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In particular, they're frustrated horror filmmakers, suffering as they try to be creative and/or fulfilled despite having to conform to rigid genre requirements. Whitford, as the younger of the two, is visibly disappointed that this cycle's scenario has yielded boring old zombies again, while he wistfully yearns for the chance to run a scenario starring a more interesting, offbeat creature ("I just thought it'd be cooler with a Merman"). We also see brief glimpses of similar rituals being carried out elsewhere in the world, most notably one where a group of Japanese schoolgirls are locked in a classroom with a long haired ghost a'la The Grudge.
So what, then, do the Elder Gods represent? Well, on one level, the whole "ritual sacrifice" idea is a dig at the very nature of horror movie viewership in the first place; e.g. the not-exactly-novel parallel between horror fans of today and attendees of public executions or gladiatorial combat in ancient times. But on a bigger level, particularly in their relationship to the crew at the facility, they seem to represent The Audience, period, not just screaming for blood, but demanding that it be the same blood. They want formula. They expect cliché. They want the comfort of familiarity, to see the same basic thing (telling the same basic story and reinforcing the same basic message) over and over with as few surprises as possible. And if they don't get it, they will literally raise hell.
There is, of course, a certain fiendishly delightful symmetry to this particular film to come out telling this particular story in the same timeframe as the remarkably enduring "Re-Take Mass Effect" debacle; which finds game developer Bioware scrambling to placate their infuriated Elder Gods, whose fury at their subjects' latest offering failing to meet their exacting specifications has been shaking the earth beneath their Cabins for almost a month now. As Cabin In The Woods' metaphor was revealed to me at my first screening weeks ago, the plight of Bioware was the first thing that popped into my head. I wonder how many of their employees have seen the movie and if they, like me, found themselves oddly just as sympathetic to the hapless Facility employees as to the Cabin victims?
The film is a clever inversion, to be sure. Watching filmmakers complain via subtext that their genius is going unappreciated can be insufferable, but Cabin finds raw movie-geek joy in the airing of these particular grievances. Lots of stories have delved into similar symbolism, but usually erring on the simpler metaphor of Movie Directors as gods and characters as their unwitting pawns (see: The Truman Show, where the egomaniacal TV producer controlling Jim Carrey's entire life is archly named "Christoff"). The notion of the Mainstream Audience as a massive, unstoppable lurking horror that The Filmmakers must appease at all cost lest they revolt and end the world (re: their livelihoods) in anger is a brutally honest summation of the way people in the creative industry often wind up feeling about the consumer public; rightly or wrongly.
Cabin ultimately stretches that particular metaphor to the breaking point. The film's third act is an off-the-rails free-for-all where "characters" not meant to survive infiltrate and collapse the system by releasing the stable of standby monsters and forcing The Facility to battle its own army of (among other things) werewolves, giant-bugs, serial-killers, evil clowns, mummies, serpents, Cenobites, and even a homicidal unicorn. It's a feast for discerning film geeks and horror buffs alike, but it's also the sort of lunacy that's bound to make less adventurous filmgoers confused or even angry. So, of course, the longer it plays out and the more gloriously strange things get, the more the subterranean Elder Gods shake the earth with their fury and disappointment. "I didn't know it was gonna be all weird like that!" raged one theatergoer to her partners at one of my (four, so far) viewings of the film. "That was stupid! Go get our money back!" grumbled another, evidently unaware of how perfectly they were making the film's point for it. I wonder if they'll think to send Joss Whedon some cupcakes ... or complain to the FTC.
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.