The Cabin in the Woods (2012): A deconstruction of a deconstruction. SPOILER WARNING!!!

There has been much discussion and debate around the details of The Cabin in the Woods, and the film has been getting one of those distasteful tongue baths by thronging hoards of self-aggrandizing nerds everywhere. Unfortunately, it is next to impossible to talk about the film in any remotely interesting way without crossing the line into SPOILER territory. So, if you haven’t seen TCITW yet, and you care one jot about having the films secrets remain, well, secret, then I strongly advise you to stop reading here.

Five friends are spending a weekend “off the grid”, at one of those creepy, remote cabin’s you always see in dead teenager movies. The dead teenagers in question are the jock (Chris Hemsworth), the skank (Anna Hutchison), the brain (Jesse Williams), the stoner (Fran Kranz) and the good girl (Kristen Connolly). Reading aloud a Latin quotation written in a diary they discover in the cabins basement, a family of zombies awaken from their shallow graved slumber. A progression of the usual, standard horror movie clichés plays out.

Or does it?

Well, it does and it doesn’t. There’s more to this scenario than meets the eye. What the dead teenagers essentially are, are pawns in a game. The gamemasters are Richard and Steve (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford respectively), who oversee the whole operation via numerous monitors in a mission control style operating room. They manipulate proceedings by pumping mind and mood altering chemicals into the cabin, locking doors and generally making it impossible for the dead teenagers to escape. All the while the zombies proceed to bump off the dead teenagers one at a time. Don’t you know, this is all part of the grand plan. It seems eons ago humanity came to an arrangement with “The Ancient One’s”, where once a year we would placate them with a ritual sacrifice. This happy agreement in place (happy for all but the victims), they stay “downstairs” and we get to roam about up top.


More than anything else, the TCITW wants to be a comedy, and this is a mistake in focus. While Scream, Shaun of the Dead and Behind the Mask were all very funny films, they were also very effective horror movies. Funny and scary are not mutually exclusive, and in this TCITW fails. Simply put, it’s not a good horror movie. This should be its main goal. It’s cheap and easy to make a by the numbers, run of the mill dead teenagers film. But if your intention is to deconstruct what you perceive as bad, clichéd horror, then you damn well better make your movie a better example of the genre. If you deliver an effective horror film while simultaneously deconstructing the genre, the result can be exceptional.


The performances in TCITW are hit and miss. Both Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are having fun, and are definitely the highlight of the film in terms of performances. It’s a shame that Whitford’s much foreshadowed demise is botched, because it feels like listening to someone tell a lengthy joke then stuffing up the punchline. You’re all set to laugh, but the joke just fizzles. Hemsworth, Connelly and Williams all give decent performances, and Hutchison was dispatched before she became too much of an irritant. However, Fran Kranz, who is basically a really, really annoying variation on Randy from the Scream films, is nerve-shreddingly annoying. Everything from his voice, mannerisms and general attitude gets on your nerves.  He’s really fucking annoying, and by the end of the film you’re willing survivor girl to shoot him.


The whole behind the scenes operation is elaborately constructed, and video monitored. Who’s watching? Are the ancient one’s downstairs on their lazy-boy with a bowl of popcorn and a couple of beers watching on a big flat screen TV? If it was only for monitoring purposes, why does Jenkins say “We’re not the only one’s watching?” I can’t believe he’s talking about The Director here, because if that’s the case, the ominous weight of that line and delivery doesn’t live up to the revelation of The Director. If the fate of the world rests on this ritual sacrifice not cocking up, I find it hard to believe there would be such a jovial atmosphere, and I find it hard to believe if The Director is supposed to be as threatening as she’s made out to be that she would allow such nonsense as betting and drinking. I’m also confused as to why the elaborate operation is required in the first place. Why not select five random teenagers who meet the criteria, take them to the sacrificial chamber and murder them? Job done. Humanity is safe for another 365. It’s these questions, these loose ends, that separate this half baked commentary on horror films from the likes of Behind the Mask.


