Insulated by technology: a spoilerific analysis of a later scene in The Cabin in the Woods
Spoiler alert! Do not read further if you haven't seen The Cabin in the Woods. This analysis is intended for those who have.
"Whedon shared an idea for an orchestrated horror story in which the scary cabin is part of a sealed environment controlled from an underground lab. Then he mentioned his idea for the title. `As soon as he said he was calling The Cabin in the Woods, I was in,' Goddard said." --this quote and upcoming ones all stem from an interview by Maria Elena Fernandez
I've been fixated on the metaphorical implications of the underground lab and the "corporate techie types," Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), two ordinary-looking middle-aged men who begin The Cabin in the Woods oddly discussing the travails of one of their wives baby-proofing their home.
"When we first started it, Joss pitched that originally, `I want to start it with two guys in a break room, talking about fertility.'” --Drew Goddard
Why start the film that way? The two men appear banal as if they have just walked out of The Office, bored, at ease with each other, and blase about the mission in front of them that they have performed many times before. They are complacent about this business of orchestrating a sophisticated attack on 5 teenagers in their sealed environment in the "woods." The viewer gradually realizes that Sitterson and Hadley are amoral monsters, but they seem very realistic. Are they stand-ins for CIA agents? Whedon and Goddard? The military? Distant operators of drone technology? Spies? Jaded thrill-seeking horror-movie viewers? Film producers? Agents of fate or Old Testament justice? Puppet masters? Media professionals? Whatever they may resemble, the two otherwise likable men are clearly insulated by their technology and habits, used to observing horrific things on screens without any personal investment or perceived risk. They enjoy the privileges of a secure income, high levels of technical knowledge, and the ability to manipulate and observe with impunity the young and the gullible. They are bright and competent, if a bit unaware of the implications of their actions. Richard Jenkins can appear even more horrific if one remembers that he also starred in Eat Pray Love (2010).
"So much of this movie is the difference between youth and adulthood. As we become adults, we have this need to marginalize youth and make them into archetypes. So it’s the adults making them into archetypes, because my experience with youth is they’re never archetypes. They’re all complicated, multifaceted individuals, but we feel this need to categorize them and put them into cliques." ---Goddard
One gets to see just how callous the corporate types can be later when a climactic bloody battle between the teenager Dana (Kristen Connolly) and a redneck zombie on the dock of the lake abruptly becomes background visuals on monitors in the lab as the technical crew celebrates the supposed end of a successful evening while indifferently partying and listening to (of all things) REO Speedwagon's "Roll with the Changes." The dated, cheesy quality of the song accentuates their middle-aged lack of taste. Dana's torment is not enough by itself--they need music! We see various crew members using their opportunity to mingle and flirt as they sip drinks. Dana's horror becomes decorative movement on the monitors much like sports on the flat screen TVs of a sports bar. Whedon and Goddard oblige us to consider how much we vicariously share in the lab technicians' lack of emotion. How much is the scene bothersome because it interrupts and obscures the bloody fight scene on the dock?
Other aspects of the film to analyze: its allusions to Psycho, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and The Shining, the encyclopedic use of monsters (making the film a kind of all-inclusive discourse on horror method), and the way Chris Hemsworth helps Whedon and Goddard mock the concept of the hero, as it were, redeeming him for his work in Thor.
Endings: Stanley Kubrick's The Killing
From my piece in the May issue of Sight & Sound, out on stands now, the ending of Stanley Kubrick's the Killing. Nicely edited for space (yes, I went over wo...