There is no arguing that The Cabin in the Woods is a film to be excited about. Horror fans will celebrate the return of creature features, Whedon fans will revel in a new product they can all get behind, and reluctant dates will find plenty to laugh at. Rather than relying on references to better films, it creates plenty of its own original notes. The film will reward multiple viewings and can live on in midnight screenings, drinking games and fan films. However, many critics in the blogosphere are calling it a “game changer” or somehow forcing the genre in a new direction. This sentiment reveals a lack of understanding of horror filmmaking and the community that supports it. There is nothing “game changing” in this movie.
The Cabin in the Woods is another excellent play in a very long-running game, to continue the metaphor. Dark filmmakers, horror filmmakers, and weird filmmakers of all stripes who take their work seriously are seeking to surprise and challenge the audience. Every good horror film is a surprise that both thwarts and rewards the audience expectations. Knowing what is coming for you is a staple of action filmmaking, but the shifting unknown is the realm of fright nights and creep shows. No doubt there will be a wave of imitations, some good, most bad, but that is a common move in big league movie gameplay.
As excited as I am about The Cabin in the Woods, there is a bittersweet aftertaste to it all. When can we have a new classic serious horror film? When is the next Exorcist, Psycho or Zombie? Better yet, when will all these of critics who cry “game changer” turn their attention to Ti West, Chan-wook Park, or Mike Flanagan? Horror films have always thrived on the edges and fringes of culture, often shriveling in the daylight of mainstream attention. The Cabin in the Woods won’t change this, and if anything, it shows the game is played the same as it ever was and has been for eons. You can bet on that.