Joss Whedon amusingly deconstructs the human race's need for frights, boogeymen and Saw sequels with The Cabin in the Woods. It's a serio-comic blend of Scream and The Adjustment Bureau, more clever than brilliant, more high-concept than meticulously thought-out spoof.
Five college kids pile into an RV for a trek to "my cousin's cabin" in the middle of nowhere. No, your GPS doesn't show the back roads they have to take. No, you're not getting cell reception there.
The kids are horror-movie "types" — the libidinous blonde (Anna Hutchison); her jock beau (Chris Hemsworth, Thor); the jock's sensitive, "brainy" pal (Jesse Williams); the lovelorn innocent (Kristen Connolly).
And let's not forget the stoner, given a Shaggy-from-Scooby Doo whimsy by Fran Kranz. "Society is binding," weed-worshipping Marty preaches. "It's filling in the cracks with concrete!"
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In the best Friday the 13th tradition, the kids ignore the first sign of warning: the redneck filling-station owner. ("I been here since the war!" Which war? "You know damn well which war!")
They find the cabin, which is remote, rustic and filled with creepy touches, animal-sacrifice paintings, masks, puzzles and Latin phrase books out of horror movies ranging from simple ghost tales to Hellraiser extravaganzas.
As the kids lurch toward their fate, the stoner mutters through his smoky haze that they're being watched, that the "puppets" are being manipulated by "puppet masters." And every so often, the film skips off to a vast complex where the stoner's theories are borne out. That's the Adjustment Bureau side of the story.
Whedon (TV's Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, Alien Resurrection) and director Drew Goddard skip back and forth between the two settings, and all I'll say about the Bureau world is that it stars Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, and its arcane technology and cumbersome chain of command provide most of Cabin's laughs.
The long-delayed Cabin, heavily hyped by fanboys, isn't scary. It's the showbiz savvy and the name-cast gloss that lifts this goof on horror cliché above the Scary Movie franchise, or Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. Kranz is the funniest thing in it, although the seen-it-all desk jockey played by Jenkins gives Kranz a run for his money.
And if, by the third act, Whedon writes himself and his characters into a corner too silly to gracefully get out of without cheating, well ... we know why his TV show Firefly was canceled, don't we?