A group of five friends, all college students, have decided to take the weekend off in a remote location in the nearby forests where they can relax at a cabin there and swim in the lake. Dana (Kristen Connolly) is fretting as usual, having romantic troubles with her professor and wondering if she should take her study book with her, barely acknowledging her best friend Jules (Anna Hutchinson) has dyed her hair blonde, but soon all that will pass as she tentatively lets her guard down. With the five of them assembled, off they drive in their camper van... unaware they are being watched very closely.
And not only by the audience who are desperately trying to make sense of this most post-modern of horror movies which appeared to have been written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard as a penance for all the terrible things they had done to their characters down the years. With that air of self-flagellation in mind, you should have been aware they didn't feel so bad for slasher flick victims that they didn't stick to at least a few of the conventions for tradition's sake, and perhaps the sake of not fucking with the formula which had provided cast iron returns on production investments for decades before this little smartarse item happened along.
It actually happened along about three years after it was supposed to thanks to the studio going bankrupt then another sitting on it because they wanted to convert it to 3D, which in effect built up anticipation for a horror movie written by the creator of cult TV favourite Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When it arrived, the most important thing to do with regard to the plot was keep it to yourself; not everyone was pleased with it once they worked out what was going on there, but for the most part audiences were pretty good at sustaining the secrets its writers had concealed, even to the extent of the trailer being accused of giving too much away, though considering the film opened with the office workers in the top secret compound chatting away you'd have an inkling of something being up from minute one.
That chat is deliberately giving nothing away, it's true, yet by the end you would probably have a few questions, such as to the reality of what you were supposed to be watching. Certainly the five characters who head off on holiday are those we take as read that believe what is happening to them is genuine, from their college background to the eventual horror which is set upon them, but they so fit into such templates of slasher conventions it began to look like a spoof. There were a few laughs, but Whedon and Goddard were that manipulative The Cabin in the Woods was a lot like having someone tell you a joke while purposefully withholding the punchline until you were baffled as to what the point of it had been. They described it as a tribute to horror, but even then were standing a distance away.
With a panoramic view of the proceedings, nevertheless taking metafiction to its most developed stage for a Hollywood chiller, doing something new-ish with the genre while still giving the audience what it thought they wanted. If you had not been offered enough of a hint to what was up in the first half hour, then you might find yourself rejecting this unfolding premise as too clever for its own good; that said, the overall tone may have been pokerfaced, yet underneath it was a big giggle. The last act in particular presented a high degree of enjoyable mayhem as all hell broke loose, at times literally, bringing in everything from J-horror to Stephen King to Sam Raimi to George A. Romero to H.P. Lovecraft in a giddy amalgamation of plots under the umbrella of what initially looks like an experiment, then everything but the kitchen sink by the close. With a jokey accusation of its audience as being thirsty for fictional blood in a sacrificial sense, they risked losing the fans, though most would appreciate its gamesplaying as ingenuity run amusingly rampant. Music by David Julyan.