Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, and are soon beset by terrifying, dangerous foes. But while embracing slasher story conventions, cult TV maestro Joss Whedon and co-writer/director Drew Goddard simultaneously rip them apart in a fiendishly original mix of laughs, smarts and nigh-on apocalyptic splatter. A triumph of invention, The Cabin in the Woods is unlike any horror movie you've seen before.
Five stereotypical college friends - a jock (Chris 'Thor' Hemsworth), a bimbo (Anna Hutchison), a pothead (Fran Kranz), a brainbox (Grey's Anatomy hunk Jesse Williams) and a virginal everygirl (Kristen Connolly) - head off for a weekend getaway to a rickety, remote cabin in the middle of the woods.
When the creepy basement mysteriously opens all of its own accord, and they start playing around with a series of bizarre, ancient trinkets hidden within, they soon discover they're not as alone as they imagined.
Though it's clear from the outset that nothing is quite what it appears to be, to give any more away would verge on spoiler territory. Needless to say, stoner Marty isn't being paranoid when he suspects that their situation is being controlled by unseen "puppeteers".
And even when you think you're starting to see where things are going, it just gets crazier, funnier and gorier.
Whedon and co-scripter/first-time director Drew Goddard (who wrote Cloverfield) revel in subverting the genre norms without ever disrespecting their inspiration. The bulk of the horror is executed with the traditional tenseness of the slasher genre we've come to know and love, and there's a veritable treasure trove of childhood-scarring monsters to choose from amidst the impressively varied cast.
But it's always followed by a knowing nod and a wry wink that highlights what's made the genre so stale in the first place.
While Whedon and Goddard have written a script that expertly balances humour and horror, they're helped by a solid and engaging cast. A pre-Thor Hemsworth provides ample beef as lead lunkhead, but it's Kranz's super-savvy pothead and the chemistry between corporate controllers Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford who'll leave the biggest mark.
Whedon fans will be beside themselves thanks to a cast teeming with his televisual alumni, and a script that's overflowing with irreverent, popculture-tastic witticisms. But the movie's true success arises from its ability to break out of its niche trappings to offer something for everyone.
From the moment the title card hits the screen, you're guaranteed to be entertained as consistently as you are surprised. And while it's easy to ramble on about how clever, funny and gory it is, it manages to pump that most important of lifebloods into a once-limp genre: above and beyond everything else, it's frantically, furiously fun.