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The Cabin in the Woods is a thriller with elements of a detective and horror scripted by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, who also worked as a director and producer. According to the plot, five young people gather for a weekend in a hut in the forest. Further, the guys in the cabin find the entrance to the basement where the main character Dana finds a diary and reads a spell, thereby summoning the family of the dead murderers. Scientists from a secret laboratory who manipulate their actions adjust the events so that a zombie family kills the friends.
One by one, they die, first Jules, then her boyfriend Curt always stoned Martin, and intelligent Holden. Gradually, the viewer reveals the picture that the guys were only part of the scientists’ ritual. The celebration is already beginning in the laboratory when only Dana remains alive. However, the phone rings, and it turns out that Martin is not dead also, and he found a secret elevator that brought him and Dana to the laboratory.
There, they found hundreds of containers with different monsters, and, in an attempt to escape, Dana and Martin release all the creatures from their cages, and they kill all the lab workers. The final scene is the fight between Dana, Martin, and the head of the laboratory, who first talks about the ritual to the Gods who, without sacrifice, will rise and destroy the world. Young people win the battle, break the rite, and the Gods rise.
The purpose of this essay is to analyze the details of the editing and plot to understand the success of the movie. It was discovered that some features of the story, editing, and sound made the perfect combination for this genre of film. Thus, the creators made a movie by complementing a quite ordinary horror story with nontrivial details and finishing it with an unexpected ending to make it more exciting for the viewer.
The plot of the film at the very beginning seems quite simple and ordinary for the horror since a group of people travels to a creepy old house in the forest where they meet monsters. However, doubts creep with the first scenes in which scientists appear, and one can assume that the plot will not be so simple. Besides, the story holds the entire film since the details of the mysterious actions and the profiles of clients and scientists are being revealed gradually, and the viewer needs to guess the real reasons for the events that are taking place.
Also noteworthy are additional short scenes of fighting monsters in other countries and the routine life of the laboratory workers, as it shows another perspective of the story. Most movies end with the victory of the main characters and the rescue of the world; however, this film shows the end of humankind. Dana says, “Humanity… It is time to give someone else a chance” (Goddard 1:28:42). Thus, the combination of a typical horror with science fiction and mystery makes the story unusual and intense and pushes the viewer to watch the movie to the end.
Mise en Scene
The plot of the film takes place in two spots, such as a cabin in the forest and laboratory, so the filmmakers create an appropriate mise en scene for both of them. The laboratory is shown as a huge building with an interweaving of corridors and rooms that contains a large number of computers and control equipment, although most of it is not used. Even though the gray colors of equipment and walls are dominating in the scenes, there is enough light in them to show the working atmosphere and the secrecy of the place and actions. Such colors and fullness of light are ideally combined with the carelessness and ease of scientists throughout the film.
The scenes in which the main characters are involved are always gloomy and practically deprived of light. The cabin itself is an old dark house, which lights hardly penetrates, and where ancient doors and floors creak at every step. Besides, many creepy details complement the mise en scene: a stuffed wolf head, a one-way mirror, a picture with a bloody image of a murder, and a basement filled with old and terrible things. The actors playing zombies also have excellent costumes and make-up, as well as their murder weapons, although they are always in the dark and do not appear clearly in the frame. Thus, the creators perfectly depict the mise en scene for a horror movie with elements of a detective and show both sides of this story.
It is difficult to distinguish the features of directing work since the director and screenwriter of the film are the same people. However, should be noted such advantages of editing as a skillful mix of different shooting plans and a combination of horror and irony in the film. Among the scenes where one can see a good shooting perspective is a moment where Jules had to seduce a taxidermized wolf head. The frame smoothly rises from the heels to the top of the actress, which allows the viewer to capture all the curves of her body, and makes the frame not only comical but also seductive (Goddard 0: 25:20).
Then, one can see close-ups of Jules’ face during a talk with the wolf head and the shocked faces of the audience. The weird behavior of the character adds to the absurdity of this scene. A zombie’s attack on Martin was also a great scene as viewers see the guy’s helplessness in the long shot and believe that he will die now, and the close-up with blood spatter from the pit convinces them that Martin is murdered. However, the fact that the director does not show the full picture allows him to return Martin and make an unexpected plot twist.
Moreover, the entire film is riddled with irony, which makes it memorable. In the beginning, scientists laugh at their colleague’s desire to check all details, which ends for them with the deaths of all employees (Goddard 0:02:39). One of the scientists wants to see a merman, and his desire comes true when this beast kills him. Nine-year-old girls easily cope with the evil spirit, and the terrible speech of the harbinger on the phone interrupts the laughter of laboratory workers (Goddard 0:20:02). Such details could remain behind the scenes, but their presence made the movie more memorable and unusual for the viewers.
Sound in the film also plays a huge role as it creates an atmosphere of mise en scene. The most noticeable and often used tricks are gradually intensifying music, which creates a feeling of anxiety in the tense scenes. Besides, all unexpected moments with attacks and killings are amplified by sharp sounds, which force the viewer to startle. The creaking doors and floors, the howling wind, and ringing add eeriness to the scary scenes and increase their tense.
However, at the same time, the creators also use music to create a light atmosphere, for example, when the characters just talk and have fun. The music also adds irony in contrast when a zombie is trying to kill Dana while cheerful music is playing in the laboratory (Goddard 1:03:40). Another unusual move is to use the signal and the elevator lamp when each new batch of monsters comes to kill more people (Goddard 1:16:08). This signal in the middle of the scene filled with blood is even amusing and aimed at demonstrating chaos and the inevitable death of people because of their foolishness and malpractice.
The Cabin in the Woods is an example of a movie in which the details of the story, correctly chosen music, and props refresh the classic plot of a horror. The combination of science fiction and a typical horror plot about monsters and people who resist them made the story itself more exciting. The irony that runs through the whole story and the atypical ending helped the film to be more memorable. Thus, the professional work and creativity of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, as well as the convincing performance of the actors, helped to create a high-quality and exciting cinematography product.
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However, the directors also used well-known techniques for creating the film, such as a creepy house and costumes, lots of blood, and sound effects. These features are a necessity for such a genre of film, but they are not its drawbacks. Creaking sounds and intensifying music increase the excitement and force a person to expect the worst events. Sharp sounds, in combination with bloody pictures, are aimed at shocking and scaring. The absence of these details would remove the intrigue and tension of the situation, and the films would not have such an emotional effect on the viewer. Thus, the creators of The Cabin in the Woods successfully combined the classic techniques of creating a horror movie and their new ideas and made a worthy example of a thriller.
Goddard, Drew, director. The Cabin in the Woods. Lionsgate, 2011.