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April 14, 2012 | 11:04 a.m. CST
Equal parts The Evil Dead and The Truman Show, The Cabin in the Woods is jam-packed with jump-out-of-your-seat scares and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, held together by a cleverly woven plot.
The initial story is simple: five college friends go to a cabin in the woods, which turns out to have a basement chock full of creepy stuff. Somebody reads a few forbidden words in Latin, and let the good times roll (for the audience, at least). Little do they know that they are being watched, that there is a much bigger scheme in place and that somewhere, someone is taking bets as to how they will die — and dancing to REO Speedwagon.
The protagonists are cookie cutter characters: the jock (Chris Hemsworth); the dumb blonde (Anna Hutchison); the quiet intellectual (Jesse Williams); the conspiracy theorist stoner (Fran Kranz, who actually comes closest to figuring out what’s going on); and the chaste, virtuous girl (Kristen Connolly) who might actually stand a chance of survival. But their one-dimensionality proves to be a deliberate plot point. However, it is the not-particularly-mysterious folks behind the curtain who really carry the film. Richard Jenkins (Let Me In) is superb as a snarky puppet master of sorts, manipulating events alongside Bradley Whitford (The Mentalist), Tom Lenk (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Amy Acker (Angel). Sigourney Weaver (Avatar) shows up at the end, but her voice is unmistakable throughout the film.
Campy horror isn’t new to director Drew Goddard and producer Joss Whedon, who collaborated on the story. This film, however, has a different feel. The humor is still there, as is the attention to character development and dialogue, but the stakes are higher and the heroes more expendable. It challenges, pokes fun at and ultimately makes sense of some of the biggest clichés in the horror genre, which makes The Cabin in the Woods very satisfying to watch.