Report Card: The Cabin in the Woods

From the sudden and hilarious appearance of the title on screen, I knew that The Cabin in the Woods was going to be a special film. And in fact, it is one of my favorite movies of the past year, and dare I say one of the best sci-fi/horror hybrid movies of all time. (Admittedly it’s not a giant subgenre.) When we focus on the interfaces, they ultimately help tell this dark story of epic comeuppance, even if they stumble a bit on the details.

Sci: B+ (3 of 4)
How believable are the interfaces given the science of the day?

The surveillance and control interfaces are all perfectly believable, even as they span different technological paradigms. There are some aspects of the interface that must be excused as “mystical,” and some toying with chemical science, i.e. human sex pheromones and the “let’s split up” chemical, that prevent us from awarding it full marks.

Fi: A (4 of 4)

How well do the interfaces inform the narrative of the story?

In addition to helping set the stage of a service that spans technological eras, nearly all of the problems help tell the story of a controlling organization that is only barely in control. It’s dysfunctional and jaded enough in the execution of its dark duty that we’re kind of OK with their failure and ultimate destruction. And much of the rest of the problems can be swept under the narrative rug of “it’s mystical,” again, in a very smart way. The only thing that takes us out of the narrative to ask “why” and “how” is the inexplicable cause-failure SYSTEM PURGE switch, but it ultimately just sped up a part of the film that could have been too slow in the wrong part.

Interfaces: C (2 of 4)

How well do the interfaces equip the characters to achieve their goals?

There’s lots of goodness in the interfaces to learn from: Solid clustering of monitoring signals, strong physical differentiation in the control dashboard, and even well-protected and well-labeled kill switches. But there are equally large problems as well: There are several blind controls that only permit expert use. There’s an escape hatch security system that only increases the panicked user’s panic. The communication system between the humans and Old Ones is ambiguous enough to cause world-class failures to communicate. For these reasons, you should be careful when pulling lessons for the real world from the interfaces found here.

Final Grade B+ (9 of 12), MUST-SEE

Related lessons from the book

  • The delightful mechanical controls in the film already embody the lesson Mix Mechanical and Other Controls Where Appropriate. (page 26)
  • Those same controls might have used some smarter grouping as seen in Chapter 3, Visual Interfaces. (page 55)
  • The control room interfaces should have remembered the lesson from the Communication Chapter, that Signaling Change of State isn’t Enough. (page 202)
  • The course-correction interfaces that nudged Jules and Curt into sex started to fulfill the Sex chapter’s Augment Everything opportunity. (page 301)

Suggested new lessons

  • The excellent differentiation seen in the control panel suggests a new lesson to Differentiate Physical Controls, such that they are easy to find by touch, and tell apart immediately.

2 thoughts on “Report Card: The Cabin in the Woods

  1. I guess I belong to Team Evil on this one since I am all for the goals of the Control group. Maybe it is just me, but I am okay with losing a few teenagers to keep ancient evils from destroying the world.

  2. It’s an ethics problem writ in horror movie tropes, i.e. most Westerners are OK with having kids and teens subjugated and yes, sometimes die, in the third world all for the chance to have cheap jeans at Old Navy in the first world (I’m aware it’s getting dark here, quickly) appeasing that Old One named Capitalism. But like the Trolley Problem ( it feels a LOT more squickish if we have to actually sacrifice them and see it and know “we” were the cause. Maybe someone should make a movie about a serial killer of factory workers in Economic Free Zones. Holy shit. That did get dark.

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