Schrodinger's Spoilers: How the Cabin in the Woods trailer redefines spoilers, but spoils nothing
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When is a spoiler not a spoiler...?
Update: Some people have seen The Cabin in the Woods and say that you should go into the film knowing as little as possible about it; some saying that you shouldn't even watch the trailers. This article was written not having seen the film, and so there’s every possibility that they could be right and the title of the article could be wrong. So read on at your own risk.
Hot on the heels of the recent, tantalising meta-textual poster for Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods, Universal released the much anticipated first trailer for the film earlier this week. On first glance, it appears to be like every other conventional horror movie trailer…until it stabs you in the…wherever expectations are, and bombards you with startling plot twists like flying eyeballs.
But are they really spoilers?
Well, they would be for any normal film, but this is not a normal film.
The brainchild of expectation-subverting genius Joss Whedon (otherwise known as Joss “Subverts Expectations” Whedon) and his protégé Drew Goddard, the long-delayed The Cabin in the Woods has been talked about for years for its originality, genre-deconstructy-ness, and preponderance of twists; as Joss decribes the film, it's “the horror movie to end all horror movies”.
It's the film that’s set to be as twisty as a pretzel. But much scarier. (Unless you have a phobia of pretzels.)
Any distributor would be insane to spoil a film like this in the trailer, so any spoilers must either be fake or non-spoiler spoilers. Well, hopefully. Or maybe Joss Whedon has found that he’s finally exhausted all the possible shocking and unexpected ways to kill off characters, and now he’s turning to the audience for his schadenfreude. Maybe THE SPOILERS ARE THE HORROR! Ooops, spoilers, sorry… :)
As theonetruebix reminds people on Whedonesque, the tagline, “You think you know the story”, is still very much the case.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s even more relevant in light of these supposed spoilers, which (taken out of context) serve to give people even more of an idea of what to expect. And these expectations will then be turned on their heads. Or sideways. Or inside out. Or sucked through to an alternate dimension. Or something. Remember, this is Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard we’re talking about here. They know what they’re doing. (And our endless attempts to figure it out should keep us going entertainingly crazy right up until April. And then it’ll probably make us go crazy in other ways.)
Is this the first example of Schrödinger’s Spoilers: They’re both spoilers and not spoilers, until you watch the film and find out which one it is for sure?
Though, personally, I think it’s highly unlikely that they’re actual spoiler spoilers. Self-aware ‘spoilers’, that makes perfect sense.
In any case, the trailer offers plenty to speculate about, even compared to, say, Steven Moffat’s tenure as Doctor Who showrunner.
The tagline, “You think you know the story”, if its confidence is justified (and it certainly seems like it), in one sense effectively invalidates any speculation, but it doesn’t make speculation any the less fun. In fact, in some ways, it makes it even more fun. Anything could happen. (And probably will.)
Trailer spoilers, speculation spoilers, and all other kinds of non-spoiler spoilers follow. (And cake spoilers. Maybe there’ll be cake spoilers…**)
Well, there’s a cabin, and it’s in some woods…it’s just like Snakes on a Plane! Only with more meta-textuality. (And it has Thor instead of Nick Fury.)
Does the trailer portray the genre-subverting nature of the film enough, for those who aren’t familiar with Joss Whedon’s work? It gets the message across, but will some people just see it as a clever horror film, rather than something that will totally shake up the genre? Of course, it probably doesn’t really matter, since it’ll only amplify the impact when they do see it.
The use of sound and music in the trailer is excellent, and really ratchets up the atmosphere. In particular, I love the sounds just before the slightly screamy rock music kicks in.
If you look closely, the trailer is edited so that in several places, a shot that appears to follow another shot is actually subtly different; like there was something in between that was cut out. Maybe this is just a clever editing trick to make the whole thing seem subconsciously more eerie (not unlike this architectural quirk in The Shining), or maybe it plays into the story or themes somehow. For example, in Inception, characters who are dreaming begin a scene in a different location to the one they were in previously, without knowing how they got there. Perhaps something similar is going on here.
In any case, Fran Kranz sums it up in the trailer: “I seriously believe there’s something weird going on!” As Buffy would say, “…and that doesn’t usually lead to hugs and puppies.” Unless they’re bear hugs and mutant killer puppies, of course…
I’ve got a theory… Maybe the Woods are the world, which is dark and dangerous and scary and largely unknown, and the Cabin is society, which is ordered and enclosed and seems safe and fine and normal, but there’s the danger of getting trapped and being at the mercy of evil people. So some choose to brave the woods to avoid the tyranny of government (or other) control. Like Mal says in Firefly, “Woods are the only place I can see a clear path.” Similarly, the eponymous Dollhouse in Joss Whedon’s latest show is like the Cabin. Like in Pan’s Labyrinth, both the real and fantasy worlds are dangerous in their own ways. Of course, this is just a theory.
