Cabin in the Woods - Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz and Kristen Connolly
Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Holden (Jesse Williams), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Marty (Fran Kranz) and Dana (Kristen Connolly) ©2012 Lionsgate

Pictured above: The Cabin in the Woods – Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Holden (Jesse Williams), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Marty (Fran Kranz) and Dana (Kristen Connolly) ©2012 Lionsgate

The Cabin in the Woods – from writer-producer Joss Whedon and writer-director Drew Goddard – starts off in typical horror fashion. A bunch of college-age guys and gals gather together in a RV and drive off into the middle of nowhere, getting directions spit at them by the requisite local creep and arriving at the titular cabin.

The characters are – at least initially – from the Horror Film 101 textbook. There’s the slut (Anna Hutchison), stoner (Fran Kranz), brainy one (Jesse Williams), virgin (Kristen Connolly) and jock (Chris Hemsworth). Even before they hit the road, it’s apparent all is not as it seems, that other elements are in play, possibly pulling the strings. Not to spoil too much, but, there IS something or someone pulling the strings and these scenes involve a mysterious corporation whose employees are played by, among others, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins and Whedon favorite Amy Acker.

So, the typical cabin inhabitants aren’t so typical, the typical string-pullers aren’t particularly typical either, and the typical horror hi-jinks that occur in a cabin – sex and, well, sex – only set the stage for everything to come. And what comes includes zombies, mermen and assorted other creatures, not to mention grisly deaths, surprising victims and survivors, a gazillion gallons of blood, plenty of gallows humor and pretty much everything Whedon and Goddard could throw in.

Cabin in the Woods - Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker and Bradley Whitford
Sitterson (Richard Jenkins), Lin (Amy Acker) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) ©2012 Lionsgate

The acting is a notch above the usual in this sort of fare, with Kranz, Connolly and the Jenkins-Whitford tandem making the strongest marks. Goddard keeps things moving and fills the frame with interesting bits at all times, and much of the dialogue is witty and sharp. The prosthetic make-ups are terrific and convincing, but the visual effects must’ve been too ambitious for the film’s budget, as they frustratingly pull the moviegoer out of several scenes, including an extended sequence that’s meant to be the film’s most important, most frightening set piece.

Cabin is an entertaining film, but it does not reinvent the horror genre, as some quote-happy critics out there will surely proclaim. It’s got a neat twist; OK, a few of them, but it’s not, say, Scream, which was far scarier and a touch funnier. Plus, the loud buzz that’s resulted from SXSW word of mouth, the long delay in the film’s release and the anticipation of a Goddard-Whedon collaboration may lead to lofty expectations that Cabin can’t possibly realize. Just go in expecting a bloody, fun time, and a bloody, fun time you will have.

[Rating: 4 stars]

The Cabin in the Woods is in US, Canadian and UK theatres from April 13, 2012. (Good date for a horror movie, Friday the 13th!). Australia release is July 12, 2012.

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