Cheaters Never Prosper

Cabin in the Woods

Don’t ruin the game by buying the cheat codes…

Okay…in trying to be a good internet citizen, and in the event that you are one of those rare people who would be inclined to watch the Drew Goddard/Joss Whedon film The Cabin in the Woods and still haven’t seen it yet, there will be spoilers ahead. No worries, though–I will give you ample warning.

First of all, I think that The Cabin in the Woods is probably one of the most clever films that I’ve seen in a long time. It is hilarious, fun, genuinely scary, and just plain cool. Like Scream back in the 90s, it does an excellent job of turning the “slasher flick” on its severed ear.

There are several elements that contributed to why this worked so well. The writers clearly knew their source material and played in the tropes of the genre like artists play in colors. The dialog (as per usual in a Whedon production) was snappy and revelatory. The movie wasn’t a comedy, but was also laugh-out-loud funny–a fine line that results in a scary film in which you actually care about the characters and the horrible things that happen to them. The central idea was clever and well-executed. All of these elements came together like a well-oiled machine that rocketed viewers toward a climax that delivered.

And that is the most important part of the puzzle. They didn’t cheat on the ending.

SPOILER WARNING * SPOILER WARNING* SPOILER WARNING

THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD, MATEYS! WATCH WHERE YE POINT YER JIB!

SPOILER WARNING * SPOILER WARNING* SPOILER WARNING

There…that ought to do it. Now we can speak freely…

The writers really painted themselves into a tight corner–especially for a Hollywood film. The movie could really have ended in only two ways: one of the two main characters must kill the other in cold blood to be the hero or the earth is overrun by Lovecraftian horrors. Not a good situation for a film being played to audiences that typically revolt if the hero doesn’t win and the bad-guys don’t get their comeuppance.

Usually what happens is some lame last-minute fix is shoehorned in to pull the writer’s fat out of the fire. Some character we thought was dead emerges and saves the day. The cavalry is called in and the place is overrun with FBI agents and black ops soldiers. The heroes think of some secret vulnerability in the Big Bad that can exploited to a rousing, bombastic, conclusion. Anything to keep the ending from being “too depressing” or some such nonsense.

But Goddard and Whedon didn’t cheat. The two characters stayed true to their personalities, maintained their basic humanity, and let the world come to an end.

A stupid, tacked-on ending would have eliminated all the crunchy awesome created by the other elements of the movie. It would have rendered the whole enterprise a complete waste of time and energy. It didn’t cheat the characters, it didn’t cheat the story, and it didn’t cheat the audience.

It’s a lesson that so many other writers need to learn: cheaters never prosper.

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About Shedrick

I am a professional librarian and a part-time writer that's working to do that the other way around. I currently live in North Texas in the lovely city of Denton (“The Home of Happiness“) with my lovely wife and the obligatory demon-spawn cats. When not writing, gaming, or watching cheezy kung-fu flicks, I can sometimes be found in a pub (or the American equivalent) enjoying a fine brew.
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