It's become as much a cliche as The Cabin in the Woods' setup to say how hard it is to talk about The Cabin in the Woods without spoiling it. In this review I'll try to talk about what makes this movie good without spilling all the beans.
The set up is simple: five friends go for a weekend up to a cabin in the woods. Bad things start to happen. It sounds like many other horror films but The Cabin in the Woods takes a very meta approach to the horror genre- and unlike something like Scream, The Cabin in the Woods isn't just about characters acknowledging they're in a horror movie. In fact, it's kind of the opposite. The characters become unwillingly manipulated to act out the patterns of a horror movie and act like typical stock movie characters. Curt (Chris Hemsworth) is the jock, his girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchinson) is the bad girl, Dana (Kristen Connolly) is the nice girl, Holden (Jesse Williams) is the intellectual, and Marty (Franz Kranz) is the comic relief stoner.
The actors are really appealing, particularly Connolly and Kranz. Connolly does a admirable job of changing from an innocent young woman who's not overly assertive to becoming someone who can take charge in horrific situations. Kranz is hilarious but also keeps Marty grounded in the real world. He's the eccentric best friend we all have-or wish we could. Hemsworth shows us the intelligence behind the jock stereotype he eventuually inhabits. Hutchinson has this great scene where she's dared to make out with a wolf's head on the wall, which she absolutely sells. She also shows a certain amount of intelligence in her first scene with Connolly. Williams gets a wonderful scene where he makes a choice between being decent or voyeuristic, which he plays with humour and humanity.
What I really liked about The Cabin in the Woods was how it takes a lean and straightforward premise and pulls back the curtain, so to speak, showing us how these horror movie scenarios are preordained. It gives us a different perspective on all our favourite horror movies, making us wonder what goes on behind the gore. Drew Goddard, the writer of Cloverfield, makes his directorial debut. He also co-wrote the script with Joss Whedon. I feel like they've made a metaphor for the filmmaking process, particularly in regards to horror filmmaking. How much free will do these writers and directors who make horror films give to their protagonists, and how much orginality in terms of personality? Why do they make these people suffer? Fortunately, Goddard and Whedon don't take a hypocritical stance towards the horror genre so much as they accept the problematic nature of the genre even while they're having fun revelling in it.
But even after the manipulation of the game seems to be over, the film opens up even more, raising its story to a mythic and even apocalyptic scale. What's impressive is how Goddard and Whedon keep the film focused while still maintaining a batshit crazy sense of fun and unpredictability.
I wish there was just a tiny bit more character development. I also feel the themes of free will and whether the human race deserves to survive could have gotten a little more breathing room. Still, The Cabin in the Woods is a must see film, it's one of the most fascinating and unique horror films in recent memory.