Hyped as the new Evil Dead; it’s more accurate to call The Cabin in the Woods the new Scream. A gleefully anarchic horror comedy by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (co-writers, producer, and director — in that order), it sets up a horror movie scenario we’ve seen a thousand times before, pokes numerous holes in it, and then gives the whole shebang a good pantsing in the final act.
The plot (or as much as can be revealed here with a massive spoiler spill) is thus: A group of five college kids — Curt the jock (Chris Hemsworth, pre-Thor), his girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchinson), stoner Marty (Fran Kranz), good girl Dana (Kristen Connolly), and brainy nice guy Holden (Jesse Williams), head out to an isolated cabin in the woods for a nice weekend’s debauch. Little do they know that the area is contained and controlled by a group of scientists and engineers lead by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, for sinister and shadowy purposes. As soon as night falls, the kids are attacked and picked off one at a time by zombie rednecks.
There’s actually much more to it than that, none of which can be revealed without giving away the various plot twists, and The Cabin in the Woods is a movie whose plot twists with clockwork precision.
Whedon and Goddard are smart filmamkers, and they go out of their way to send up as many horror movie cliches as they can in 95 minutes, while paying homage to their sources. They stock the movie with the usual stereotypical horny college kids who make stupid counter-intuitive decisions that lead to their meeting brutal ends via items gardening tools, then shrewdly drag them into uncharted territory.
The kids are ultimately just the side story, however; it’s the behind-the-scenes machinations of Whitford and his cabal that peak our curiosity while generating the movie’s wink-wink, nudge-nudge digs at all things horror movie-related, like some sort of deranged Greek chorus. Thankfully they do so without soaking us in sarcasm.
Ironically, The Cabin in the Woods may disappoint some hardcore horror geeks. It has its share of gore and hideous monsters, but ultimately it’s a movie about horror movies as opposed to horror, and as such it’s not particularly scary. Whether or not it counts as subversive is a matter of taste.