Sunday, April 22, 2012

HOW NON HORROR AUDIENCES AT THE CABIN IN THE WOODS HAVE PROVEN HORROR NEEDS A FACELIFT

HI: 
THIS CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS FOR 
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. 
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. 

The horror world has been doing nothing but gleam about the little darling that is The Cabin In The Woods, and with good reason. (I also need to point out that anytime I say the title of the film, I sing this song.) It's no doubt that this film is undeniably the best mainstream horror film to come out in nearly a decade, and has shot up to horror fans' top ten lists with a raging force.  My good pal Johnny over at Freddy In Space has been doing a bang up job of covering and analyzing everything associated with the film, and I think that before you divulge into my rambling, his opinion is well worth checking out.  Anyway, back to the point of this article.  There have been tons of reviews flying around all of the media outlets, but they're all written by three different types of people.  Horror journalists, general film critics, and hyperactive teenagers with an internet access would appear to be the major voices when it comes to reviewing this film.  Now I'm not discounting any of these opinions, but when it comes to determining the success or failure of something that is determined solely by opinion...we must take into account those that are unbiased.  Horror fans are undoubtedly going to geek out over this film because it was a fanboy fantasy delivered on a silver fucking platter.  What about the non-horror folk? Doesn't their ticket money matter as well?

As much as I'd like to believe that the sole purpose of horror films being made is to present something to appeal to the fan, we all know it's a load of poppycock.  Films (regardless of genre) HAVE TO MAKE MONEY.  You could have the best horror film in the world but if only horror fans like it, it is going to flop. Plain and simple. Film companies thrive off of those date night ticket stubs, and the "too young to drink, so what else are we going to do" aged young adults with minimum wage jobs but Mom and Dad still paying for their survival.  That my friends, is a FACT.

Tonight I was lucky to experience something that most of my horror bretheren aren't as lucky to endure.  Horror fans are a breed of their own and we tend to stick to our own kind when it comes to satisfying our livelihood's horrific desires.  However, I've got a best friend I met back during my bitchin' child beauty pageant days that was willing to venture off into the depths of the sticky floored cinema under the pretenses that I'm showing her something that will scare the tan lines right off of her hips.  I have to say, mission accomplished.  As much as I had great joy feeling her jump out of her skin and watch as her hands shifted from squeezing the arm chair to covering her mouth in pure disbelief, I learned more from watching her reactions than I did from the film itself.  Everyone keeps talking about how this movie is so "original".  Okay, yeah, TCITW is original in comparison to the remake craze Hollywood seems to be on, but TCITW is the furthest thing from original.  All it did was pull a SCREAM/Behind The Mask and get super meta with a twist (one that wasn't even reserved for the ending).  Now. That being said. Here's a few things I learned from watching the reactions of a non-horror buff.

I) MUSIC HAS GOTTEN TOO PREDICTABLE:  Everyone knows that half of the battle of establishing fear is creating the atmosphere.  Psychology has proven that we associate what we hear with what we believe is a present danger.  For example: there's a reason that we know the shark is going to attack in JAWS, that Michael Myers is just around the corner in Halloween, that there are stab wounds occurring in the shower during Psycho, or the lack of sound while the body floats in Resident Evil triggering us to expect it to move.  Music is an extremely powerful entity and horror is quite possibly the king when it comes to utilizing and exploiting that power.  That being said, we're beating the same dead horse over and over and over again.  Knowing where all of the "jump scares" were going to happen in this film, it gave me the opportunity to people watch and giggle at the impending shocks they all seemingly knew were coming (even if they weren't).  Just because the strings began to crescendo and hit fermatas on the higher notes, the entire audience began to cringe.  It's almost Pavlovian at how we've all been conditioned to react to violins in horror movies. Granted, I understand that the reason we use this formula is because it works, but maybe we should experiment a bit and figure out another way to use sound to our advantage.  The use of Vassy's "Desire" during Jules' drunken cabin dance in front of the fire was arguably my favorite use.  The bass line pumped from an exterior shot of the cabin and resembled somewhat of a frantic heartbeat.  It immediately put me on edge as well as the rest of the audience, and the sigh of relief that came over when we realized she was merely dancing was a satisfying payoff.  I would gladly enjoy seeing more of that.


II) WEAPONRY NEEDS TO STEP UP ITS GAME: This one isn't even a criticism of The Cabin In The Woods, it's actually a HUGE compliment to it.  One of the initial thoughts that Zach Shildwachter and I shared after our viewing was how incredible the use of the bear trap on a chain was as far as a weapon.  It instills enough terror as bear traps are horrifying on their own, but to hook it to a chain and be able to use it like a damn lasso is one of the most genius concepts I've seen in a long while.  I had assumed that this was just going to excite a horror junkie after witnessing year after year of knife wielding madmen, but it would appear that non-horror fans crave unique instruments of torture as much as we do.  I am probably going to regret making this statement due to my hatred of the franchise, but I cannot deny the reality of SAW changing the face of modern horror.  SAW is arguably the most successful horror franchise of recent years and horror audiences have either spent the last decade in a womb of torture horror or growing up with torture horror reigning as the status quo.  To put it bluntly, knives and axes just don't do it for us anymore.  However, the simplicity of a one motion weapon still seems to have the prowess.  Audiences like the quickness of the knife, but the terrifying originality of a SAW trap.  Therefore, hearing two separate and VERY difference audiences audibly respond with "...is that a fucking bear trap on a chain?!" further proved this thought.  While the Chicago audience of horror nerds on opening night wailed in delight towards the weapon, the cornfield Macomb, IL audience was struck with fear upon its first strike.  Leslie Vernon also had the right idea with a scythe, and that film was also pretty damn well received.  Sensing the pattern?

