As long as there are films that rely on symbolism and visual metaphors, there will be people willing to dissect them minutely. Many people have made a living analyzing the meaning of films like “Collateral Beauty,” “City of Angels” and “Parasite.” Others even take the time to eke out lessons from the Marvel logo.
Every movie is rich in meaning, from the choice of angles to the color palette of the film. But the best movies to analyze are those that are rich in meta-textual references. And you don’t need to look farther than Joss Whedon’s 2012 horror movie “The Cabin in the Woods.” The film grossed over $69 million worldwide and is considered a great entry into horror canon.
The film has been extensively analyzed over the past years, from the plot to the characters. Today, learn more about the meaning of monsters in “The Cabin in the Woods” and the role they play in making the movie a meta masterpiece.
WARNING: This article contains massive spoilers for the ending of “The Cabin in the Woods.”
Monsters as Entertainment
In the movie, the entire plot is being masterminded by the Facility, a clandestine organization determined to fulfill a ritual to sate eldritch entities known as the Ancient Ones. The titular cabin in the woods is actually being monitored and maintained by hundreds of employees.
The monsters in “The Cabin in the Woods” mutilate and maim the victims to entertain the Ancient Ones, keeping them in stupor with the violence. Several such sites are maintained by the Facility around the world, each with different monsters and rituals.
The Facilities therefore act like studios, with highly paid technicians running things to entertain the Ancient Ones. This mirrors real-world cinematic careers, with director of photography being one of the highest paying photography careers. They even have Directors, with the one in the film played by horror legend Sigourney Weaver.
Even the employees of the Facility derive sick pleasure form the monsters. In the opening act of the movie, the possible monsters the heroes could unleash are written on a board. They take bets on what possible horrors could befall the people trapped in the cabin. They have been desensitized to the horror they inflict and have become reflections of their masters.
Of course, the Facilities maintain a masquerade that their victims deserve their fates.
Monsters as Punishment
The monsters in “The Cabin in the Woods” don’t just act as the grisly performers for the twisted pleasure of the Ancient Ones. They also act as executioners, gruesomely punishing the victims for supposed transgressions. The ritual conducted in the movie evokes tropes as old as the horror genre, particularly the slasher flick. There are five victims for the ritual, each one a person reduced to a single flaw or characteristic: the Whore, the Fool, the Scholar, the Athlete and the Virgin.
In the movie, they go on a symbolic journey, with a guide who warns them of the dangers down the line. They are punished for continuing to the cabin in the woods despite the cryptic and vague warnings. Once there, they are again punished for their curiosity in going down to the cabin’s basement and unleashing monsters. Finally, they are punished for supposed transgressions characterized by their appellations. The Whore is killed first for her brazen sexuality, even though in the film this is stimulated by the Facility itself through pheromones. The Fool is similarly punished for his ignorance, even though his stupidity was forced upon him by the facility.
The monsters in “The Cabin in the Woods” are horrifying because they aren’t legitimately dolling out punishment. The transgressions committed by their victims provide only the thinnest veneer for their execution. The true purpose of the monsters, as revealed in the ending of “The Cabin in the Woods” is to lull the Ancient Ones to slumber.
The True Monsters
The Ancient Ones in the movie provide the Facility with their horrific menagerie. It is by their whims that the Facilities around the globe enact horrifying rituals, sacrificing untold numbers of people to appease them. Humanity and the world seemingly exist only to be their playthings.
But like every brilliant meta-textual film, the Ancient Ones are stand-ins for something in the real world. The true monsters of “The Cabin in the Woods” are the audience themselves.
The Ancient Ones in the film represent the bloodthirsty audience horror movies cater to. Just like the employees of the Facility, the audience sometimes roots for the monsters, because the creatures are half the reason people watch horror movies. Horror movie audiences also want the victims in the film to “deserve” their punishment, even though these people are forced into their roles.
The horror film industry exists solely to fuel the whims of the audience, just like the world in the movie exists only to please the Ancient Ones.
The monsters in “The Cabin in the Woods” draw inspiration from horror movies across the decades. The whole movie exists not just as a critique to the horror movie industry but also to the audience who partakes in the violence depicted on screen. It’s the perfect film if you want to feel immersed in horror tropes and enlightened at the same time.