The film makes reference to, and shows us footage from, similar operations in other countries. By doing so TCITW opens a can of worms. The Japanese schoolgirls being attacked by a ghost and whatever that country with the giant ape was, is never adequately explained. The central ritual sacrifice is clearly defined. The “ancient ones” want a sacrifice of a whore, a jock, a brain, a loser and (in the crappest, most wishy washy plot point) a virgin. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a virgin, because in this day and age they’re hard to find (!?!?!?!?!). And it’s not entirely necessary for the virgin to die. It’s fine either way. What. The. Fuck? That’s not bending logic, that’s snapping logic in two in an attempt to fit it into your genre deconstruction motif. Other countries all have their own operation, but it’s still a sacrifice to the same “ancient ones”. Why do these “ancient ones” demand a certain sacrifice from Americans, but a completely different sacrifice from the Japanese? And whatever the other country was. What the hell has a giant ape got to do with anything? Ghosts and Japan I can at least see the attempt at “deconstruction”, but a giant ape? The other countries subplot should not have been in the film. It complicates it too much and raises too many questions. Just have the one, single sacrifice. This is indulgent filmmaking.


The fundamental basis for the film, what I will call “the twist” (because it should have been a twist delivered halfway through the film instead of blurted out like tourettes at the very start of the film), is actually a good one. But TCITW blows its load from the get go, and ruins what could have been a great revelation. As a twist half way through that makes you re-evaluate all that has come before, it would have been incredibly effective. A huge moment that would surprise the audience. But opening the film with it, and making no bones about what the situation is devalues it. They should have trusted the audience to sit through half of yet another shonky “dead teenagers at a secluded cabin” movie before revealing the larger scope of the film. The impact of Hemsworth halfway through a flying leap for freedom and slamming into an invisible force field barrier would have been astounding. As it stands, that scene would have worked in the current film if that useless fucking shot of the hawk slamming into it at the beginning had been removed.

What would have been fun is if the twist wasn’t even hinted at, and the film pretty much played out the same way. The audience would be kind of lulled into a false sense of security, watching a standard, clichéd horror movie and then have the rug pulled from under them. Hemsworth slams into the barrier, and the film crash cuts to “mission control” and Jenkins and Whitford are going about business. Basically I think, as I mentioned before, that it’s a failure of the filmmakers. They didn’t trust the audience. The film really should almost have been like From Dusk Till Dawn, where out of nowhere it springs a surprise on the audience and demands that they go with it.


I hated it. It has nothing to do with the doomsday ending, and all to do with the characters decisions that lead to it. The two remaining dead teenagers are basically the two most selfish characters ever committed to film. When The Director appears and helpfully takes the time to explain, explain, explain the entire scenario (this is the filmmakers treating the audience like imbeciles), we think we’re about to get the ending that the film deserves, and hey presto! A werewolf magically appears. Then there’s the obligatory struggle and The Director’s about to give us the ending the film deserves, and hey presto! One armed killer kid magically appears!

And then, after all that, the survivor girl decides that instead of saving humanity by killing the stoner (a job I was quite eager to nominate myself for), she delivers the most inexplicably idiotic, moronic, senseless line I can think of in a film. “It’s time for someone else to have a go.” Who else? The giant monsters? That must be who you mean by “someone else”, because there will be no one else left. I also think that The Director wouldn’t appear to try to convince survivor girl to kill the stoner. The Director would simply show up with a gun and shoot the stoner in the head. It’s the worst kind of Bondesque “talking killer” syndrome and considering the situation it was inconceivable that she wouldn’t just walk out and murder him.


Despite all of my criticism, there is good to be found in TCITW. The idea is a good one, and with a few changes, the film could have worked. Writer and director Drew Goddard nails the scene when the two surviving dead teenagers begin their descent in the elevator, and the world beneath is revealed in greater detail. The true horror of their situation is well handled, and once the royal rumble begins the slaughter is fun to watch. It just makes me wish the first half of the film had been better handled.


