However, The Cabin in the Woods, the debut film from longtime J.J. Abrams associate Drew Goddard— which is, in fact, about five young people who head off to a cabin in the woods where something horrific tries to dismember them in particularly gruesome ways—isn’t really a horror film. Except that it sort of is. To put it in the most high-falutin’ terms possible, it’s a satirical deconstruction of the genre, a brutally clever affair written by Goddard and producer Joss Whedon, who knows a thing or two about being brutally clever. It’s exceedingly fun, and it’s perfect for snarky folk who don’t consider themselves fans of horror movies.
Here’s how it goes: Dana (Kristen Connolly) is heading out to, well, a cabin in the woods with her college buddies. There’s her best friend Lin (Amy Acker), Lin’s boyfriend Curt (Chris Hemsworth—yes, the guy playing Thor in those Marvel movies), Curt’s friend Holden (Jesse Williams) and their burn-out buddy Marty (Fran Kranz). Each is a stereotypical horror-movie character—Dana’s the good girl, Lin’s the slut, Curt’s the jock, Holden’s the brainiac and Marty’s the stoner. The trip out there practically drips with horror and fear, complete with the Deliverance-esque guy who sells them just enough gas to get to their destination but not enough to get home. Basically, it’s as creepy as horror movies are supposed to be.
While all of this is happening, there’s something else going on: As these five people begin to face unspeakable horrors, their troubles and fates are being watched and often guided by a bunch of scientist-types in a ’70s-era control room, led by Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), two guys who love their jobs played by two actors who have a terrific time in their roles.
Don’t worry; that’s not a spoiler. Yes, it sounds like The Truman Show and might remind some folks of Lost, which Goddard spent a lot of time writing and producing. The how and the why of all of this I’m going to let you discover for yourself, but suffice it to say that the standard horror-movie conventions are addressed and broken down in ways that are very funny. Things go wrong in ways I won’t get into here, but the result is immensely entertaining and bloody, as the plot goes in directions you do not see coming.
There are satires that start as a single joke that gets carried too far. But The Cabin in the Woods succeeds because the joke keeps on going long after you think it can’t go on any further, and because it isn’t really a parody. It doesn’t make fun of horror; it embraces it. In many ways, it’s a love letter to the genre, pointing out and taking on all the cheesy bits we’ve seen time and time again. It ends up feeling refreshing and new, even if it’s just a different take on something familiar. As these kids face the end of the world as they know it, you’ll feel just fine.