Maybe the movie takes the Barney Stinson approach from How I Met Your Mother. In one episode, Barney says: "Just hypothetically, do you like movies where, in a shocking twist, all the characters die at the end? Then you’ll love this movie.”
The trailer introduces some unexpected sci-fi elements, providing a fresh spin on horror tropes. This is cool, since every film could benefit from more sci-fi elements, imo. Even sci-fi films. In any case, the film should have plenty more of these kind of unusual, genre-bending moments, which could well incorporate elements of many other genres. Not only is it a specifically Whedonesque trait, but also the film deliberately sets out to subvert horror tropes. The particular ways in which it’ll do so remain a mystery, these (possibly misdirecting) hints in the trailer notwithstanding, but at any rate, things should get pretty interesting…
The trailer tells us, “You think you know the story”, then, “You think you know the place”, and then “Think again”. Maybe the next trailer will say, “You think you know the characters”. And then hopefully, “You think you know what you know”, along with Fran Kranz being typically Topher-ish; maybe quoting Dollhouse or even echoing that scene from ‘Epitaph One’.
Whatever the details of the story turn out to be, perhaps at the end of the movie, Joss Whedon will reprise his cameo as Numfar from Angel, and do the Dance of Subverted Expectations.
There’s a moment in the trailer where a figure slowly rises out of the water. One of the female characters watches, and then suddenly she screams. Is this a comment on the interaction between the two different types of horror; slow dread versus jump scares? Is it about the tension between what people perceive as terrifying and what should be terrifying? Does it somehow relate to the metaphor of boiling frogs?
Chris Hemsworth gives a big, hearty laugh, like in The Avengers trailer. He is good at laughing. Sitcoms should get him to re-record their laugh tracks, and they’d instantly improve. He could hire himself out to insecure people to accompany them and laugh at all their jokes. (Though he is a movie star, so it could probably get pricey.) And maybe his next film should be simply Chris Hemsworth Watches Comedy. The tagline could be, “Oh, yes. There will be laughter.”
There's an interesting sequence in the trailer, which suggests that there will be mind-changing:
Chris Hemsworth: “We *have* to stay together.”
Then there's a weird, shakey visual effect, and he says: “This isn’t right…”
Then concludes with: “Let’s split up.”
Jesse Williams: “Yeah, that’s a good idea.”
Fran Kranz: “Really?”
This does the wonderful Whedon thing (well, #47 on the list of Wonderful Whedon Things) of subverting genre tropes with comedy.
Also, mind control? Oooh, Dollhouse-y… Maybe there's some kind of chemical that un-inhibits their instincts? Like (the reverse of) in Serenity? And is it possible for characters to resist this? Maybe this is the ultimate test in the film (or just an intermediate one)?
Also, this tension, between splitting up and staying together, is a theme that runs through the Whedonverse. For instance, as the Slayer, Buffy is alone, yet gains strength from her friends. Also in Dollhouse, two characters have to decide whether to run and be free and safe, or go back and help their friends. (Or maybe that's different, because those characters have the distinct possibility of escape on their own?)
Also, there's another interesting exchange:
“I think I can get it to go down…”
“Do we want it to go down?”
And after this in the trailer, we see the characters in the elevator thing, going down.
This not only raises the possibility of the characters being manipulated (which would thus satirise the contrivances of formulaic horror movies), but also potentially invites the audience to question whether what the characters (or the audience themselves) want is the right thing to want. As with any good story, presumably the characters will have to navigate the difference between want and need, and face various moral dilemmas which will test them. Could it be other characters in the story doing this to test them, and then judging and punishing them accordingly? This would fit with the line, “You’re missing the point…they’re trying to punish us.”
I actually want to watch the movie at the beginning of the trailer, with the nice music, and sunshine, and friendship, and fun and happiness… (But that kind of film is called The Muppets. Though a Muppets /
Cabin in the Woods crossover would be awesome. Please make this happen, awesome Muppet parody trailer-making people.) But then the sinister music kicks in as the Lionsgate logo appears illuminated in red, making it clear that *this is a horror movie*. And then the rest of the trailer makes it clear that this is *not just* a horror movie...
What about that bird that flies into the honeycomb pattern forcefield (reminiscent of Torchwood, making one wonder if none of the characters will be able to die, like in Miracle Day?) and turns into sparks? Poor birdie… Was it thinking, “I’m a leaf on the wind…”? Or maybe it was a robot / cyborg bird / a birdbot? Like a bird, but artificial? (A Cylon bird?) What if it was starting to ask existential questions and discover some kind of humanity…birdanity? What if I’m over-analysing? Bad trailer! You got me over-analysing! (Yeah, isn’t it fun?)
(I didn’t have to overanalyse that element of the trailer. I know; it was just funny.)
The Cabin in the Woods is released on April 13, 2012.
Now we only have four months and four days of wild speculation to drive us insane. (Seriously, how can it be that long?) As a fellow wild-speculator myself, I know how crazy-making that can be…
** That was just an excuse for a Fran Kranz / Dollhouse reference. The cake is a lie.
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