The Cabin in the Woods (produced by Joss 'Buffy' Whedon and written/directed by Drew 'Cloverfield' Goddard) at first looks like your average modern reboot of the old Evil Dead scenario. In fact, it doesn't look like the average reboot at all, but rather a really quite awful cringeworthy rehash. But, as you quickly discover, that's the whole idea.
A sexy girl wearing knickers and a t-shirt prances around in her room in broad daylight near an open window while packing for a weekend away. As you do. Her apparently moronic friends, a freshly-dyed blonde cheerleader type and a well built jock (complete with football) arrive to hurry her along. They are planning to spend the weekend in the jock's cousin's cabin in the woods, along with their amusingly paranoid stoner buddy, and a quiet yet unbelievably good-looking book-worm (complete with glasses), an unlikely friend of the jock. The set up is unbelievably cliched, the dialogue is total pants, and you're already cracking into that peanut butter chunky Kit Kat you were planning to save for the second reel.
Meanwhile, in a top secret underground bunker of some description, a bunch of be-suited, be-spectacled types are watching and controlling the teenagers' every move. Not only that, they are actually taking bets on something (who will die first? Who will be the last to go? We can only conjecture at this point). As the kids arrive at the cabin, it becomes clear that their whole weekend away is part of a massively engineered worldwide operation in which groups of people, each one representing a different facet of humanity (the fool, the whore, the virgin etc) are thrown together in a horror film scenario. This is by way of making a hugely convoluted human sacrifice - but to what? And why? I'll leave that for you to find out.
It turns out that the kids themselves bring about their own doom when they head down into the cellar, which is packed with strange and creepy objects (the classic weird china dolls, old jewellery, strange notebooks and the like). The first one to pick up an object and unwittingly unlock its secret will bring devastation upon themselves and their friends - this time, the knickers and t-shirt girl (wearing some jeans by now) picks up an old diary which appears to have been written by some poor abused girl who is a member of some hillbilly cannibal family reminiscent of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. She finds a few words written in latin. Marty, the stoner (who seems to be the only one who is at all aware of anything weird going on) advises: "I'm drawing a line in the fucking sand. Do not read the Latin!"
But of course, she does, upon which the Buckners - a zombie hillbilly pain-worshipping family with a penchant for rusty saws, old mantraps and general sharp implements - drag themselves out of the ground and start hacking up the joint. In the bunker, the maintenance team (who bet on 'zombie redneck torture family') celebrate their win. As the film goes on, all it does it get smarter and funnier - it helps if you've seen a lot of horror films, but even if you've only seen a few, you will be able to appreciate just how cleverly the filmmakers are taking the piss.
Anything in the film which seems stupid or ridiculous is almost certainly meant to seem that way, in order to mess with your head. The whore is in fact studying to be a doctor, the jock is actually an intelligent and dedicated student, the virgin is in fact not a virgin - the list goes on. An important part of the human sacrifice is that the teens themselves 'choose' their fate by ignoring all of the danger signs - the creepy old man at the gas station, the isolated location, the weird cellar; these are all things that any right thinking human being who has seen a few movies would know to avoid. The film questions the obsession with watching good-looking young people get slaughtered (and essentially, punished) over and over again on the big screen.
There have been plenty of horror spoofs before, of course - the Scream films, the Scary Movie films (which are in fact mostly spoofing the Scream films, and are therefore a spoof of a spoof) - but Cabin in the Woods is less a spoof and more an extremely self-aware attempt to flip genre conventions totally on their head. Plus, there's a surprise cameo from Sigourney Weaver - it's probably worth a look for that alone.
Cabin in the Woods is a KINOLENS Film of the Moment and is on general release now in the UK. Last but not least, check out these taglines:
If you hear a strange noise outside...have sex.
If an old man warns you not to go there...make fun of him.
If something is chasing you...split up.
Quaint abandoned property...sold.