By Michael Matheson
Lebbon, Tim. The Cabin the Woods. Titan Books, 2012. ISBN 978-1848565265.
The Cabin in the Woods: The Official Visual Companion. Titan Books, 2012. ISBN 9781848565241.
The Cabin in the Woods gets a DVD release this month and we look at the novelization and the visual companion. For our review of The Cabin in the Woods, go here.
Tim Lebbon’s novelization of The Cabin in the Woods is a completely separate entity from the film, to the point that if you have seen the film, you will not recognize the characters in the book. The pacing is different and the weight of the narrative is given over to different concerns. After thinking about the two different versions of this story for some time now, I think that divergence was absolutely the right approach for Lebbon to take with the novelization.
Both the film and the novel of The Cabin in the Woods work, and extremely well, but they do so for different reasons. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard created a film that’s a meta narrative about the horror film genre; a film that creates an ur-basis for several different, but related, types of horror films (the “slasher,” “gorefest,” and “monster mash” subgenres, among others). What Lebbon did was write a bone-dry straight horror novel with no relief of tension. The Whedon/Goddard film uses many actors who are better known for bringing their personalities to a role than subsuming themselves into character. In so doing, it gives the audience a buffer, or comfort zone, to keep the truly horrific set pieces of the film at bay.
Lebbon’s novel provides no such buffer. His version of the characters is uniformly vile or disengaging. They embody the stereotypes of the horror film genre to the point where one does not care for the victims (as is true of most formulaic horror movies). You want to see Whedon and Goddard’s characters – both sides – succeed because even Whedon and Goddard’s antagonist puppet masters are characters whose motivations are arguably supportable (if not laudable). You don’t want to see any of Lebbon’s characters succeed. Even the “heroes” possess few-to-no redeeming values. There is in the film a sense of victory even in defeat, whereas, in the novelization, there is only a sense of our failure in the face of greater nightmares.
Ultimately, the film is a commentary on a genre, and demands viewer participation, putting its arm around the audience and getting chummy while we laugh and cringe in all the right places, and generally enjoy ourselves even while some horrific things happen. Because, hey, it’s all in good fun, right? In contrast, the novelization doesn’t want your sympathy, or your laughter. The best Lebbon’s novelization is going to offer you is to hold your hair back while you throw up in a refuse-strewn alley, right before the story forces you to take another eyeful of just how ready we are to sacrifice each other in the most gruesome of ways in order to survive. It’s not the most potent version of that message I’ve ever seen, but it’s a damn fine telling.
In contrast to what the novelization does to take the story in a darker, more horrific direction, the Official Visual Companion is all about the film version. As you would expect. And the Companion is probably better suited to viewers who want to know more about the production side of The Cabin in the Woods than people who just want a deeper experience of the film (The DVD/Blu-Ray release will likely have enough features to cater to the latter). The Companion is actually quite an engrossing look at the film production, up to and including a full copy of the screenplay. Though the interviews, production art and exploration of the process of making the film will be more engaging for some.
The film stands well enough on its own that the Companion isn’t a strictly necessary purchase unless you want to dig deeper into the process of making the film, though the Companion is well worth the price if you just want to pick it up for its own sake. Like the novelization, the Companion is almost a world unto itself. A compelling world but one somewhat separate from the film – perhaps because we are able to peek fully behind the veil and see where the nightmares and the dreams are made?
In the end, both Lebbon’s novelization and The Official Visual Companion are well worth picking up. And whether you do so because you love the film and want to experience everything around it more fully, or because you respect good craftsmanship in all its forms, both books are highly recommended.