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The Cabin in the Woods

Zombies and ghosts and mermen. Oh my!

Kristen Connolly battles zombies and office workers in The Cabin in the Woods. <<© Mutant Enemy Productions>>

When five attractive college co-eds spend the weekend at a creepy isolated cabin in the woods, it’s no surprise they’re marked for death. We’ve seen this movie, and it always ends the same way: Someone gets high, someone flashes her breasts and almost everyone dies.
    Such is the world of slasher filmmaking. Fans love it just the way it is.
    It’s a formula so common that many movies have poked fun at its absurdity while still getting mileage from gory scares — think the Scream series. With The Cabin in the Woods, first-time director Drew Goddard further dissects the slasher premise without giving up the typical scares and gore we’ve come to expect.
    In this fresh take, the coeds find the cabin not by blind providence but by the orchestration of shirt-sleeved office drones who work 9-to-5 days killing hapless attractive young people. Hadley (Bradley Whitford: Have a Little Faith) and Sitterson (Richard Jenkins: The Rum Diary) pull the strings.
From fog cues to releasing monsters to organizing an office pool on what will kill whom first, it’s nice work if you can get it.
    While Hadley and Sitterson go about the daily grind, the comely archetypes have no clue as to the pain they’re in for. Cute couple Curt (Chris Hemsworth: Thor) and Jules (Anna Hutchinson: Wild Boys) are the resident jock and sexy girl who set up their sad good-girl friend Dana (Kristen Connolly: Certainty) with pal Holden (Jesse Williams: Grey’s Anatomy). Their stoner pal tags along since there is always one of those.
    When the weekend goes creepy, the group not only has to avoid the horrors of the spooky forest but must also outmaneuver Hadley and Sitterson, whose job performance relies on carnage.
    To tell any more would spoil the fun.
    The real joy in The Cabin in the Woods is its script. Writers Joss Whedon (The Avengers) and Goddard gleefully deconstruct the slasher genre and infuse it with wry wit. By adding some intelligence to the typical boobs-and-blood fare, the duo has done the impossible: Made an intelligent, multi-layered movie about kids getting massacred in the woods. The victims are likeable, the office crew is hilarious and the gore is bloody good.
    The only downside is that the office antics are far more interesting than the horrors faced by the cabin crew. That’s not surprising: The audience has to be familiar with the slasher storyline to get the joke, so these characters and their problems are old hat. Set against funny, interesting new characters, it’s little wonder that the cabin dwellers seem a bit stale. Pitting veteran actors like Whitford and Jenkins against cannon fodder makes the competition less fair.
    The film suffers only slightly from this unevenness. Cabin is still one of the smarter takes on the horror genre. It kept the audience at my screening laughing and gasping through each twist and stab.
    A cabin in the woods may be a familiar location for horror audiences, but The Cabin in the Woods holds surprising humor and thrills for anyone who buys a ticket.

Great Horror • R • 95 mins.