Horror has never been too kind to the stoner. Films like Idle Hands, Friday the 13th Part III, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood not only span decades and subgenres, they all contain tragic ends and amplified stereotypes for many of their cannabis enthusiast characters. But horror is not alone in committing this offense. When it comes to weed in cinema, silver screen stoners are often left holding the short end of the stem.
Often mirroring larger societal politics and shifting cultural perceptions on the subject, stoners have routinely been portrayed as criminals, disaffected youth, lazy or as a comedic drain on society through mainstream films like Pineapple Express, The Big Lebowski, Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke and the classic Reefer Madness. However, as marijuana legalization continues to spread across state and country lines, these exaggerated sketches of herb imbibers begin to feel as stale as 3 year old pot stashed under a mattress. And yet, in 2011, there was one stoner who defied traditional horror tropes and beautifully created his own strain of stoner; Marty Mikalski in The Cabin in the Woods.
For Drew Goddard’s incredibly clever, big budget hat tip to horror, understanding genre archetypes is key. While having a healthy reserve of horror history in the bank isn’t necessarily a requirement for enjoying the film, it certainly elevates the experience. Playing with the all too familiar set-up, college friends Marty (Fran Kranz), Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchison) and Holden (Jesse Williams) attempt to ditch their problems and head up to Curt‘s new family cabin for the weekend. Unfortunately, the group’s problems only continue to grow as they become the victims of a top secret, global and well-funded organization who seek to appease ancient gods through ritual sacrifice. Walking a fine line of top tier entertainment and self-aware genre commentary, further sub textual layers of enjoyment can be gleaned from the cheeky ways established tropes are toyed with.
For Dana, her role as the virginal final girl is established as being perhaps more virgin-adjacent than pure virgin. In Jules, the ditzy, sexually empowered female trope is smirked at through her recently dyed blonde hair and unaware ingestion of libido inducing drugs. And although Curt and Holden are both handsome college athletes, they are also as equally intelligent and respectful as they are athletic. While each and every one of these characters simultaneously embraces and deviates from their specific genre stereotype throughout the film, it is Marty the stoner who interestingly winds up transcending his archetype and becoming a central component to the story. To dive into this idea further, let’s crack open a window and shed some light on how Marty the character succeeds so well and why his portrayal is so refreshing.
The Burnout: For decades, stoners have been presented as lazy, paranoid, conspiracy theory spewing hippies passing off inebriation as enlightenment. And, when Marty first appears on screen, he’s not presented much differently. Rolling up to his friends in his old beat up Volvo, music blaring and smoking a giant bong ‘disguised’ as a coffee mug, this is the epitome of stoner stereotypes. Coupled with Marty‘s crack theories on police logic and pseudo-wisdom, it is a bloodshot-eye wink to his intended role. However, it doesn’t take long for Marty to reveal he’s much more than his first impressions demonstrate.
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“Horror has never been too kind to the stoner.”
As the gang drives along, Marty foreshadows future events with his thoughts on humanity’s trajectory. However, his off-hand comments are dismissed due to the massive amount of weed laid out on the table in front of him. Just like Randy in Scream, all the hints and clues are there if only they would listen. Then, as the crew pulls into a sketchy looking gas station, they encounter The Facility’s resident harbinger, Mordecai. Following some rude comments made to Jules, it is surprisingly Marty who first flexes to the scruffy looking gas station attendant. It is only after Marty calls out Mordecai on his behavior that the much more physically imposing Curt and Holden step up to defend the group.
The Fool: For Marty, his role as The Fool in both the narrative and the film itself takes on layers of responsibility. The most obvious of these being his role as the film’s comedic relief. Played to perfection by Fran Kranz, there’s a sly dryness and shaggy haired chill factor fused into each and every word that comes out of Marty‘s mouth. Casually witty and uncharacteristically observant, Marty often remarks on the escalating circumstance of events around him and his friends in his trademark droll way. By doing this, the character remains true to his Fool archetype. And yet, at the exact same time, it is the content of his dialogue that firmly deviates from the standard stoner norm.
Acting as the hazy voice of reason, Marty breaks away from the traditional confines of his character to point out the obvious bad omens that continue to present themselves to the group. While shrugged off as a byproduct of Marty‘s continual THC intake, Marty ultimately proves himself to be the smartest one in the room. Even when delivering lines in comedic fashion, the truth behind them pierces through the cloud of weed smoke surrounding him.
Further speaking towards Marty‘s dual subversion of The Fool cliché is the literal amount of screen time that Marty receives. While most formulaic pot heads end up suffering some sort of tragic demise in most horror films, Marty winds up pulling a horror film favorite and returning bloody, but not broken. After being written off by both The Facility and audiences alike after being dragged off by a murderous redneck zombie, Marty makes one of the most triumphant returns in modern horror history. Saving Dana and stunning their enemy with his trademark giant bong, Marty and Dana go on to literally crash The Facility’s victory party.
In this moment, Marty transforms before our very eyes and becomes a full fledged protagonist in the film versus the humorous side character his stoner stereotype would suggest he should be. Singlehandedly upsetting The Facility’s entire plan by simply surviving, it is ultimately Marty who discovers the entry way inside, hotwires the elevator and sets an entire chain of monstrous events into motion. Defying all societal and traditional cinema logic, Marty survives right alongside Dana, the film’s traditional final girl, to the very dramatic end.
The Secret Secret Stash: Alongside the more transgressive fictional aspects to Marty‘s stoner character there are some supremely valid and refreshing real world details present as well. While all of Marty‘s friends fall victim to The Facility’s chemical manipulation in one way or another, it becomes revealed that Marty is immune. Despite chemically altering his secret stash of marijuana prior to the group’s trip, The Facility didn’t find Marty‘s secret secret stash. Pure and unadulterated, this clean, clear and constant inhalation of weed literally saves Marty‘s life and keeps the outside world poison from seeping into his system.
“[…] Marty transforms before our very eyes and becomes a full fledged protagonist in the film versus the humorous side character his stoner stereotype would suggest he should be.”
Splendidly mirroring the real medicinal and holistic benefits that marijuana has to offer, the progressive use of weed seen through Marty‘s storyline flies firmly in the face of so many outdated representations in film. Rather than contributing to his downfall, it is Marty‘s recreational smoking that winds up saving him. Further emphasizing this refreshing stance on pot is the fact that Marty remains perfectly capable of fighting back and thinking quickly while under the influence. For many responsible smokers, marijuana can become a positive addition to daily life. Not only is it possible to maintain a productive, healthy and normal life while responsibly partaking in weed, for many it can actually encourage it. Despite this commonly known fact, both television and film remain tragically antiquated in their depiction of modern marijuana culture.
Not surprisingly, it is Marty himself who sums up his character best when he states, ‘We are not who we are.‘ No longer simply confined to smelly basements and high school parking lots, the stoners of the world deserve better representation in film. They deserve more characters like Marty. Whether or not Drew Goddard and crew were consciously trying to mirror the shifting cultural views on marijuana when the film was released nearly 10 years ago is debatable, but it is there nonetheless and still as potent as ever. Though initially presented and portrayed as one thing, the character of Marty grows into something far more interesting, fresh and complex. By selectively embracing and slowly burning away archaic generalizations of what a stoner is, The Cabin in the Woods presents a uniquely special blend of stoner all its own.
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