Dear all, please stop calling Cabin in the Woods a game changer

Friday April 13th 2012

With a 92% score on Rotten Tomatoes, Cabin in the Woods is among the best-reviewed American horror movies of the 21st Century, second only to Drag Me To Hell. It opens worldwide today and thanks to astonishingly good word-of-mouth from both audiences and critics — even Chris Tookey thinks it’s the film of the year — it should do reasonably well at the box office. I think I’ve made my own feelings on the film pretty clear: we had a preview screening at Ultra Culture Cinema last week and it’s currently top of my Best of 2012 list. But through no fault of its own, the film is starting to irritate me. And here’s why:

(See also: DeadspinDC Film Girl, Slackerwood, The Shiznit, The Daily Rotation, This Is Horror, Spill, Buzzine, Cinema Assassin, The 1st Five and most of Twitter)

Avatar was a game changer; Inception was a game changer; even John Carter was a game changer. Cabin in the Woods, while undoubtedly a better movie than any of those examples, is not a game changer. It won’t affect modern horror filmmaking any more than The Lorax will.

There are various reasons why the film won’t have any kind of impact on contemporary horror movies, but the main one is this: it’s not about them. The most successful horror franchises of the last ten years are Paranormal Activity and Saw (both game changers, incidentally). Neither one has anything to fear from Cabin in the Woods, primarily because they don’t subscribe to any of the tropes and clichés that the movie parodies — conventions only really found in the long-comatose slasher genre.

That’s perhaps the oddest thing about Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s ‘groundbreaking’ horror comedy: it does what Scream did for 90s horror movies … for 90s horror movies. Granted, it does so with far more finesse than Craven’s film (hardly surprising — Cabin in the Woods had twice the budget and much better writers) but to call it innovative seems a little disingenuous. Scream was a game changer in 1996 because the type of film it took to task was still very much in the public consciousness. Cabin in the Woods‘s closest contemporary parallels are all nostalgic remakes of 80s classics like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween.

Then again, if recent years are anything to go by, 2012 should be yet another year in which the slasher genre fails to light up the box office, so who’s to say that Cabin in the Woods hasn’t changed the game? In fact, it’s changed it so well that the change came into effect seven or eight years before its release. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.