Not since “The Crying Game” have film critics tied themselves into as many knots trying to recommend a movie without giving away plot details as with “The Cabin in the Woods,” a clever and spooky new thriller co-written and produced by Joss Whedon, a guy who knows a thing or two about turning established genres on their head.
Whedon's script (co-written with director Drew Goddard) contains such delicious twists and turns, however, that it's hard to discuss the film without spoiling the fun for uninitiated viewers. But here goes:
Five college students — jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth), good-girl Dana (Kristen Connolly), sensitive Holden (Jesse Williams), sexy Jules (Anna Hutchison), and stoner Marty (Fran Kranz) — travel to a cabin in the woods for the weekend. They stop at a gas station run by an apocalyptic weirdo (Tim De Zarn), who insults the group and generally creeps them out. And then they arrive at the cabin. And bad things happen.
And … that's all this review will reveal. But even in the early obligatory scenes of the teens getting ready for their trip, it's immediately clear we're in good hands. Whedon and Goddard, in just a matter of minutes, make these characters interesting and funny, unlike the cookie-cutter, one-trait-per-character stick figures this genre usually throws our way. (Seriously, watch the first ten minutes of “Shark Night 3D” to fully appreciate how well this film does it.) “The Cabin in the Woods” makes the effort to humanize its meat puppets.
It's clear that the filmmakers have a real love for the horror genre and its tropes and its archetypes, and while much of what goes on here will have special resonance for fellow buffs, you don't have to be a scholar of spooky movies to appreciate how the story's being told.
Speaking of stories, “Cabin” has its own; it was originally filmed back in 2008 before spending years in legal limbo because of MGM's seemingly endless series of financial woes. And while there's one facet of the film that got beaten to the punch by another movie in those ensuing years, for the most part the movie shows no sign of freezer burn.
Hemsworth already gives off the kind of charisma that would eventually get him cast in “Thor,” and Kranz steals one scene after another with the kind of aplomb that won him a spot alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield in the current Broadway revival of “Death of a Salesman.”
And that's all you need to know. “The Cabin in the Woods” delivers the laughs and the screams, and it does so most effectively if you go in with as little spoiler exposure as possible. Just go already.