Cabin in the Woods met with such a reception from yours truly and I was desperately hoping for a "I loved it!" or "I hated it!" reaction because movies and me go back a ways and I love being passionate about them but Cabin in the Woods didn't inspire that passion in me. At the same time, I thought it was well done so it's a solid "like" with me despite my desire for it to be a "love." It's a clever idea and well-executed that at once works within its own premise and also asks the audience to ponder the purpose of genre conventions while not merely mentioning them. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are the true foundation of the movie and without them, it would have been so much less. Favorite moment: When the Japanese children outwit their vengeful spirit, how they do it and Richard Jenkins' reaction to it.
But this isn't about Cabin in the Woods really. It's about how movies take on certain ideas and get praised for merely taking on the idea, whether they did it well or not. For instance, Network is praised as a great satire on television, mass media, corporate culture and the utter subservience of the American television viewer (the genius of the "mad as hell" scene isn't the rebellion Beal inspires, it's that he's telling them to rebel against being told what to do by television by shouting "I'm mad as hell" out their windows and like the good sheep they are they open their windows and shout "I'm mad as hell."). And it is a great satire but it's also on a very short list of media satires so while it may compare favorably to Wrong is Right or A Face in the Crowd, it also only has to compare favorably to those two and a handful of others.
In other words, pleasing the gods of old is brought in as the final statement about the unforgiving audience that must be pleasured in their seats or else. But what if the big reveal was that they were doing all of this simply because they were told to? Because it's in their job description. What if five young people suffer brutally and horribly for something that became unnecessary fifty years ago but by then the bureaucracy was so embedded they just kept doing it because no one told them to stop? Isn't that more in tune with genre movies? We keep getting the same thing because no one comes up with anything new because they're told the old stuff still works and that we're happy to stomach it because we've never seen anything different because no one told them to make anything different because the old stuff makes us happy. And on and on and on. Is the audience really that demanding, or demanding at all, or are they more in line with Howard Beal's sheep, happy to go where they're led? My vote's with the sheep.
The problem, and not with the movie but with me, is that I fear when something becomes meta, it's essentially dead. When self-awareness gets adopted as the go-to attitude and smug cleverness substitutes for dialogue, where else can the genre go? Then I start thinking, "Is this it for horror? Is it over now? Will I never again see a movie about a monster or a vampire or a vengeful spirit that isn't overly excited to tell me it knows it's about a monster or a vampire or a vengeful spirit?" I wonder if there can ever be another movie about the supernatural or paranormal that plays it straight that isn't a found footage film? We still get them, like The Pact or Let the Right One In, but they seem to be fading when thrown up against the meta-movie storm.
Comedies, science fictions, westerns and musicals all have conventions and it's the knowledge and acceptance of those conventions that often makes me want to watch them. And when I watch a musical, I want to know it's a musical, but I don't want the characters to know. I don't want Gene Kelly telling me, "Yeah, I know it's a musical, too. Look, now I'm going to dance to music that comes out of nowhere. Crazy, right?" So let's just say that Cabin in the Woods is the best meta-horror movie ever, so good no one can top it. And since no one can top it, let's not make any more like it. Let's make straight up horror films in which vampires are scary, monsters are real and zombies aren't a complete fucking joke. There's still time to raise horror from the dead.