Stop me if you've seen this one before … five friends decide to go spend a weekend at some remote cabin in the middle of nowhere, only to find themselves at the mercy of some sadistic killer(s). And that's about it. By now, you know who lives and who dies – they all die except the most pure and virginal of the bunch. The foundation for this genre of horror, the "Dead Teenager Movie," can be traced back to John Carpenter's classic Halloween. Of course, there was no cabin in the woods but you can see the groundwork. That was followed by Friday the 13th, which did feature a cabin or two in the woods and lots of dead teens. And just like Halloween's Laurie Strode and F13's Alice Hardy, the purest of the horny bunch lived to see the credits roll. These movies also established the "types" that would get knocked off, one-by-one: the dumb jock, the slutty girl, the nerd, and the stoner. Wes Craven used these archetypes to great, ironic effect in the Scream series, which let audiences already in on the joke have a few laughs at the expense of the expendable characters.
And now we have The Cabin in the Woods, which includes all of the required types and the requisite, desolate location. But … there are many new twists and turns to this old story. First of all, the "dumb jock" is not so dumb, the "slutty girl" really isn't, the "nerd" is more-than-kinda hot, the "virgin" maybe isn't, and the "stoner" is more aware than usual … at least until they all get to the cabin. (They've even got the "Crazy Ralph" character – the old coot who shows up to tell everyone they're doomed!) But there's something else going on too, something in a governmental-looking facility deep below ground where the workers seem to be controlling everything going on above ground and taking bets on how the friends die and in what order. On the other hand, they may not be controlling everything and they may not be working for the government and they may not be conducting some kind of strange experiment that ends up with everyone living happily ever after by the end. Make no mistake, there will be blood … and plenty of it.
If this review sounds a little all over the place, it's because The Cabin in the Woods is really an unreviewable movie, at least at this point in time. Think The Sixth Sense or The Crying Game. As a critic and as a movie lover, I just can't in good conscience give away any of the film's major plot points without ruining the experience for the uninitiated viewer. I went in knowing only what I saw in the previews (that have unfortunately started giving away too much information), and the less you know going in, the better.
What I can say is that this is one of the most original horror films to come along in quite some time (and it's a shame the film had to sit in MGM's vaults for two years while they were trying to deal with their own financial woes). It takes everything you think you know about the genre and flips it on its ear. The design of the situation is certainly no accident, and there are reasons that the five specific types are going to that particular cabin. The unwitting victims have been extremely well-cast, and you may recognize the jock from a little film he made after this one – Thor. Yep, they nabbed Chris Hemsworth before he was cast as the demi-god, so perhaps the delay in the release will help draw more people to the movie now that everyone knows who he is. While the college students are spot on, the people working down below are also worth mentioning, particularly Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins as the men who may or may not be controlling the students' destinies. Whitford and Jenkins are so good together that someone should give them their own TV show right this minute!
But, there's not much more I can say about the movie except that if you're a fan or horror and movies with twisting, turning plots that will keep you guessing until the very end, then The Cabin in the Woods is definitely worth seeing. It's that good. And you really should see it before someone ruins it for you.