The Cabin in the Woods is a film that’s less than the sum of its parts. It’s made up of a lot of good things, but they’re nearly all undercut by bad decisions and fundamental errors in execution. The film is not an effective horror film, and it raises questions that it doesn’t have the time or the interest to answer. By being too clever by half, it overextends itself and basically ends up being an interesting, but mishandled series of references and in-jokes.




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About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

59 responses to “The Cabin in the Woods (2012): A deconstruction of a deconstruction. SPOILER WARNING!!!”

  1. Droid says :

    Right, tinkered and rearranged the review about 9 times. Should be done now.

  2. Jarv says :


    So it doesn’t redefine Horror then?

  3. Jarv says :

    So the GIANT APE isn’t awesome, then? Does he throw a finger?

  4. Jarv says :

    Also, let me get this straight.

    -Stereotypes assemble in remote location and rip off the evil dead.

    -They then get killed one by one leaving survivor Girl and Stoner

    -It’s all being directed by some fuckheads

    -Because we have to make a sacrifice to the Lovecraftian old ones in a horror movie homage from our culture.

    OK, I’m on board so far.

    -Then SG and Stoner are left and they know about the sacrifice

    -So SG doesn’t kill stoner

    – Which prompts nefarious director to come out and try to persuade her to kill him to prevent apocalypse

    -So she refuses

    – End of the world ending?

    If that’s the case, then the film hasn’t earned that end.

    • Droid says :


      – Which prompts nefarious director to come out and try to persuade her to kill him to prevent apocalypse

      – SG is pointing the gun at stoner.

      – Deus Ex Werewolf attacks SG

      – Director points gun at stoner.

      – Deus ex zombie girl kills director.

      – SG rethinks her position and decides humanity “needs to give someone else a go”

      – End of the world ending.

      • Jarv says :

        I’m tempted to ban myself so I can come back as Deus ex Jarv.

        That’s stupid. Really stupid.

        Nice review, BTW.

      • Droid says :

        Cheers. If I were you I’d wait to see it at home.

        What’s that Monster Slayer movie I watched at your place? I liked that one too.

      • Jarv says :

        Jack Brooks? That’s quite good fun as well.

      • Droid says :

        That’s the one. Fun movie.

      • Jarv says :

        Worst deconstruction of all time?

        Funny games.

      • Droid says :

        Because we have to make a sacrifice to the Lovecraftian old ones in a horror movie homage from our culture

        This is a sticking point for me. Because a) the sacrifices have been made for eons, and this is using horror movie cliches from the 80’s. b) No culture has commonplace giant ape horror movies.

      • Jarv says :

        Right, does it say that the tribute has evolved over time? Because that strikes me as dumb, and Japan has a longer tradition of GIANT LIZARD than little girl ghosts.

      • Continentalop says :

        No culture has commonplace giant ape horror movies.

        Um, the Philippines.

      • Droid says :

        Do they? So many (like dead teenager or japanese ghost movies) that it becomes cliche?

        Did you catch the giant ape’s country? I missed it.

      • Jarv says :


        Also, Japan has a long and ignoble torture porn history. J-horror blue ghosts and whatnot is only really half of the late 90’s and early 21st Century.

      • koutchboom says :

        I think it was Buenos Aires. Or somewhere down south.

      • koutchboom says :

        Ohhh wait maybe it was the Philippines.

      • Droid says :

        Jonah will know. He has an eye for these types of details.

      • koutchboom says :

        Also that whole thing with the class of girl school children…which one is the whore then? Also why is the lair located directly in America?

      • Droid says :

        These are the questions I mentioned. The movie isn’t interested in explaining much.

      • koutchboom says :

        The movie seriously is viral video the movie the more I think about it. Also now knowing the same guy did Cloverfield, which is another frivolous idea, but that movie was properly directed to at least make you part of the action so its not so worthless, but ill never watch it again.

      • Continentalop says :

        Naw, I was f’ing with you.

        I didn’t even notice the giant ape thing in the monitors. Shows how engrossed I was at that point. But it also shows how they were being too clever – how does giant monster movies relate to slasher or even killer ghost movies? I can see slasher or something like the Ring representing a sacrifice, but a giant monster represents a destructive force of nature or something similar. Godzilla was the nuke personified and punishment for a whole society, not five archetypical youths.

