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18 Jun

Chapter in Edited Collection on Uncanny Woods

Written by Michael Fuchs
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In many ways, The Cabin in the Woods opens in an overly clichéd manner: Five college kids are about to embark on a weekend full of sex, alcohol, and illegal substances in a remote cabin located in a place that "doesn't even show up on the GPS." While this sounds like the beginning of a hackneyed backwoods horror piece, TCitW emerges as a highly self-reflexive movie that not only shows an obvious awareness of its generic roots, but effectively (for the lack of a better word) deconstructs the horror genre. In so doing, the movie also engages with the American myth of the uncanny wilderness. For example, when the college students reach a (of course) gas station in the middle of nowhere run by a stereotypical redneck, one of the kids tellingly notes how the expansion of the railroad will soon bring civilization to this place, thus underlining the meanings American culture has invested in the idea of wild nature. (Indeed, in the commentary track, writer Joss Whedon even highlights that "the Native American who might slaughter you […] was the beginning of our horror mythos in America.") However, TCitW's crucial twist is that the 'nature' the five college students find themselves in is anything but untamed, but rather a place of artifice, a virtual space in which everything is controlled and supervised by other human beings, as the students become mere puppets in a sacrificial game played for the amusement of the gods (which, not coincidentally, show a distinctly Lovecraftian touch).

As I will argue in my proposed chapter, TCitW's cabin and its surroundings are not uncanny because they are located in the wilderness, but because they are clearly part of 'civilized' society—including surveillance 24/7, corporate greed, and the blurring boundaries between reality and representation in our extremely mediatized culture. In addition, I will demonstrate that the movie's emphasis on the artificiality of nature suggests that the concept of 'nature' is exactly that—a concept, a cultural construct, loaded with meaning. Finally, through its use of digital visual effects to represent 'nature', TCitW opens up a host of questions concerning the ontology of the image in our digital age.