Basically, I saw The Cabin in the Woods the other night. I really liked it. It was fun. And I noticed something a few other people have noticed – that the opening scene and title card is a direct homage/reference/copy of Funny Games, the 1997 film by Michael Haneke. Which immediately for me set up what The Cabin in the Woods was on about. There was no way this was going to be a straight horror film.
So as I watched the story unfold I was comparing it with my experience of watching Funny Games. And both basically do the same thing, say the same thing, they’re just coming from completely different directions. I don’t think I’m breaking new ground in saying that they’re both chewing freely on the saturation and exploitation of violence in film and media.
At this point, it’s interesting to note that in the 15 years between the releases of the two films, the same points about violence in cinema are still valid.
The opening scenes of both films are rather banal. Banal in that they’re documenting everyday actions. Everyday exchanges. Coworkers in The Cabin in the Woods, and a family in Funny Games. Both everyday banal situations are then assaulted by blood red title cards.
This is key. For both Haneke and Goddard & Whedon, violence and extreme violence has become part of the everyday. And it’s sickening. The protagonists of each film are shit out of luck, doomed to die, doomed to suffer in front of us.
Funny Games mocks this doom to the audience. It sets up usual scenarios, ones we are familiar with (opportunities for victims to get the upper hand/escape/save each other) and discards them. There is no normality here. There is no escape. They invited horrific violence into their home, and it’s there to stay. The antagonists cheat to make sure there is no happy ending. They literally alter the story in front of the audience.
Similarly, The Cabin in the Woods messes with the usual expected tropes. The antagonists here are just everyday joes though, doing a job to satiate the needs of Cinema Horror, where victims must die in set ways and set orders. They also cheat, to gain their own results.
If there’s a fundamental difference between the two, it’s that Funny Games lays the blame of its horror at the feet of the audience. The Cabin in the Woods however, blames directors. Particularly those – though this is not overt – that aren’t so concerned with horror, they’re more interested in disgusting their audience. Gorno films.
Where Funny Games is an appeal for us to stop, to see violence for what it is, The Cabin in the Woods is more of a request to return to the good old days. Where terror reigned, not gore. The anticipation was the horror, the imagination that anything, something, might happen. Instead we’re so used to everything happening these days we don’t anticipate it. It’s there. Everywhere.
So, what’s the point in discussing these things?
I guess it’s that I love the horror genre, but neither Funny Games nor The Cabin in the Woods are actually horror films. They’re about the genre, rather than in it. And neither are particularly terrifying. But both have valid points about the genre. But now that they’ve said their things, what are we going to do? Can we get back to pure horror, as The Cabin in the Woods asks of us? Or have we gone too far, ruined our souls, that we are beyond redemption when it comes to responsible use of violence in film?
I just wish we could take these two films, marry them, and give them to Polanski or Friedkin. Ones who actually know how to terrify you. Haneke is too concerned with making films for film students, and Whedon is always in favour of cheap laughs than worthwhile statements. So both these films are infinitely valuable for cinema, but ultimately worthless if you’re after horror.
Is horror gone from cinema?