June 14, 2012 1 Comment
So here I am about to talk about two movies that I actually liked, Prometheus and Cabin in the Woods, and the question I have to ask myself is why? After all, this site is Movies I Hate So Much, not Movies That Are Pretty Good But Have Some Flaws. But here I am again, returning to bag on films I don’t dislike. Thing is, though, Prometheus and Cabin in the Woods share a flaw, a flaw common to a lot of otherwise quality modern films, and I want to discuss and attack the flaw. So that is what I am going to do.
First, though, I would like to talk about what these films did well. Both of them are well-shot, atmospheric pieces with a few standout performances (Prometheus being the champion in regards to actor quality, though only just). Both are intelligent genre pieces with a lot to say about how we consume media (Cabin in the Woods is the victor here). Both are a good time, and I recommend that anyone who enjoys genre films see both.
Unfortunately, that recommendation is qualified. Both of these films have one big problem, a problem that holds me back from declaring them the twin masterpieces that so much of the internet seems ready to see them as. Both films are obvious. By this I do not mean that they are predictable, although they are. Predictability is not, in and of itself, a fault. A well-crafted film should let you know where it is going and what it is doing; there is no shame in that. The problem with Prometheus and Cabin in the Woods is that they wear their metaphors on their sleeves. They are very obviously about deeper subjects: the futility implied by the very act of the search for meaning (Prometheus), and the the morality of viewing the horror tale as a communal purging connected with our primal selves (Cabin in the Woods).
These themes are fine. But they are dealt with too obviously. Cabin is the big offender here; it confuses metaphor with plot. This is puzzling when we consider that Drew Goddard is a product of Joss Whedon’s production team. Mr. Whedon, of course, is an expert in understanding how to use genre tropes to engage with theme; look at two of the best-known episodes of Buffy for proof of that (“Hush” and “Once More With Feeling”). Cabin, though, is very literally about the theme I described above. We know this is the case, because there is a scene at the end where the dude from Dollhouse and the chick from nothing that I really care about talk with Sigourney Weaver about it at length. There is next to no effort needed to connect the plot to the theme.
Prometheus is a bit more cryptic in delivering the overarching theme, but is way too obvious in a related element. The Alien franchise (which Prometheus is a part of, regardless of whether there are facehuggers and queens about or not) evoke the monstrous sexual, the fear of our own sexuality that is instilled by modern society (this fear likely roots in the uncontrollable, primal nature of sexual urge – by which I do not mean that sexual urges always result in sexual action, but rather that we cannot stop ourselves from having the urges, however much we discipline ourselves). The aliens penetrate people, turning them into walking wombs; it is telling that many of the most prominent victims in the first two films (aka the good ones) are dudes, inverting our understanding of sexuality by turning the man into the incubator. I am thinking here of Kane from the first film and the various, predominantly male space marines from the second. In the first two Alien films, the sexual metaphor is quiet, the product of our understanding of what the various actions of the film mean. A child who watched the films without knowing what sexuality is would be unlikely to pick up on it (and would likely be too busy shitting his or her pants to think about thematics, anyway).
Then we get Prometheus, a film in which a penis worm with a vagina face shoves itself down someone’s throat. Then a dude infected with an alien disease has sex with his infertile ladyfriend, impregnating here with a squid baby that grows up in record time and fucks the face of an Engineer with its huge vagina-mouth. Subtlety be damned, I guess. Prometheus is one demon short of a tentacle porn hentai cartoon.
When I think of the great genre works, the ones that I really love, I think of films that allow us make the effort to draw conclusions. Halloween doesn’t outright inform you that it is a film about the breakdown of the rational and the return of the repressed; it leaves you to draw that from the actions of Michael Meyers (no, not Austin Powers, the funny one) and Dr. Loomis. Men In Black (hardly a pretentious art film) doesn’t insist on making you see the connections between the alien migrants that the characters police and the American ideal of immigration and assimilation. Prometheus and Cabin in the Woods are good films, there is no doubt about that. But great films contain depths to be plumbed, and one can reach the bottom of Prometheus and Cabin in the Woods in a single viewing.