What's the Deal With the Harbinger?
Since the sacrificial young people have to come to their doom on their own volition, the Harbinger provides a very important role by vaguely warning them of their impending deaths, thus offering them one last chance to turn around.
Regardless of which "type" of horror story each group chooses, they all begin at the cabin, and they all go through the same nasty, redneck harbinger, Mordecai. The question is, at what point is the Harbinger acting and at what point is he a real guy? His gas station appears to be a functioning prop, and you'd assume he only occupies it for these annual events.
But it kind of looks like he lives there. And his redneck bona fides certainly appear genuine. Of all the workers doing this, he remains the sole zealot, approaching his task with religious fervor indicating a more personal than usual interest in his role. His name is Mordecai, for Pete's sake. Then again, he appears to drop the character completely when he realizes he's been put on speaker phone, so who knows.
What is Employment Like Downstairs?
Simple assumptions can take us pretty far regarding this strange organization pulling the strings throughout The Cabin in the Woods. The Government offers a likely enough origin for most of these employees, from the obvious soldiers to the chemists to the clean up crews. There's no burning question there.
But I want to know about the bigwigs. Not just Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford's casual old pros, but Sigourney Weaver's Director character as well. What does her job entail when things go smoothly? Does this company promote from within? If so, is it a well-functioning meritocracy or does it suffer from the Peter Principle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Principle)? Jenkins and Whitford seem like blowhards at first, but Jenkins' character rewires that tunnel cave-in like a boss, so they're not idiots. The operation is not as cutthroat as you'd expect, either, since our guys weren't killed or fired after the 1998 fiasco.
Why is Everything Falling Apart?
The first half of The Cabin in the Woods focuses on a business as usual attitude regarding the workers beneath the cabin. This annual occupation will to go off as planned, just as it has countless times before (excluding the glitch in 1998).
But things don't go as planned. Sacrifices go awry not just here but worldwide. We hear about Sweden's failure first, but pretty soon it's down to just America and Japan. And when those cute little Japanese kids turn their J-Horror ghost into a frog, we're all that's left. Then the world ends.
So why the unprecedented failure? Even when every other country fails but Japan and America, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford seem more or less unfazed. Apparently other countries fail with predictable frequency. But this level of disaster seems almost engineered in its thoroughness. If Japan has a flawless record, and America hasn't had a screw up since 1998, what are the odds that they'd both fail on the same year?
Why does Chris Hemsworth's Death Count?
As near as I can tell, this film's premise involves ancient Gods under the earth who a crack team of technicians placate with human sacrifices. But the team can't just walk up to college students and shoot them in the noggin. The deaths must adhere to a set of rules designed for maximum entertainment. Deviation from these rules (if the virgin dies first for instance) terminates in an abrupt halt of total existence.
So the deaths need to entertain the Ancient Ones basically the same way a horror film entertains us. That's a great premise, but it also makes Curt's death a bit problematic. While motorcycle jumping over a chasm in order to get help, Curt smashes headfirst into an invisible science fiction barrier and falls lifeless into an abyss. The redneck zombies don't kill him, the situation does.
While that's a cool death, it is also a death that calls attention to the whole set up's artificiality, which seems like the kind of thing that would anger the picky Ancient Ones. If you want to stick with the "We horror fans are the Gods" metaphor, you have to imagine a film where someone running away from Michael Myers suddenly smacks into an invisible wall simply so they can't get away. It's cheating.
What Were the Other Horror Films Like?
We get to see America's sacrifice/horror film, and it's typical enough that even non horror fans can probably grasp the cleverness. We also get to witness just enough of Japan's to catch the general gist. But what of the others? A whole slew of countries get name dropped, but without a PhD in international horror, it's hard to know what each scenario looked like.
What happens in a cliche Swedish horror film? Berlin is just a big fire. What's that about? Rangoon looks like some kind of army camp. Buenos Aries has a big King Kong looking thing with horns. What the hell is going on there? I wish I could see all implied international iterations of this film whether they failed or not.
We learn early on that the American team has a very impressive track record: They haven't had a mess up since 1998. Given the self referential mode of this film, it's obvious we're going to wonder which real life film they are referencing.
Many think they have an answer: 'The Faculty.' Basically, the virgin in this one ends up being the monster rather than the final girl. Furthermore, no one really dies. Zero fatalities. They say the glitch was specifically a chemical problem, though, and that makes it harder to pinpoint. Plus, 'The Faculty' did not take place in a cabin. The focus of this particular line remains interesting but inconclusive.
What's With the Two-Way Mirror?
Early in the film Holden discovers his room comes equipped with a one way mirror, through which he can watch Dana undress even though she can't see him. This raises a creepy factor for those of us viewing the film, but what good is it to the Ancient Ones? If Holden let Dana get naked, I could understand its usefulness, but he stops her before she takes her top off. Later they break through the mirror and it ultimately never matters.
This leads to an even bigger question, though. After Holden and Dana trade rooms, why does he immediately begin undressing in front of a mirror he knows she can see him through? Is he just trying to show off? Or did they pump some "forget the see-through mirror" gas into his room?
Do They Have a Gas For Everything?
So as the kids settle into the cabin, they begin to take on familiar horror trope roles even when it doesn't actually fit their personalities. We're not really sure how this is done. With Jules, we know they limit her intellect with hair dye. WIth Marty, he's supposed to have less mental capacity thanks to some treated weed. But by what method does Curt suddenly become a meathead jock? And how does Holden go from regular guy to egghead? It must be the gas.
The film only shows us gas that makes you stupid and gas that makes you horny. If they can do that, surely they can also pipe in gas that makes you smart and gas that raises your testosterone level. But gas is breathable by anyone. What would happen if Jules got all the testosterone instead? Or if Marty accidentally breathed in a bunch of horny gas? It seems weird that this reliance on gas wouldn't lead to more accidents.