Turns out that isn't the case.
The pool is for which monster will get to slaughter the young, attractive group in the cabin.
When Dana reads the Latin from the diary, the Buckners, the zombie hillbilly torture family, win. Good for the maintenance department! And the intern...
I saw that board, with all the potential monsters, and thought "Wouldn't that be cool to see all of those things?" Whitford echoed my wishfulness by being upset the merman wasn't picked. "Just once..."
Director: Drew Goddard
Uma Thurman?: Kristen Connolly
Reminds me of a lion: Chris Hemsworth
Made me jealous of a wolf?: Anna Hutchison
Zoinks!: Fran Kranz
Doesn't drive well with a saw in his neck: Jesse Williams
Makes me want to watch The West Wing: Bradley Whitford
His last three years of movie appearances is crazy diverse: Richard Jenkins
Funny moustache: Brian White
I like that she put in for the pool after her talk with Truman: Amy Acker
Hey, hey Sigour-nay!: Sigourney Weaver
Paranoid about speaker phone, for good reason: Tim de Zarn
Patience "Righty" Buckner: Jodelle Ferland
"Japanese Floaty Girl": Naomi Dane
"Werewolf Wrangler": Patrick Gilmore
"Japanese Frog Girl": Emili Kawashima
"Werewolf/Merman": Richard Cetrone
"Sugarplum Fairy": Phoebe Galvan
"Dismemberment Goblin": Simon Pidgeon
"Dismemberment Goblin": Matt Phillips
"Floating Witch": Lori Stewart
"Fornicus, Lord of Bondage and Pain": Greg Zach
Essentially, what I'm talking about in the introduction is Chekhov's gun: "One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it."
As I discussed in the inquiry for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, as we watch a movie, we're developing a type of map for the world of that movie. This is true of any narrative.
When Chekhov says you can't put a loaded rifle on stage unless someone will fire it, what he's saying is you shouldn't create potential if you're not going to realize that potential. It detracts from the energy of a narrative.
Imagine you just landed in Sydney, Australia, but you're stuck in the airport. While wandering around, you see a poster for the Sydney Opera House and you're like "I want to see that!" You also see a poster for Bondi beach. And you think "I want to go there!"
But you're stuck in the airport for 3 days then fly home to Canada/America/Mexico/Ireland.
Maybe, during those 3 days, an exciting romance happens. Maybe you meet the love of your life and instead of going home you fly off with them. Maybe someone's trying to kill you. Maybe you prevent a terrorist attack. But you never leave the airport. You never see the Opera House. You never get your feet in the sand at Bondi.
Isn't there a bit of regret? Don't you leave thinking "I need to go back to Australia and see those things?"
If The Cabin in the Woods were to just mention a merman, some viewers would be left with the same feeling of longing that Jenkins expresses. Thankfully, Cabin delivers us a merman.
Better yet, the film delivers on a majority of the creatures listed on the board. Look at the cast list! "Dismemberment Goblin". "Sugarplum Fairy". Fucking "Fornicus"!
How many appear in the movie? The giant cobra. The robo-scorpion. The bat-thing. The weird scarecrow things. The girl with a Tremors-worm-mouth face. A majority of the 35 listed.
Back to narrative discussion.
What's going on?
When we're given a detail, like the board with monsters, it creates a spot on the map. A potential location we can travel to.
Likewise. Think about another Goddard-involved film: Cloverfield. A monster is demolishing NYC. We can see NYC as a lot of really fucking tall buildings. There's no foreshadowing shot. Like, an ominous close-up of a really tall building. The buildings are there during other shots. They're part of the landscape. We see them, but we're not really thinking about their involvement with the characters.
This creates potential though. The monster is gigantic. Is taller than many of the buildings, almost as tall as some of these skyscrapers. Wouldn't it be terrifying to be up that high with the monster near by?
What happens? The characters end up going to the upper floors of a tall-as-babel apartment building. And, of course, the monster comes close to them. It doesn't attack them, but it makes a startling appearance. What's another potential? The fighter jets that are flying over the city. Right then, as our characters are at their maximum elevation, the jets come screaming past.
