Review: The Cabin in the Woods (novelization) by Tim Lebbon

Review by Jess Peacock

“It’s symbolism that’s important, never truth.” – the Director

In some sense, it is difficult to review The Cabin in the Woods novelization without actually reviewing the film it is based on. More or less transcribed directly from the shooting script, the novel is solely the intellectual property of scriptwriters Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, with the job of adding some literary flesh and cartilage falling to brit novelist Tim Lebbon (Berserk, 30 Days of Night: Fear of the Dark). Therefore, perhaps it might make sense to briefly discuss the film and the metaphorical treasures within.

The Cabin in the Woods has been widely praised by critics and fans for many reasons: from its deconstruction of traditional horror tropes, to its critique of our contemporary surveillance society, to a scathing rebuke of the cultural obsession with youth and ultimately our subconscious desire to destroy that youth. Missing from the conversation, however, is what Whedon and co-writer/director Goddard have to say about the unspoken, dark, and more horrific elements of religion.

It is important to note the similarities that Goddard and Whedon’s deities within The Cabin in the Woods share with the Elder Gods of the sprawling mythos imagined into mythhistory by H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft believed that the contemporary horror genre has emerged in its present form as a bifurcated doppelganger to modern religion, a malevolent (although essential) compartment that the devout keep at arms length, while using it to compile their unspoken and unrealized fears about the shadow side of the Divine. Lovecraft himself wrote in The Call of Cthulhu:

The most merciful thing in the world…is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The science, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

The unspeakable reality of the Divine that takes amorphous shape in the Lovecraftian mythos may in some ways reflect the equally indescribable horrific elements of God that have been knowingly obfuscated and shifted to the outright (and therefore easily dismissed) horror genre. Make no mistake, western religion and western horror are dueling discourses on the unknown, of what lies beyond human reason and understanding, an issue at the forefront of The Cabin in the Woods. From the sacrificial bloodshed in the Hebrew Bible to appease a vengeful God, to the ongoing metaphorical cannibalistic offering of obedience presented by Jesus to his followers, Whedon and Goddard highlight how the requirement of blood sacrifice by a deity presents unquestioned (at least for the religious) horrors, as this diabolic aspect of scripture has either had its fangs dulled through the need for palatable and civilized religious services, or altogether ignored entirely by contemporary faith communities. As a result of this Jungian suppression of the dark side of the Divine, the horror genre has emerged as the shadow of religion, quite literally it would seem in the world of The Cabin in the Woods.

Unfortunately, Lebbon never expands on these or any other fascinating concepts at play within The Cabin in the Woods, serving, rather, only as a glorified court reporter for curious bibliophiles and fans of the film who might be hoping for additional insight into the world of the antiseptic and mundane eldritch corporate hierarchy instilled to keep the sinister numinous of the cosmic unknown at bay. In addition, the whip-smart dialogue of the film is often bogged down by the somewhat clunky prose and pace of Lebbon who is no doubt hoping to put his own stamp on this latest addition to the Whedonverse.

Despite a poor showing at the box-office, Whedon and Goddard have undoubtedly constructed an amazing journey into the darker and more horrific aspects of our culture, exploring how and why genre efforts might serve as more than simple mindless escapism and could ultimately be a lens through which to view the human condition. Unfortunately, this fails to translate effectively in the literary effort by Tim Lebbon, as the author serves only as a tour guide and less philosopher/theologian.

NOTE: This is not the issue, however, with the excellent The Cabin in the Woods: The Official Visual Companion. Easter Eggs abound in countless interviews with crew, actors, and the writer/producer/director team of Goddard and Whedon. In addition, each page is filled with gorgeous full-color photos that allow the reader to explore every nook and cranny of the narrative, including a myriad of creatures only briefly caught on film (or not at all) and a vivid view of the infamous betting board (just who/what is Kevin??)