Charmingly, like a throwback to the pre-Twitter age, here’s a horror film that’s been made with no reasonable way to discuss it beforehand. (You know the boat sinks in Titanic, but these surprise-laden plot twists are another matter entirely.) We’ll do what we can: A fairly generic group of collegians—including shy, thoughtful Dana (Kristen Connolly), hunky Curt (Thor’s Chris Hemsworth) and perpetually stoned Marty (Fran Kranz)—head out to a rural retreat for the usual naughtiness. Meanwhile, and this is all info we learn at the start, a severe-looking group of lab technicians (including one recent Oscar nominee) get busy behind a NASA lab’s worth of consoles.
And that’s about it, folks. Coscripted by Buffy’s clever cat Joss Whedon, The Cabin in the Woods may offer a gauntlet to critics, but it works thrillingly for audiences, especially the pointy-headed kind who have been trained to predict the outcomes of every week’s slasher. Maybe that’s all that matters. Still, there’s a danger in overselling (through obliqueness) what is essentially a pendulum swing back to the sarcastic vein of Scream, and away from the past decade’s explicit—and perhaps more socially revealing—torture porn. That will be a relief for many, yet Drew Goddard’s directorial debut has its weaknesses, including an aggressive smarty-pants vibe that sometimes gets in the way of the scares. The trade-off is a movie that’s akin to looking under the hood of a Stephen King novel: It’s a joy for mechanics. And aren’t we all those, these days?
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf