Saturday, 20 July 2013 04:58 am[personal profile] mokie
mokie: Man with an old computer monitor for a head drinks through a straw (media pop culture)
How much time has to pass before the Whedonite love-shine wears off of The Cabin in the Woods and we can finally discuss how Joss hasn't seen a horror movie since 1990?

"It's a dissection of horror tropes!"

No, it's a warehouse of slasher trope lampshades, and an embarrassingly heavy-handed and shallow lampshading at that.

Two kinds of people discuss slasher tropes as if they are general horror tropes: people who make slasher films and conflate them with all horror, due to their own creative tunnel vision, and people who hate slasher films and conflate them with all horror, because it's so much easier to mock "some big-breasted girl who can't act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door" than to wrap your head around Silent Night, Deadly Night being in the same general genre as The Shining.

The slasher is a subgenre of horror, in much the same way that a sitcom is a type of television show. There are specific elements that differentiate a sitcom from a hospital drama (a focus on comedy), Antiques Roadshow (work of fiction) or, within its own genre, sketch comedy (continuity of characters and storyline). No matter how original the sitcom, those specific elements are expected, because they are a defining feature of the subgenre, but they are not definitive of all televised programming. Similarly, there are specific elements that define a slasher film and differentiate it from Schindler's List or Downton Abbey, obviously, but there are also defining elements that differentiate it from other horror--elements which separate Friday the 13th from Dracula, Jaws and even The Hills Have Eyes.

The Cabin in the Woods doesn't dissect these elements, it simply calls attention to them. I know TV Tropes would argue that it qualifies as a deconstruction ("How would this really play out?"), and that a deconstruction automatically qualifies as analysis and criticism. That might satisfy Leonard Maltin, but it doesn't really work for me.

Five people go to a cabin, and they fall into common slasher archetypes: jock, brain, slut, virgin, stoner/idiot. Why? Because it's necessary to the plot. But it being necessary to the plot in The Cabin in the Woods does not at all explain or explore why it's necessary in slasher films. It repeats the trope, it points it out with a neon sign and wagging eyebrows, but it's no more making a point with that sign than standard slashers make a point when they have the stoner announce himself by pulling out his stash. Mentioning 'final girls' just shows an awareness of the trope; it is not, in and of itself, exploring the final girl phenomenon in slashers. I don't care how ironically you insert a trope in a film, how firmly your tongue is planted in your cheek: examination is more than just repetition with a smirk.

"It skewers the horror slasher genre!"

If it had been made in 1991, maybe. The film's biggest problem is that it's twenty years too late to be relevant. It's mocking an idea of horror films (see: people who hate slasher films and conflate them with all horror) rather than the current state of horror films, even accounting for an upswing in remakes/reboots.

You see, the slasher subgenre was disgraced by the late '80s, a parody of itself. Its tropes had already been teased out, dissected, drawn, quartered and burned. As far as public perception goes, The Silence of the Lambs was arguably the nail in the coffin, the film that said the general public was moving on (and Candyman didn't hurt, either). Wes Craven fought it for a few years with the sad spectacles of Freddy's Dead and New Nightmare, some diehards hung in there because direct-to-video sequels are cheap, but slashers had become the pathetic dude who hangs out near his high school years after everyone else graduated and went away to college. (Except less creepy.)

While it's true that Craven finally hit a target with Scream, which dug up that coffin to paint wangs on it, that film is arguably less a send up of horror slashers than thriller slashers. (A thriller wants you on the edge of your seat, horror wants you hiding behind the sofa. Did I mention yet that I hate the standard genre break-down?) Either way, it firmly established that nobody was taking slashers seriously anymore as horror movies, and that every movie buff with a Geocities page had already exhausted the tropes and archetypes to death to the extent that 'genre-savvy kid' was now a trope.

That was 1996. Everything The Cabin in the Woods thinks it's saying was already considered a dead horse by 1996. That makes The Cabin in the Woods the film equivalent of a joke about airline food.

Let's revisit an earlier point: slashers are a subgenre of horror, which means there are defining elements that differentiate it not just from other films, but from other horror films. So what differentiates Friday the 13th from The Hills Have Eyes from Saw? One is a slasher, one is exploitation, and one is torture porn. Those are three different subgenres--related, but different--which each have and rely on different tropes and rules. This is important, because again, The Cabin in the Woods is not sending up general horror tropes, but tropes which are specific to the slasher subgenre.

In an interview Whedon gave regarding the film, he criticized "the devolution of the horror movie into torture porn and into a long series of sadistic comeuppances." That makes sense from a purely developmental point, given that they started filming in 2009, so concept, writing and so forth would have taken place a year or three before, and the mid-'00s was rife with torture porn--except The Cabin in the Woods never waves a tentacle in torture porn's general direction. All of the tropes belong to the safer, more generic, and long-since outmoded genre of slasher horror, rather than the torture porn genre Whedon stated that he found objectionable.

In other words, it doesn't just fail as a 'serious critique' of modern horror because it instead sends up old-fashioned horror--it fails as a critique of the genre's devolution into torture porn because it's too squeamish to ever broach the topic of torture porn. Like the definitive documentary on Leonard Cohen that spends all of its 160-minute run-time explaining decorative woodwork and lathing, both the stated goal and the end product might fall under the general category of "Things you find on PBS," but that doesn't mean the film accomplished what it set out to achieve.

"It reinvents the horror genre!"

The fuck it does.

I hate to break it to you, people who hate slasher films and conflate them with all horror, but the horror genre moved on while you were rolling your eyes at Jason X. While you were wondering how horror fans kept falling for the same old tripe, we were lined up at the theater next door for The Devil's Backbone and wondering how you were falling for that same old tripe, and the answer's simple: you looked for what you expected the horror genre to be, the schlocky low bar, the terrible Netflix filler, and because it's what you were looking for, it's what you found.

In the meantime, trends have come and gone, and you missed them. Hollywood discovered, ruined and forgot Asian horror, discovered Spanish horror then forgot it had discovered it (I blame Tom Cruise), and decided to forget it had ever discovered M. Night Shyamalan. Subgenres have cycled in and out of prominence again--ghost stories are still kind of big. Slashers even tried to make a sheepish comeback with some modern reboots, but by now the originals are collector's items (like Care Bears!), so we weren't having with that.

The Cabin in the Woods is not relevant enough to reinvent anything. At best, it's an irony-frosted nostalgicicle, the film equivalent of a friend discovering a cache of Surge in his mom's basement. It's nice that you enjoy it, but it can't reinvent a genre it refuses to even recognize.

About dream/reading tags

y-* tags categorize dreams.

For types: beyond the obvious, there are dreamlets (very short dreams), stubs (fragment/outline of a partially-lost dream), gnatter (residual impression of a lost dream).

For characters: there are roles (characters fitting an archetype), symbols (characters as symbols), and sigils (recurring figures with a significance bigger than a single dream's role/symbolism).

x-* tags categorize books.

Material is categorized primarily by structure, style and setting. If searching for a particular genre, look for the defining features of that genre, e.g. x-form:nonfic:bio, x-style:horror, x-setting:dystopian.