The Cabin in the Woods sets up a high-energy and electric game of chess with its viewers, setting up every trope of its creepy-house genre, tearing it apart, and then going even deeper into a central mystery that only gets more satisfying as it goes. The script functions both as a haunted-house movie and a spirited romp right past the genre, held together by an impeccable sense of humor and a constant capacity to surprise. The central characters aren’t quite as fascinating as they ought to be, and the story wraps up with a little more whimper than bang, but those are minor tradeoffs for a movie that’s otherwise such a ball.
Even when the story sticks firmly in standard horror territory, this group of beautiful kids is especially fun to spend time with. Our bookish heroine (Kristen Connolly) sets up a nice rapport with her blond bestie (Anna Hutchison), who in turn easily establishes a believable relationship with her boyfriend (Chris Hemsworth). Add in a bookish guy love interest (Jesse Williams) and a stoner dork (Fran Kranz) and you’ve got a deliberate variety of horror movie stereotypes.
The Cabin in the Woods is a genre exercise at heart, and though it has the potential for real greatness– at certain points you might think they could take this story anywhere– it settles for ultimate audience satisfaction, which is pretty close to greatness anyway. It’s so, so much fun to watch with an audience and to revel in that experience of being perfectly manipulated by a director and writer who know every button to push.