Cabins in the woods get bad reputations from horror movies. My family owns a cabin in the woods and sure, it's a little creepy at night, but it's a perfectly pleasant place to be. No Deadites, no deranged undead campers, no monstrous inbred hillbillies. Just peace and tranquility and the occasional bat or spider.
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's horror comedy The Cabin in the Woods is about none of those things and all of them. More than anything it's about the modern mythology that cabins in the woods have been given over decades of horror movies. It's about why we watch horror movies, and why we gain some sick kind of pleasure from watching young, dumb, and horny teenagers getting dismembered.
On one side of the story, we have the five typical college kids about to go on a weekend of debauchery at one of their cousin's cabins. Of course, the cabin is creepy and unsettling and they find a mysterious cellar that awakens a horrible evil.
But from the very first scene, we also know something these kids don't: they're just puppets. They're being monitored and controlled by a large scientific facility, for (at first, anyway) unknown reasons. The guys in charge of the facility (scene stealers Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins) watch with a casual detachment as the kids are manipulated through one dumb horror cliche after another.
I won't go any further, though. There are some really surprising twists and turns along the way, and if they haven't been ruined for you yet, I don't want to be the one. The entire third act turns the whole movie on its head, and it's hilarious. I basically laughed for the entire last half hour or so.
The five college kids are all great. They have the challenge of playing both the stereotypes of the movies they're reenacting, and also just five normal teenagers who can't quite understand why they're acting so stupidly. Kristen Connolly in particular is good as the typical innocent good girl character, as is Fran Kranz as the goofy stoner comic relief.
Co-writer/producer Joss Whedon and co-writer/director Drew Goddard wrote the movie together and shot it 3 years ago, and due to the financial problems of MGM, sat on a shelf awaiting release until it was purchased by Lion's Gate and freed from purgatory. It couldn't have come out at a better time, with Whedon's The Avengers just about to explode and make him into the biggest, most in demand writer/director this side of J.J. Abrams. The script and the direction couldn't be more sure of themselves. The dialogue and story are whip-smart, funny, and at times, thought-provoking, and through all of its deconstruction and self-awareness, it never forgets that the victims are people and not just avatars.
I know you're probably all seeing The Avengers, so why don't you make it a double-Joss weekend and catch Cabin in the Woods, too? And please remember, not ALL cabins are like this one. I've been going all my life and haven't once been molested by an evil tree.