III) ZOMBIES CAN SLOW DOWN: I'm not against running zombies or anything (okay, maybe I am) but I've noticed that whenever a movie features running zombies, there's a good chance that they're running will be utilized for bad camera work or jump scares.  Slow moving zombies have always been effective because they creep up on you, not jump at you without ever giving you a chance to run.  Running zombies give a cheap thrill while slower moving zombies have time to fester underneath you and put you in a constant state of paranoia.  When Marty stood outside the cabin as Patience Buckner hobbled her one-armed ass out of the forest and towards him, there was an audible reaction from the audience wanting him to go back inside.  Those sort of scenes cannot exist with fast moving zombies because they'd be heard.  That goes back to the predictable music argument.  Marty turned around because he "thought" he heard something, but Patience had wandered into the shadows and he couldn't see her.  Running (true) zombies do not allow for suspenseful scenarios because they'll be too easy to see and hear.  Now, films like ...28 days later have found ways to use quick "zombies/infected" but we must also accept that a good portion of their screen time is used to jump out and spit blood all over someone or with a quick attack.  Audiences attention spans may be slipping, so the goal is to keep them on their toes with quality, creepy, continuous moments, not bombard them with jump scares.


IV) WE CAN STOP DUMBING DOWN DIALOGUE: I don't know what Joe-Blo Hollywood exec. decided that the only people watching movies have the IQ of a lima bean, but we need to stop treating the dialogue in horror films like junior high banter.  Do you want to know which jokes in this film got the biggest laughs? The ones that required actual cognitive process.  Of course there were some chuckles with the stoner jokes, but the pop culture references and intellectual dick jokes got the strongest reactions.  I want a T-Shirt with "husband's buldge" written on it.  They could have very easily said "erection" or "boner" BUT THEY DIDN'T.  They used a terminology that fit for the time of the diary and was still wildly entertaining.  I even heard audience members during the reading of the Latin using their high school semester of Spanish class skills to figure out what he was saying.  Audiences aren't nearly as idiotic as we'd like to believe, and they're clearly happy when the filmmaker never insults their intelligence.  Seriously, if I see one more zombie movie where the characters have no idea what to do with them, I'm going to snap.  They're characters, yes, but they're still human beings capable of understanding the world around them.  It's the 21st century, if you think characters haven't heard "aim for the head" once in their life, you're a damn fool.

V) ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGES ARE A GOOD THING: This is going back to the short attention span thing, changing the environment every once in a while is a good thing.  Give the audiences something else to look at, and DEFINITELY change the lighting.  My movie date was discussing how much she enjoyed the contrasting scenes between the facility and the cabin, as it gave her time to process and wonder.  By changing settings (especially in the manner in which Cabin does by showing bits of the other setting in the background) it gives the audience a conflicting state of mind in that they want to pay attention to what is in front of them, but they are driven mad with wonder as to what is going on in the other setting.  By having layers to the storyline, it keeps the audience engaged to more than just what they're being spoon fed.  Audiences can think for themselves and the DO have imaginations...let them play.

VI) COLOR INSIDE THE LINES: While there are plenty of things that could use a change, the most important thing is that we remember our roots.  There's a difference between being predictable and sticking to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to.  This film exposed the formulaic existence of horror films BUT presented them in an entirely different manner.  Whedon knew exactly how to tickle our fancy with just enough of a meta factor to entertain us but with enough variety to keep us from getting bored.  It's like having a twist ending, but without the poor execution and dissatisfying results.  My movie date kept trying to ask me what was going to happen next and thought she had it all figured out within the first fifteen minutes (including the death order) but LOVED when she was proven only half-right and the other half was from a completely different ballpark all together.  THIS IS WHAT WE NEED.  Stop trying to do something uber new or uber unique because chances are you're going to end up with a different for different's sake style of film that will have the aura of a pretentious collegiate liberal arts piece.  FIND A BALANCE BETWEEN NEW AND OLD.  Or just go old, vintage never goes out of style (I'm looking at you Ti West). 

4 comment(s):

Spike Ghost said...

mm, yes, this is a good post. :D

Anonymous said...

you know you'd have a bigger following and more readers if you looked more like a horror girl. invest in some black dye and some tattoos and you'll be famous.

Ashley Shannon said...

very intersting article, unfortunately I saw the film in a theatre of about 10 people so was unable to examine as you did, I actually think those without the extensive horror background will enjoy it more as I still managed to find it a bit predictable. Will post my review tonight :)

They MadeMeDoIt

jay said...

I think the originality of The Cabin in the Woods is the fact that it can be applied to so many movies through the ages. Yeah, it's super meta. But it is meta without the pretentiousness (hey there, Scream). Therefore it can bring a bit of new life into old genre favorites.

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