      • Droid says :

        You sly dog.

        But it also shows how they were being too clever – how does giant monster movies relate to slasher or even killer ghost movies?

        Exactly. Too clever by half. The operations in other countries angle was totally unecessary.

      • Jarv says :

        I’m totally confused by this.

        Why have Werewolves and Zombies? They’ve blatantly ripped off the Evil Dead, so why not just stick to Zombies. Then if they had to do the other country thing, Werewolves, Vampires, Ghosts, Demons and whatnot could have been used.

        In Britain it would be feral chavs or weirdo religion nutjobs, Australia probably Crocodiles, New Zealand? Sheep.

      • Droid says :

        The reveal is a menagerie of horror movie monsters. Like a hellraiser type dude, a giant cobra, zombies, werewolves etc etc

      • Continentalop says :

        I didn’t really mind the idea of multiple monsters. It kind of fits the movie, showing how similar most modern horror movie plots are nowadays – the monsters are so replaceable, what matters is that all these different horror genres now follow the same cliches and use the same characters. Which is true. It was making fun of the formula.

        What I didn’t like was that for something that was pointing out how predictable horror movies are and how one dimensional the characters are, really was kind of a predictable movie at times and most of the characters were incredibly one dimensional.

  5. Continentalop says :

    Good review Droid. I saw it last night and had pretty much the same reaction, although I probably differ on some minor issues about what worked and didn’t work. The filmmakers really were too clever for their own good at times, but also were not as clever as they thought they were being.

    One thing right off the bat was I think this would have been a much better movie if it was made for a cheaper budget. I am not a big Behind the Mask fan like you guys, but one of its strengths is that it is a low budget horror movie. CITW is the type of film that I think you would be willing to forgive more and appreciate more if it was made for 1/10th the budget or less (it cost $12 million, this premise should have been shot for $1 million or less IMO). Sure you would have had to cut down on the big finish, but I think you could of still staged a similar idea with less money and in smaller scale.

    • Droid says :

      Cheers. I think the biggest issue for me was the structure. It really needed to hold back the reveal.

      • Continentalop says :

        I agree. But I think you could have started with the two guys in the bunkers, and just leave them for like 45 minutes until the midpoint. Have the audiences wondering “who the fuck were those guys and what do they have to do with this.”

  6. Continentalop says :

    Another thing that kind of bothered me about the movie:


    When they release all the monsters at the end, why didn’t they start killing each other? Do werewolves, unicorns, giant snakes and zombies really get along that well?

  7. Jarv says :

    As an aside, when did we last get a good idea well executed? It’s either a crap idea well executed or a good idea botched.

  8. tombando says :

    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. No interest here.

  9. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    My thoughts…bear with me….

    The ‘ape’ was Buenos Aries, and I actually thought on the second round it was some large minotaur/pig-like creature, and maybe my understanding of scale was off, but I didn’t notice it was so large it was lying in the city, but if so, then that makes sense with what I ultimately understand the movie to be. Also, I was confused by that bit with how the ring of school girls were the ‘whore, fool, etc’ but there is a specific line—it’s in the script too, so I didn’t mis-hear it—where Weaver says ‘other countries perform the sacrifices according to their traditions’. So, it’s not just the slasher, it’s the giant monster movie, the scary ghost girl, the alien invaders –Every country is reenacting their own horror movies according to their traditions, in order to keep this world running.

    There’s not a moment in either BTM or CITW where someone pulls a Scream, or even references having seen a scary movie. This is because, I believe, both films are suggesting that they take place in the world where horror movies don’t exist. In BTM, Jason and Freddy are real guys and it’s not unusual to be killed several times by your survivor girl, and people are willing to follow around a killer, presumably because that creative urge that allows them to make this entertainment doesn’t exis in that world. Same with CITW, potentially. It’s an all-inclusive horror universe on the other side of the screen; the Fantasia for our world, where the cruel movie gods demand these sacrifices. CITW is actually an explanation for why these things keep happening; in this world, they are deliberately staged, and the world itself continues because they happen. The world would concievably end if the sacrifices stop, or are botched, because ina sense that would be the end of horror movie formulas, and the universe would have no more purpose.

