs in the wheel of a greater horror. The humor is that they could easily be employees in any white-collar workplace, joking about their day, grumbling about the "man downstairs," and alternating between confident professionalism and bored malaise. In its own way, their soul-grinding day-to-day jobs are just as horrifying as the action above ground.
Stumbling into this is our quintet of horror victims: Curt the Jock (Chris Hemsworth), Jules the Slut (Anna Hutchinson), Holden the Nerd (Jesse Williams), Marty the Stoner (Fran Kranz), and Dana the "virginal" Final Girl (Kristen Connolly). They are off to vacation in the wooden cabin of Curt's cousin - Evil Dead fans will immediately realize they've come home.
The film flips back and forth between these two worlds, and in a lot of ways it is a contrast between generations. Where Scream was so consciously self-aware of its tropes that every character was aware of their stupidity, these victims are blithely manipulated - perhaps willingly - into dangerous circumstances. The unseen older folks invent the technology, monitor their every move, and push levers that influence destinies. The younger folks joke around, get high, and get naked. In other words, reality television.
If Cabin in the Woods stopped there, it would be a hiply ironic but relatively niche film in the vein of Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. Instead, it takes the genre tropes as gospel (literally) and constructs an entire framework of worker bees dedicated to the sole purpose of rationalizing horror movies, all for the enjoyment of their "audience." It's only when that fourth wall begins to break down, when the survivors start bumping up against the illusion of horror, that Cabin in the Woods turn into a meta-commentary on the nature of our own carefully constructed worlds.
In the end, the film asks: How far are you willing to go to defend the world you live in? Cabin in the Woods pulls no punches in answering that question differently for each generation. Horror fans, conspiracy fans, monster movie fans, and zombie fans will not be disappointed.