‘The Cabin in the Woods,’ ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ and Joss Whedon’s Suspicions of Power

So, we’ve got a new trailer for Joss Whedon’s upcoming horror movie The Cabin in the Woods. And is it me, or is there a faint whiff of the Initiative, the research lab and paramilitary team gone somewhat wrong, in all of this:

It may just be the underground lab and the secret conspiracy vibe getting to me. But one of the things I think Whedon does very well is debunk the dangerous pretentions of people who believe they have exclusive access to esoteric knowledge and have built up bureaucratic structures to help them maintain their hold on power. The Watcher’s Council is the first example of this: they’re a group of men who have very little empathy for the young women they’re supposed to be training and helping, and who have turned the existence of the Slayer into a justification for them to accumulate knowledge and authority rather than a cause they’re genuinely dedicated to. When their headquarters is destroyed at the beginning of the seventh season of Buffy, it’s simultaneously tragic and semi-irrelevant. That they couldn’t find a way to modernize, work with Buffy, and move into a model where the goal is to make sure the Slayer lives beyond her early twenties is genuinely sad, both for an institution that broke rather than being willing to bend, and because it denies Buffy and the new Slayers generations of knowledge that could have made their fight more effective and less dangerous.

Then, there’s the Initiative, which is a perfect example of what happens when you have a government operation without effective oversight (side note: I would love to see a dorky spin-off of the Inspector General’s report about the Initiative). Maggie Walsh gives her soldiers drugs that ultimately undermine their long-term efficacy. Her Adam project ends up resulting in a huge number of casualties and no discernible benefit. And the program’s only shut down after it’s incurred an enormous amount of waste, fraud, and abuse. There’s a clear analogue for the creation — and coverup of — the Reavers in Firefly and Serenity.


Now, I have absolutely no idea what’s going on with those cameras, and that force field, and those creepy hydraulics in Cabin in the Woods. But I’m hoping to find out on Friday at SXSW. Either way, being very suspicious of people with a lot of power and unlimited resources is very much a Whedon hallmark.