    Up until that final shot, I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised to see Whedon himself be ‘The Director’ (yes, that would have been TOO clever by half) and the gods who ‘are watching’ just the audience in the theater. Those ‘ones watching’ are referenced in the same way that the Empress references Bastian in TNS. Now, of course,they opt for something slightly different but I think the Old Ones (also just fantasy creations) represent ‘real world’ bloodlust in the same way that the Nothing in TNS represents hopelessness or lack of belief. Im not saying I agree with the thesis, but the idea is, that these horror films are no greater than their tropes—they lack substance, destroy their tropes, destroy them as a whole. This would at least explain the need to follow the dopiness of an average schlock movie.

    All that being said, I think it might actually have been a better movie if they made more explicit some of the things I just said without fulling going TNS. I would have moved the reveal with Weaver up to the middle, and I would have actually showed scenes of Jenkins or Whitford always finding the other in another room, or tinkering with something we never see, and being chastized to hurry up. So, that in that last third, despite the fact that this world runs on sacrifices, I’d like to see one of them—Whitford perhaps—get tired of it, and start working on ‘another way’. So that in the end, when those beasts go wild on everyone, with the old ones tempted to be unleashed unless the kids die, Whitford reveals he’s been gathering heroes, the Van Helsings, the Ashes, the Buffys of the world, and corresponding artifacts of good to finally throw down on the old ones, and reinstate a new tradition—in much the way EDII broke the rules of ‘kids must die’ with a new trope of ‘the hero vanquishes evil’. I think I would have really enjoyed something like that, but I am a big cheeseball.

    • Continentalop says :

      There’s not a moment in either BTM or CITW where someone pulls a Scream, or even references having seen a scary movie. This is because, I believe, both films are suggesting that they take place in the world where horror movies don’t exist.

      It’s funny you mention that, because in a discussion last night after the movie I made a similar point, comparing this to superhero movies where no one seems to reference comic books or super-hero movies but instead it seems as if Action Comics #1 was never made.

    • Continentalop says :

      I will also say one of the reasons I might not like this film as much is because I think it tapped into some of the same deconstruction ideas that I was trying to tap into with my script. Or am I being crazy Bart?

  10. kloipy says :

    I’m still excited to see this (don’t worry it was spoiled already for me haha), but I think I’ll be going into it with lowered expectations.

    Horror comedy is probably the hardest genre to do right in my opinion. the most recent and was mentioned here was ‘Tucker and Dale’ a movie a wanted to like a lot more than I actually did. While it was good and entertaining and funny, did not live up to my expectation. Maybe on repeat viewings it will be better, but BTM and SOTD are the ones that have gotten better for me overtime as they are more layered than TAD

    I place the blame soley on the Trailer for TAD (which pretty much detailed the entire plot and showed almost all the kills in 2 minutes). The comedy of the film really relies upon the fact that


    Tucker and Dale aren’t killers, just in the wrong place at the wrong time. To ruin that in the trailer did a diservice because it wasn’t really funny once you knew it and got kind of stale halfway through

    *end spoiler*

    Also- Jack Brooks Monster Slayer was a huge letdown for me. I didn’t think it was funny at all and when it got to the monster it was just kind of downhill for me. I think it’s a nice idea, but the movie just feels off for me at least

  11. ThereWolf says :

    Warning much appreciated, R2.

    I do intend to see this, just don’t know when so I’ll sidestep the review for now. It’s best I don’t read any more than I have already…

  12. D.Vader says :

    I loved the movie. Had great fun with it.

  13. Xiphos0311 says :

    Wait, they ripped off the Initiative from Buffy season 6 I think for this hot mess? Fucking bunch of talentless dick strokers.

  14. tombando says :

    Where were the singing chorus lions (in hats)?

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