The Cabin in the Woods: Cliches Manipulated or Perpetuated?

III. Whose Ideology is it Anyway?: Audience Culpability


The creators of The Cabin in the Woods knew the intent of their film going in: to manipulate genre cliches and use them for the sake of parodying the genre itself. As such, they knew they had to perpetuate certain archetypal representations (The Virgin, The Whore, The Fool, The Athlete, and The Scholar). Are we meant to blame the creators, then, for perpetuating these hegemonic, male gazing ideas, even if there’s a joke to be had at the expense of such conventions? Perhaps, instead, it is the audience who must bear the burden of production in this case.

The Cabin in the Woods is by no means your standard horror movie. In fact, it is a horror movie within a horror movie, where “puppeteers” pull the strings in order to make sure the plot runs its usual course. Sigourney Weaver is credited as “The Director” for a very specific reason: because she is the director of the film being played out within the narrative. The rest of the people working in the underground base of operations, then, are the rest of the crew: writers, producers, stunt coordinators, etc. The group of youths being hunted upon by hick zombies: the cast.

What about The Ancient Ones, the mythic force demanding these human sacrifices lest the world be subjected to their torment? Well, that is us. The audience itself is within the film, demanding that everything go according to protocol. We like it a certain way, and when we don’t get that conventional route, there will be hell to pay.

This is the major parodic conceit of The Cabin in the WoodsWe are the butt of the joke for allowing these done-to-death cliches and narratives to be repeated ad nauseam in the cinematic landscape. Originality and horror seems an impossible pairing (part of the reason why The Cabin in the Woods was successful in the first place), and it is because we allow conventional horror to turn profits by shelling out 12 dollars a pop to see them.

The audience, then, is what allows for the perpetuation of poor representations in horror by accepting, film after film, the same old cliche affair.

Look at it from a second angle. What about Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and the other underground dwellers? The literal white collar workers symbolize a deep-seated societal hegemony. They adhere to the codes of their work like gospel, and they are a part of a “dominant” ideological demographic: white, upper middle class, predominantly male.

Thus, they are the ones who control the fates of the young five souls. They also, by proxy, control the conventions: the sexualization of the female, the gaze of the male. They claim it to be in accordance with a higher power, something beyond their control, just as we hold true to hegemonic norms, consenting to them with little questioning.

The filmmakers understood how they were manipulating cliche and convention for their benefit. It is the audience that passively accepts such conventions, because the audience has always accepted such conventions. We laugh at the manipulation, because we understand that we’ve seen it all before and we’ll see it all again tomorrow.

The audience has a job in this instance. We must not only understand the joke. We must also understand what is wrong with the reality behind the joke. It is a two-step process that is all too easy to miss when you are enjoying the in-jokes and allusions littered throughout the film. Without acknowledging the second part of this process, we risk allowing these same hegemonic representations to continue within the genre.

In Part Four, more Peeping Tom and some closing sentiments

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