out of Five
Running time: 95
Enjoyable, blackly comic horror with strong performances, a decent balance of gore and gags and a script that's both witty and inventive, but it's not quite as scary as it should have been and die-hard Whedon fans might feel like they've seen at least some of this before.
What's it all about?
Directed by Drew Goddard and co-written by Goddard and Joss Whedon, The Cabin in the Woods stars Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz (from Whedon's Dollhouse), Anna Hutchison and Jesse Williams as five stereotypical college kids (the virgin, the jock, the stoner, the slutty one and the sensitive one, respectively) who get more than they bargained for when they head off to a remote cabin in the woods for the weekend. Meanwhile, a trio of bickering technicians (Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins and Amy Acker) are hard at work on a top secret project located in what looks like an underground lair from a James Bond movie, but how does their assignment relate to the spooky goings-on at the cabin?
It's almost impossible to talk about The Cabin in the Woods without some level of spoiler discussion, but suffice it to say, the less you know about it going in, the more you'll enjoy it. That said, the performances are excellent, with Whitford and Jenkins making a particularly enjoyable double-act and engaging turns from Kranz, Hemsworth and Hutchison (who gets a stand-out scene where she makes out with a stuffed wolf's head) in particular.
Without giving too much away, the witty script has a lot of fun with the conventions of horror movies (think Scream and Tucker and Dale vs Evil, filtered through Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and there are several hilarious gags, most of which it would be churlish to reveal here, though there is a brilliant joke with a speakerphone and the film gets a lot of mileage out of the juxtaposition of the mundane day-job atmosphere of Jenkins and Whitford's “office” with what's actually going on. On top of that, Goddard maintains a decent balance between gore and gags, but he errs on the side of laughs rather than scares and you occasionally wish it was the other way round.
It is fair to say that if you're a hardcore Joss Whedon fan (particularly if you've seen every episode of Buffy, Angel and Dollhouse) then you might feel some of the material is a little over-familiar, though at least it's quite good fun to tick off the various lifts from other sources. The main issue is that the nature of the overall set-up ultimately makes it difficult to care whether the characters make it to the end, so the finale lacks the emotional impact it should have had.
The Cabin in the Woods is a hugely enjoyable, superbly written and pleasingly inventive horror flick that delivers handsomely in terms of both gore and laughs, though it's not quite as chilling as it could have been.
The Cabin in the Woods (15)