Combustible Celluloid
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With: Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Brian White, Amy Acker, Tim De Zarn
Written by: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard
Directed by: Drew Goddard
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language, drug use and some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 95
Date: 01/01/2011

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Slaughter Rules

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Traditionally, the horror movie has been relegated to visceral effects on its audience: mainly thrills and chills. After a while, scholars like Robin Wood and Linda Williams began examining these reactions on an intellectual level. This, in turn, led to horror movies that deconstructed horror movies, ranging from Scream to last year's Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.

Now Joss Whedon's The Cabin in the Woods -- a work of genius -- takes this deconstruction to a whole new, cosmic level.

The new movie begins with the typical group of teens, as seen movies as recent as Shark Night and Creature, that don't seem like they could actually be friends. There's the jock (Chris Hemsworth), the slut (Anna Hutchison), the pot-smoking comic relief (Fran Kranz), the gentlemanly scholar (Brian White), and the virginal Dana (Kristen Connolly). As usual, they gather together for a fun weekend of drinking, sex and other debauchery in a borrowed, remote cabin.

But this time, something else happens. Two guys in lab coats (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) show up for work and check into a clinical control room filled with switches and screens. It turns out that they are monitoring the teens in the woods, but why and for what purpose is best left undisclosed.

Whedon produced and co-wrote the screenplay, but leaves the directorial duties to a newcomer, Drew Goddard, a writer with credits on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel." Goddard nicely juxtaposes the two halves of the movie, while having fun with both. For example, all the tropes of this teens-in-the-woods subgenre are played out on cue -- including the sexy girl removing her top -- but performed with several layers of self-awareness. Though, sadly, this does take away from the genre's more primal shock and scare factor.

But since none of the teens fit too rigorously into their pre-assigned roles, they need a little humorous coaxing. Take Hemsworth, who also plays Thor in Whedon's upcoming Avengers movie. His character is actually smart and generous, but after a few hours in the cabin, he begins acting like an A-1 musclebound jerk. Meanwhile, Jenkins and Whitford clearly enjoy their playful dialogue, dripping with clues but performed like another boring day on the job.

The movie wraps up its mystery a bit early, but the final reel has a blow out in store that even the cleverest horror fans won't be able to anticipate. Overall, horror fans won't want to leave this Cabin in the Woods anytime soon.

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