The tagline for Drew Goddard’s genre-bending thriller The Cabin in the Woods is “You think you know the story.” If you’re a fan of Goddard’s work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer or especially of Joss Whedon, who co-wrote the script with Goddard, certain themes of the story (and faces) will seem familiar. Arbitrary cruelty dealt out by power-mad humans (season 6 of Buffy), our desensitization to suffering in situations that are totally screwed up (the biggest bad of all, it turns out, if Dollhouse is any indication), strong female characters, mythological creatures, quippy one-liners, wrathful deities hell-bent on destroying the world. A lot. It’s all there, rolled into the guise of a horror movie.
What we actually get is a hilarious, self-aware gore-fest, a veritable feast of schlock and actual wit from two people who do know this story, inside and out, and love it enough to subvert it while still playing it somewhat straight. It’s fine line. The twists and turns, while perhaps not entirely predictable, are certainly navigable. You might have avert your eyes, but you won’t want to.
The premise is ripe for ending badly—five attractive but disparate college personalities piles into an RV for a weekend getaway in a remote cabin. There’s Dana (Kristen Connolly), sweet and seemingly innocent, but plucky when pushed. There’s Jules (Anna Hutchison), the recently-dyed semi-slutty blonde, her built boyfriend, Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Holden, the academic (played by Jesse Williams, who, in an amusingly appropriate side note/meta-joke, was dubbed The Hotness Monster during his turn on Greek), and Marty, the weirdly resourceful pot head (Fran Kranz, hallelujah, we’ve missed you since Dollhouse, make more movies, please). Horror is an easy genre to spoof, perhaps because these archetypes, as with mythology, are so deeply entrenched. The people who meet a messy end always do something to deserve it. But here, there’s also a parallel plot involving two middle-aged, mid-level office types, Hadley (Bradley Whitford, recognizable to fans of The West Wing) and Sitterson (Richard Jenkins), who work at what appears to be some sort of lab or research facility. And that’s all you need to know about that, for now, until you go see this movie for yourself.
And you should go see it, if only for a good look at a promising director’s debut. Goddard is absolutely sure of himself, and the details are lovely, from the repetitive ‘ding’ of an elevator during a particularly bloody scene to the new monsters that have sprung from his imagination. Similarities to other winking films like The Evil Dead and Scream are inherent, but Whedon and Goddard do so much more than poke fun and kill their characters. They ask why we enjoy the ichor, why we want to giggle and then gasp in terror. And they deliver, on every joke, every single bloody promise.