|Puppeteer at work?|
Okay, now that we have that taken care of - what sets Cabin apart? It's a movie that viewers enjoyed, but critics loved. The "Tomatoes" rating is a fine and respectable 76% for viewers, but a whopping 91% for critics. Then again, I suspect critics saw different things in Cabin than most casual viewers did. Whedon is known for genre-mashing and Cabin (which he and Goddard co-wrote) showcases his fondness for creating hybrids. I daresay some purists in the horror world despised Cabin for that reason and I'm sure a few fans felt disappointed in the film.
Confession time - I'm not a huge horror buff. I'm fine with suspense and I can handle creepy, but the trend towards finding more and more creative ways to hurt people (usually young females) leaves me cold. Oh, I can trot out all the theories about why being scared serves a valid societal and psychological purpose, and I agree with part of those theories,* but I still have no desire to see most of it. Like all genres, horror films have certain tropes that must either be obeyed or subverted - here's a great rundown of those tropes and cliches. Cabin not only acknowledges these "rules" (for instance, the sexually-active girl has to be the first to die and the virtuous girl must be the "final girl"), it creates a world in which these rules are ironclad. Whedon likes to toy with the "free will vs. game is rigged" conundrum and Cabin shows that off, too.
I like this movie quite a lot because it asks some questions about just who watches these movies. While there are several excellent scenes - including one in a stuffed-to-the-gills basement - the one that best underscores this point takes place in a sterile control room where a celebratory party is going on, with the relieved partygoers completely ignoring the live images on the giant viewscreens that show a girl desperately fighting for her life. If you laugh at this scene, it's probably some very uncomfortable laughter - after all, we're also watching this and we paid money to be entertained by images of innocent people being hunted and killed.
I think that ought to make us uncomfortable.
*Stephen King has written extensively on this and his Danse Macabre is well worth a read. If you really want to know more, check out the Journal for Horror Studies. Yes, it's real.