This brings us to two ways to use the idea of Chekov's gun in film. The non-subtle way is to use the foreshadowing shot. So, if there were a gun above the mantle, right away starting with a close-up of the gun. BOOM. We know, right then and there, the gun will have, at some point, an impact on the story.
Two people are arguing. Close-up of Candice yelling. Cut to close-up of Jenny yelling back. Cut to Candice responding with more yelling. Cut to Jenny making dramatic revelation. Cut to close-up of gun hanging on the wall. Cut to Candice, disbelief on her face. Cut to Jenny revealing more information about how she's the one that broke Candice's fish tank. Cut to gun. Cut to Candice screaming. Cut to Jenny smiling. Cut to Candice smiling. Cut to Jenny looking confused. Cut co Candice laughing. Cut to Jenny looking more confused. Cut to Candice revealing she doesn't feel so bad for sleeping with Jenny's son (who is 20). Cut to Jenny looking uppercutted. Cut to Candice laughing really hard. Cut to Jenny walking away. Cut to Candice crying she's laughing so hard. Cut to the spot on the wall where the gun had been hanging, but is no longer hanging. Cut to Jenny shooting Candice in the face.
The shots of the gun let us know the gun will be included. It's telegraphing the use of the gun, building the tension that something is going to happen. Which we can only assume is someone shooting someone else.
A less obvious way of foreshadowing the gun is the Cloverfield-method. Include the gun in shots, but not as a focus. So instead of close-ups of Candice and Jenny, cross-cutting between them as they talk, you have a medium long shot, or a long shot, that includes, in the background, the wall the gun hangs upon. Will everyone notice the gun? No. If they do notice the gun, they'll think..."Hey, look, there's a gun....I wonder..." What's really dramatic is maintaining the shot. So we see Candice start laughing. We see Jenny's shock. Then we see Jenny walk toward the back of the room. For people who noticed the gun, they go "Oh Shit! The gun!" And for people who hadn't noticed the gun, they get the "Ah-Ha!" of seeing the gun for the first time. When Jenny grabs the gun and marches back to the foreground, now we can cut to some other shot.
And there's another way. Escalation-method. Is it just me or does "Escalation-method" sound awesome?
Escalation-method is what The Cabin in the Woods uses.
First it creates an abstract: there's a bet.
Second it concrets the abstract: we see the board of potential monsters.
Third it gives us the pain-worshiping hillbilly zombies.
Fourth, we glimpse other creatures on monitors from other sites around the world.
Fifth, Dana and Marty enter the elevator and we're shown other monsters, except the monsters are all contained.
Sixth, all of the monsters are unleashed.
We see Escalation-method in effect in Fight Club as well.
Unhappiness escalates into insomnia which escalates into split-personality disorder.
The support groups escalate to fight clubs which escalate to project mayhem.
Marla escalates from nuisance to fuck buddy to lover.
Tyler escalates from stranger to confidant, to friend, to partner, to enemy, to misguided-protector.
The neat apartment escalates to the shitty Paper st. house which escalates to dislocation (when Jack is traveling all over the US) which escalates, finally, to the destruction of the tall bank buildings. When the buildings collapse, Jack is looking out at open space, a sense of freedom, for the first time in the movie.
Frustration escalates to physical violence which escalates to small terrorist acts which escalate to large-scale terrorist acts
Discord escalates to violence which escalates to peace.
Escalation-method provides resonance in a plot.
Character A opens a movie by writing, by hand, a letter to someone, warning them they need to reconsider their ways. Later, Character A writes an incendiary non-fiction book that becomes famous (it's about the person the opening letter was to, and ruins this person's career). After the novel, Character A has a big house with a huge library. Character A falls asleep. Wakes up to the library on fire. The doors are locked. Dramatic shots of the burning books, the burning room. The movie ends.
Do you see how single letter escalates to the book, and the single book escalates to the library, and the burning of the library is symbolic then, because it's the conclusion of a chain of events?
Escalation-method doesn't always introduce potential energy as soon as The Cabin in the Woods. In the letter--book--library--death-by-fire example when does the potential for death-by-fire occur? Not until the very end. But the confrontational tone of the initial letter introduces the potential of threat. This threat is realized when the novel is written and becomes famous. The letter-receiver now has a reason to kill the letter-writer.
