Cabin In The Woods (2012), Deconstructing Bureaucracy, And Subverting Horror Clichés
There is an argument that I heard all too often in grad school, there are no new ideas, only integrations*. The way this works is no single one theory, like psychoanalysis or cognitive behavior therapy or narrative theory will fully explain the and address human behavior. Therefore, the social worker's job is to recognize a theory's infallibility and seek to integrate two or more theories in order to suture a theory's intrinsic faults. While an integration does not break inexhaustibly of a theory, it may widen the base of the general collection of theories. What this leads to is a generalized understanding of a multiplicity of theories in order to avoid coming under anyone theories dogma. On the one hand, this would appear to promote critical thinking, but, on the other hand, the capacity to think critically is crippled by the lack of intellectual depth.
The characters in Cabin in the Woods do not full resonate with their archetypes. What the technician's intervention into the narrative bring to light is not only the dissonance between the character and their archetypes, but the dissonance between the viewers expectations and the film. When a film banks on the archetypes it attempts to integrate into a narrative they seek to maximize similarity to historical tradition and simultaneously minimizing difference in order to focus on over-emphasis of similarity. In other words, Micheal Meyers wears an inside out William Shatner mask and Jason Voorhees wears a hockey mask, but what is important and what sells is that they are both wearing masks and functionally behaving in the same way. What Cabin in the Woods emphasis is the difference between the masks and the uniqueness of each genre motif. The tension between similarity and difference smash into each other and unleash a new creation.
I am referring to the glorious violent moment when the elevators open and unleash all the monstrosities that are in the underground facility. The moment accentuates the uniqueness and non-integrative qualities by pitting the creatures against each other and the security guards. Tossing a bunch of elements that don't traditionally belong together is not integration. The difference here is between something like Twilight that takes the concept of vampires and infuses it into a romantic narrative in such a way that vampires lose the distinguishing qualities that identifies vampires qua vampires. Twilight's vampires essentially strip the signifier of its signified. What Cabin in the Woods accomplished is the epic moment is like when a child dumps her toy chest of creatures on the floor and incorporates while fully realizing each toys distinction. The teddy bear is a bear, and the Barbie is a Barbie. And when tossed into the same universe Barbie is gonna get eaten. In other words, the difference is between white-washing a narrative with market values and creative play.
The end of Cabin in the Woods is not as nihilistic as it first appears. If one remembers the opening sequence of the film where Dana (Kristen Connolly) is introduced, She is packing textbooks about soviet economics and Kurt suggest that she read Vygotsky. Vygotsky was a Russian education theorist who argued that students needed mental tools in order to critically engage with information. The mental tools take the form of theories which students used to transform their cognitive and psycho-social environment. Keeping Vygotsky in mind, what Cabin in the Wood's gives the viewer is a theory to critically engage with horror films in such a way to uncover the movements of the apparatus which regulates the narrative. So for instance, when watching any other horror film and a set of character is confronted with a choice to split up or stay together, the viewer can now use the theoretical knowledge gained from Cabin in the Woods to understand that these are not arbitrary moments but intentional choices by the creators of a story to manipulate the characters and the viewer.
Dana: It's time to give someone else a chance.
*Integrative theory is a social work euphemism for post-modernism.