Review of The Cabin in the Woods, Directed by Drew Goddard
By ALEXIS NEAL
Five college students—a stoner, a jock, a nerd, a (bottle) blonde, and a girl-next-door—head off to spend the weekend at a remote cabin (which, of course, always ends well). Meanwhile, technicians in some sort of high-tech facility prepare for an important operation of an unspecified nature. It’s not long, however, before we learn that the students are the operation, and their physical circumstances (and sometimes the students themselves) are being manipulated by the technicians. But why? And can the survivors find any way out of this waking nightmare, or are they doomed to endure the parade of gruesome horrors sent to terrorize anyone who stays at the Cabin in the Woods?
From the minds of geek favorite Joss Whedon and frequent Whedon (and Abrams) collaborator Drew Goddard comes this delightfully comedic (yet nonetheless horrific) send-up of the slasher genre. Whedon, fed up with the modern trend toward ‘torture porn’, describes this film as a ‘loving hate letter’ to the horror genre. The Cabin in the Woods is equal parts thrilling, horrifying, smart, gross, hilarious, visually impressive, and incisive. It features a double reveal—one, early on, as the audience discovers that all the horrible ‘accidents’ and attacks are being orchestrated by some sort of shadowy organization that is carefully monitoring (and influencing) the students’ actions; and another that I’ll discuss below, after I’ve issued the appropriate spoiler warning.
The acting is decent enough—above average for a slasher flick, though I thought the blonde and the nerd were pretty generic and uninspiring. Fortunately, relative newcomer Kristin Connelly—who gets more screentime than any of the other students—more than carries her weight as the girl-next-door. Longtime Whedon fans will be pleased to see actors Amy Acker (Angel, Dollhouse) and Fran Kranz (Dollhouse) on the big screen—Kranz in particular is a joy to watch as a perpetually stoned and, as it turns out, justifiably paranoid pothead. For me, however, the high point of the film was Bradley Whitford, who won my heart in the hilarious-but-short-lived (and, for reasons unclear to me, still unavailable on DVD) series The Good Guys, and who is utterly delightful here as a callous, arrogant technician at the forefront of the assault on the unfortunate college students.
As I’ve said, this movie is smart, fun, and totally worth checking out; but be warned, it is a horror flick. Awful, gory, disturbing things happen to each and every one of the college students (among others), so if you’re squeamish and/or prefer to avoid excessively violent films, then this is likely not the movie for you. That being said, I do think the film provides some (likely unintentional) commentary on the gospel.
I mentioned above that there’s a double reveal here. We know pretty early on that some organization or corporation (or government agency or whatever) is controlling the events in and around the Cabin. As the film progresses, we discover that they’re not just doing this for kicks (though they’re not exactly heartbroken over the situation either)—it’s all part of a ritual to appease the powerful old gods who dwell under the earth. They demand a blood sacrifice, and as long as they are satisfied, they stay dormant. If for some reason the sacrifice fails, the gods will rise and wreak their terrible wrath upon the earth, effectively destroying humankind. The five college kids have unwittingly become these sacrifices, and they are now the only thing standing between humanity and the end of the world as we know it. So when [again, SPOILER] the pothead and the girl-next-door actually escape the grisly horrors of the Cabin and infiltrate the high-tech, underground base, they are forced to choose between their own deaths and the annihilation of, well, pretty much everyone everywhere.
I couldn’t help wondering if this is how the world sees the gospel. They hear Christians talk about an all-powerful god—an angry, wrathful god who really, really wants to destroy the world and kill everyone. The only way out is for an innocent person to die in their place. Once this innocent blood is spilled, the bloodthirsty god is satisfied (for now, anyway) and trundles back to from whence he came.
It’s not a pretty picture.
Of course, it’s not an accurate picture, either. It’s a distortion of the biblical truth. And no wonder—apart from the intervention of the Holy Spirit, the gospel will seem like foolishness to the world. (I Corinthians 1:18; 2:14) But it’s not foolishness. We were made by God to glorify and enjoy Him forever. (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q 1) He blessed us with life, love, a whole world to rule over and care for, and more than enough for all our needs—and blessed us also with Himself. (Genesis 1:26-30; 2:18-25) We looked at all He gave us, and essentially spat on it. We questioned His goodness, accused Him of deceit, and rebelled against Him. (Genesis 3:1-6) We committed treason, and in so doing, we earned the penalty: death. (Hebrews 9:22) The consequence for our sin is not the arbitrary whim of a ‘mean’ or ‘cruel’ or ‘bloodthirsty’ God, but the necessary penalty demanded by His perfect justice. (Deuteronomy 32:4) The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23) But this God is not merely just; He is also merciful. (Daniel 9:9; Luke 6:36) And in His mercy, He made a way for us to be saved from the death we deserve. He sent His only Son to become a man, to walk this earth and live out the life we should have lived. (Hebrews 4:15) And after living this perfect life, this Son submitted Himself to the penalty we earned. (Philippians 2:5-8) It was no accident, and He wasn’t just a hapless victim. He chose to die in our place. (John 10: 11-18; I Peter 3:18) He took our sins upon Himself and paid the price for them. (Isaiah 53:4-12; I Peter 2:24) He didn’t just wipe our slate clean—He bestowed on us the benefit of His righteousness. (Isaiah 61:10; Romans 5:17) And to show the world that our debt had been paid in full, that Christ’s saving work was complete, God raised Him from the dead. (John 19:30; I Thessalonians 1:10) This whole plan—saving the sinners who’d rejected Him and restoring their broken relationship to Himself—was God’s idea. (Genesis 3:15; Ephesians 1:4-14) The Father and the Son and the Spirit worked together to accomplish this plan for our benefit and His glory—a place that was perfectly just and did not leave sin unpunished, but which was also perfectly merciful, saving sinners from the doom they deserved.
When faced with the choice between their own demise and the destruction of the world (including themselves), the last surviving college students decide that if ‘innocent’ people have to die to save humanity, then maybe wiping it all out and starting all over isn’t such a bad idea.
Praise the Lord that He didn’t agree. Praise the Lord that when faced with a depraved human race that could only be saved by sacrificing Himself, He did not throw up His hands and walk away, leaving us to perish, but willingly died that we might live.
Alexis Neal is an attorney in the Washington, D.C., area. She regularly reviews young adult literature at www.childrensbooksandreviews.com and everything else at quantum-meruit.blogspot.com.