Stuck in limbo for what seemed like an eternity, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon's The Cabin in the Woods emerges from the rubble of MGM's bankruptcy to deliver a much-needed shot in the arm to the horror genre. The trailers paint a picture of a conventional teen slasher flick, but it's the cryptic, Rubix cube-like poster that offers up the biggest hints about the titular cabin's hidden secrets.
Directing debutant Goddard and his co-writer/producer Whedon, whose combined credits include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Cloverfield, know a thing or two about genre entertainment. In Cabin, they gleefully turn the horror movie on its head. Not since Wes Craven's Scream has a film been so direct about peeling back the fourth wall.
The story tracks five friends as they head off for a getaway at a remote cabin. On the surface, they resemble the usual crowd of horror archetypes - the jock (Chris Hemsworth), the dumb blonde (Anna Hutchison), the virgin (Kristen Connolly), the bookish student (Jesse Williams) and the nerd (Fran Kranz). But Goddard and Whedon find smart ways to deconstruct these clichés throughout the course of their movie, simultaneously celebrating and vilifying a genre they both clearly have a love/hate relationship with.
A parallel plotline sees a pair of business drones, played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, hole up in an underground bunker to mastermind a zombie attack on the helpless teens in the cabin. The reasons may seem sinister at first, but soon a supernatural conspiracy comes into focus.
This is where the trademark Whedon rat-a-tat dialogue comes into play, as the film takes a comedic detour with Jenkins and Whitford serving not only as stand-ins for the writers (Whedon sees himself as Jenkins, Goddard as Whitford), but also the audience.
There's a great moment when, after viewing one particularly gruesome attack, Whitford just stares blank and emotionless at the video screen. The scene is one that must carry weight with Cabin's creators and, perhaps, fans disillusioned with contemporary horror's penchant for serving up one mindless bludgeoning after another.
Revealing too much about Cabin's plot intricacies will rob the movie of its power, but expect big surprises in the haywire finale and a big-name star cameo with a connection to Whedon. Cabin in the Woods is witty, scary and incredibly inventive. This is a must-see genre bending horror movie - miss it at your peril.