If a life unexamined is truly not worth living, the subjects of these films have nothing to fear. Join us as we join those already watching The Truman Show and The Cabin in the Woods!
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Truman Burbank lives in idyllic Seahaven, a picturesque town where people smile at him all day, every day. He has a beautiful wife who, apart from those odd moments when she seems to be talking to no-one about retail products, seems to love and desire him. It is, seemingly, perpetually sunny; the streets are clean, the town is prosperous, if bordering on fascistic in municipal enforcement; everybody always seems pleased to see Truman and he has a great, lifelong friend.
So why, then, is he not content? It’s not, in fact, the creepy townsfolk who feel like they could have come out of an episode of Eerie, Indiana, nor is it the too pristine to be true town itself (which, apart from Truman knowing no different, is in fact a real place, but not one I will never be visiting, that’s for sure). Well, perhaps it’s many things, beginning with the cryptic warning about his situation given to him by a woman he’s never been able to forget, but has never seen again. But for our time with Truman, it very much begins with a sodding great stage light falling out of the sky.
The local radio station may quickly put out a news story about an aeroplane shedding parts to placate Truman, but the truth is the stage light fell out of the roof of a stage, the biggest stage in the world (complete with sun, moon, sea and weather), the stage where Truman lives. Placed there as a baby, Truman is the world’s biggest TV star, but doesn’t know it. He’s the star of The Truman Show, the only real person in the most successful “reality” show ever made, where everyone from the guy selling newspapers to his wife and mother are paid actors, and which an audience of billions watches as it is broadcast 24 hours per day. All of this is watched over by the self-important Christof, a megalomaniac with a God complex who sees himself as a benevolent father but is instead a tyrannical creator who must not be disobeyed.
With only a few minor exceptions where actions don’t necessarily make a lot of sense, the world of The Truman Show is so well-crafted, and very carefully and cleverly thought out. Mistakes and failures (like the aforementioned falling light) are explained in the world, alongside constant behavioural modifiers to discourage certain thoughts, and while to the audience it might seem transparent and phoney, Truman does not know any better, and how could he? But what of human nature? Why doesn’t he want to leave the town, even for a day? Well, we learn that the “death” of his “father” in a childhood boating accident has permanently traumatised Truman, who can no longer cross water, something of a problem if you live on an island. It is a cruel, but brilliant, stroke.
The performances are uniformly great, most especially Jim Carrey who (aside from a few teeth-clenching moments when he seems like Jim Carrey) is a warm, likeable and sympathetic presence as one of only two characters in the entire film not reprehensible and/or complicit in the imprisonment of a human being for purposes of entertainment. Other roles of note are Laura Linney as Truman’s wife Meryl, Harry Shearer’s sycophantic interviewer, Noah Emmerich as best friend Marlon and one of those great “doesn’t see himself as the villain” performances which Ed Harris is so good at.
There’s assured direction from Peter Weir and a sparkling script from Gattaca scribe Andrew Niccol, and like the best science fiction it asks questions, often very tough questions, of the contemporary world and of the audience itself. It can be viewed in so many ways, too: as a critique of the entertainment industry (witness the incredibly on-the-nose name of Carrey’s character, the “true man” from Burbank, the area of Los Angeles famous as the home of many movie studios); a pastiche of the supposedly idyllic small-town America; as… well you could talk rather lot about the many (often very prescient and still relevant) themes, so let’s do that, shall we, rather than me continuing to drone on alone?
I suppose we get unavoidably into spoilers discussing anything substantial in this film, indeed, even contextualising it alongside The Truman Show could be considered a spoiler, but if you were interested you’ve had long enough to get to it. Otherwise I suppose you ought to stop listening. I like the film.
In what’s at least initially presented to us as a horror, five college students head off to a cabin in the woods, surprisingly enough, where things start to go bump in the night. So far, so wildly formulaic, but with the direction and co-writer credits going to Buffy the Vampire Slayer writer Drew Goddard and co-written by Buffy creator Joss Whedon, the tone changes quite rapidly.
Said wholesome youngsters are Kristen Connolly’s Dana, Chris Hemsworth’s Curt, Anna Hutchison’s Jules, Jesse Williams’ Holden, and Fran Kranz’s Marty. The weed-addled Marty seems to be about the only one that fits neatly into a stereotype box, but we’ll fix that later.
While our contingent of young adults are being warned by a creepy backwood petrol station attendant of their imminent peril, Gary Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Steve Hadley (Bradley Whitford) monitor their progress.
Before long, we piece together that they are in charge of the U.S.A’s end of ritual sacrifice to the unspeakable Old Gods, of whom we shall not speak. This ritual happens to look a lot like a stereotypical Yank slasher film, because, well, that’s part of the ritual. Other countries run similar rituals, including those smug Japanese with their creepy, long raven-haired childghoul based freakshow that always goes without a hitch.
Once the kiddos get to the cabin, a selection of mood and behaviour altering drugs are secreted into the air, bringing the characters a bit closer to type. Investigating the cabin, they find a basement full of curios, an unwitting menu of their doom! Ahem.
Unwittingly unleashing a family of murderous hillbilly zombies, the slaughter starts to plan, until, well, it doesn’t, causing increased tensions in the directorial bunker that are perhaps best left unspoken of.
While nominally a horror film, Cabin is much closer in tone to The Evil Dead 2 than, well, The Evil Dead, and your milage may vary, but I found Cabin very funny on initial release, and just about funny today. It is, as you’d hopefully expect, all rather Whedon-esque, with all the dialogue and post-modern fourth wall endangerment that goes along with it, but as someone not always entirely on-board with that, this affectionate parody of horror norms may be the perfect place for it.
Viewed as a comedy, and really that’s the only lens worth considering here, I think this lands pretty successfully, which mitigates my only really niggle rewatching it, the rather budget constricted CG of the final act. Played for laughs, I don’t think that matters. If you were hoping for this film to be scary, as well as funny, you may be less positively disposed to it. Sucks to be you. I like it.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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