Really, for a lesson in escalation, and narrative map-making, watch Sullivan's Travels and There Will Be Blood.
Hm. This is the point where I conclude. Let me read back through and locate all the points of potential energy and escalation.
I could go with the: "If The Cabin in the Woods were Sydney, Australia, you get to see the Opera House. You get to sit on the beach."
But that's really neat and cheesy.
I've talked about one thing The Cabin in the Woods does well. Which creates the potential to talk about things it hasn't done well or other things it has done well.
The Cabin in the Woods escalates from monsters slaughtering a large number of people in a building, to a giant, giant, "Ancient One" rising up from the underground to, as we're told, end humanity.
Something about the map?
I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO!
Just kidding. This confusion is another example. When you introduce something, there's the potential for the opposite of that thing. I started off sounding like I know what I'm talking about. This creates the potential for me to lose confidence (hence the descent into confusion).
So if you start off with a couple in love, there's the potential for hate. If you begin an article with a confident tone, there's the potential to simply derail. If a character is a baseball player who isn't good, there's the potential to get good. If a character dies, there's the potential to bring that character back from the dead.
In Warrior, we're told Joel Edgerton's character was injured during a fight, had to go to the hospital. This creates the anticipation that he might get hurt again--it's a verbal use of Chekhov's gun. Thus, during the Sparta fight, we don't know if he'll get hurt or not.
I should say, that not every detail should be expanded upon. If a character runs down a NYC city street, we see stores and apartment building entrances. Each of these become a potential. Do we want to explore each one? Probably not.
The Harbinger, Mordecai, for example. He appears early in The Cabin in the Woods. Then we hear his phone call with Whitford. Do we need more of him? How much time do we want to explore that part of the map?
To clarify: everything that appears in the movie, every person, every objects, every building, every emotion, all of these things are points on the map. In Cabin, we could have explored the city of Chris Hemsworth. Of all the objects in the cellar, we find out the most about Patience's journal. We also get information about the conk shell (would have summoned the merman), and the odd ball Hemsworth had (belongs to Fornicus). Cabin really only explores the emotion of paranoia. You can look at something like Another Earth which delves into self-loathing and regret through the actions of Rhoda (without really delving into the backstory of Rhoda).
What's the purpose of all of this then?
The information is most relevant for artists. From the creation stand-point, artists need to think about what kind of "vacation" they want to give their audiences. If you have three characters, that's like having three towns. How much of each town does the audience get to see? If the story takes place in London, how much of London do they get to see? What are the landmarks? Why are they visiting these places? To see what? In other words: what potential is there?
And for non-artists? What's the purpose?
It's a tool. Knowing this stuff allows non-artists to dissect art. And what potential is there in dissecting art? You can write long, boring analysis on your website. You can participate in discussions. You can, hopefully, impress some people. There are a lot of possibilities.
Did I Like It:
Yes. A lot. It's my favorite movie so far in 2012.
I think pretty much everyone should see it.
I like it better than Scream. On sheer mayhem alone. But I also like the methodology of deconstruction better.
It would be cool to see a sequel where it's just the Ancient Ones wondering Earth. What would they do?
Really enjoyed Whitford.
What It's Good For:
-a monster mash
-fans of the slasher genre
-fans of Whedon & crew
-the genre, films in general
-showing how much Kyle Smith of the NY Post sucks at his job
-there's gore, if that bothers you
-irreverence can bother people
-not as "scary" as people might expect
-not everyone will "get it"
I don't think it matters for this movie.
-Whitford: Billy Madison
-Jenkins (check this out): Hall Pass (Ass-Getter extraordinaire); The Rum Diary (newspaper editor); Friends with Benefits; Let Me In ("The Father"); Eat Pray Love; Dear John; Burn After Reading (Lovelorn boss); Step Brothers; The Visitor; The Kingdom
-Which means, still talking about Jenkins: Comedy, Strange Drama, Comedy, Vampire drama, Chick Flick, Chick Flick, Cohen Brothers, Will Ferrell comedy, Drama, Period piece.
-Deconstructions of horror genre: Scream; Scary Movie