"Cabin in the Woods" achieves a level of laughs, scares and craftsmanship that is exceedingly rare in the hybrid genre of horror-comedy. Just as impressive, the film masterfully deconstructs the horror genre, picking it apart trope by trope, without being overly cute or ironic. Director Drew Goddard, and his co-writer Joss Whedon, both clearly love a scary movie, but recognize that they often hinge on unspeakable stupidity.
The film is essentially the bloodiest and funniest episode of "Scooby Doo" ever made, with Scooby himself being the only element missing. There's a gangly redheaded stoner (Fran Kranz), a buff blonde slab of beefcake (Chris Hemsworth, now known as Thor, was an unknown when this was filmed), and two girls--one kinda sexy (Anna Hutchinson), the other more demure (Kristen Connolly). Heck, there's even a crusty old man whom they meet when they stop to get gas for their camper who tries to warn them not to go any farther. But of course they do, much to their ultimate chagrin.
Even to a young child, the frustrating thing about "Scooby Doo" was that the monsters were never real—why they continued to run in terror is anyone's guess. But not so here, as our heroes soon find themselves under siege from a relentless barrage of ghouls.
Along the way Goddard cleverly address a host of issues that have plagued horror films since "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." Why on Earth do the kids in these films split up, thereby making it easy for the demons to pick them off one-by-one?
Goddard once worked for Whedon on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," which was also where Marti Noxon honed her chops as a writer. Noxon's "Fright Night" was, like "Cabin," a deft blend of horror and comedy, proving that Whedon was running a tight ship over at "Buffy." Unfortunately, "Fright Night" was also one of 2011's criminally overlooked films, despite a great cast led by Colin Farrell and Anton Yelchin. Why the film failed to find an audience, is anybody's guess. Let's hope "Cabin" doesn't suffer the same fate.
"Cabin in the Woods" is one of those films that's best seen knowing as little as possible. Yes, this is true of most films, but in an age when trailers have trailers, we're often inundated by so many spoilers, much of the magic can be lost. To go on at length in an effort to convince you to see it would inevitably take some of the shine off it—just believe us when we say that if you have a single horror-loving bone in your body, "Cabin in the Woods" is probably as much fun as you could hope to have this year.