There’s a lot to love about Drew Goddard’s 2011 film The Cabin In The Woods. Written by Goddard and Joss Whedon, this movie acts both as a genuine horror film as well as a commentary on the genre. It’s funny, unsettling, and gives us a fresh take on a painfully familiar horror story.
While the central narrative is still very much predictable—five college kids take a much-needed vacation at a friend’s cabin in the middle of nowhere, only to get brutally attacked by monsters, and killed off one-by-one—the details and circumstance around the story give us this new take on the classic slasher. These college students aren’t being killed by chance, but rather a secret organization is having them ritualistically sacrificed (by a monster they accidentally summoned, no less) to appease the Old Gods, and prevent the apocalypse. In case that wasn’t crazy enough, this clandestine group is monitoring their progress on cameras, chemically tampering with their cognitive abilities, and is on standby with a literal vault of horrors to unleash at their superior’s behest.
We know. It’s a lot.
And while we could go on and on about the incredible things this movie does—like blend practical effects with CGI visuals, reference dozens upon dozens of horror movies and tropes, and seamlessly weave satire with horror—we know you came here for something more specific (namely the next entry on our Iconic Women In Horror list). So allow us to make a case for Jules Louden, lovingly nicknamed “The Whore.”
Throughout The Cabin In The Woods we’re told that the sacrifice of these five college kids will prevent the Old Gods from waking up and that humanity will be allowed to continue for another year. Each of the characters is meant to fulfill one of the five archetypes that need to be killed in a specific order: the whore, the fool, the jock, the scholar, and the virgin (who can live or die last, just as long as she suffers). Each one is meant to be emblematic of a slasher stereotype (sexually free woman, stoner, football player, nerd, and the classic final girl) and the killing can only begin after the so-called “whore” has sex. So let’s take a look at her.
Jules (Anna Hutchison) is the first to die in The Cabin In The Woods after she and her boyfriend, Curt (Chris Hemsworth) fool around in the woods outside the log cabin, ultimately beginning the ritual sacrifice. Jules is often shown as insightful, brave, and a good friend. We also learn that she’s studying pre-med and is highly intelligent. She’s actually so intelligent, that the chemistry department at the secret facility drug her hair dye to make her the stereotypical dumb blonde. Although she’s certainly played as sexual in the movie, it’s established early on that she’s been in a long-term, monogamous, relationship with Curt for some time now. In addition to being in a committed relationship—something that seems to contradict the archetype nomenclature—the movie opens on a scene of Jules comforting Dana (Kristen Connolly) who just got out of a relationship with her teacher, and who’s being encouraged by Jules to cut loose and fool around with Curt’s friend, Holden (Jesse Williams), on the trip. She even maintains a close friendship with the group’s stoner pal Marty (Fran Kranz).
By slasher movie standards, Dana should theoretically a better fit for this role as the “whore,” a label meant to slut-shame its wearer. However, Dana is presented as being meek, conservative when it comes to showing off her body, and chaste around Holden. By contrast, Jules is outspoken, sexual, and opinionated. The only reason she’s given the title of “whore” is that she’s a woman both in charge of her sexuality and proud of it. Arguably, calling her a “whore” might be done to shame her, but Jules seems like the type of feminist who would use the word as a reclamation of power and sexual liberation. What her assigned archetype shows is that one of the scariest things a woman can be is responsible for her pleasure.
In Leina Hsu’s piece “Slashers and Sex,” she discusses how we’re conditioned to expect men to kill women in horror movies with phallic objects. We’re also conditioned to expect these murders in a retaliatory way after young women engage in sexual activity. Hsu goes on to say that these killings in slasher movies could be seen as punishment for participating in behaviours that were considered immoral by society, like having multiple sex partners or having intercourse out of wedlock. However, she points out that with the rise of feminism, and youth increasingly being okay with the idea of non-marital sex, that these killings “can also be seen as a reaction to second-wave feminism, which began in the 1960s and spanned over two decades. While first-wave feminism highlighted the importance of gender equality in voting, second-wave feminism had a variety of focuses, one of which was reproductive rights. Activists advocated for access to contraception, safe abortion, and an end to the stigma around female sexuality. I interpret the popularity of slasher films as a male-dominated industry’s projection of conservative attitudes in response to the rise of these liberal sentiments.”
And she kinda has a point.
In The Cabin in the Woods the two main characters who control and monitor the ritual sacrifice are Hadley (Bradley Whitford) and Sitterson (Richard Jenkins), two older men who watch the events unfold from their seats behind the master control panel. Both watch with glee when Jules exposes herself to the hidden cameras and has sex with Curt and both are arguably more enthusiastic when she’s brutally murdered in the woods soon after. Neither of them cares much for Jules as a person, but they’re invested in her as an object of both desire and targeted violence. In fact, the only time they care about the autonomy of women in The Cabin in the Woods is when it threatens to destroy them (and the world).
Which, spoiler alert, it does.
So while Jules might be intended to be a fictional “dumb blonde” and sacrificial “whore,” she’s a real-world feminist icon who reminds women just how powerful they are (labels be damned).
Be sure to check back for the next installment in our Greatest Feminist Icons in Horror series, coming to Tilt throughout October. For our up-to-date list, click here.