The Cabin in the Woods / Drew Goddard / 2012 / 

Active Ingredients: Meta horror concept; Chris Hemsworth; Unexpected comedy
Side Effects: Uninspired horror payoff; Lack of suspense

The horror genre is surveilled, dismembered and eviscerated in co-writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s meta comedy The Cabin in the Woods. Half of the plot will no doubt feel familiar. Five college friends drive to a creepy cabin in a remote wilderness for a weekend getaway. There’s no cell phone reception, of course, and they’ll make some poor decisions, of course, leading to a chorus from the audience: “No, don’t go in the cellar!” The other half of the plot, however, does feel novel.

In a control room somewhere, technicians from a mysterious organization watch the kids in the cabin on video monitors, pulling the strings, controlling them like puppets and ensuring they adhere to the roles of this familiar horror game.

Meta horror is not exactly new, but Whedon and Goddard have found a new approach, introducing the wise-cracking technicians early and having them influence the action remotely. They’re just nerdy white guys with problems at home and a weird job, not scary monsters. While this external position adds a fresh element to the film’s horror commentary, it does take the punch out of the thrills Whedon and Goddard try to deliver. By cross-cutting between the cabin and the control room, we’re never kept in suspense, and the third-act payoff, though original, isn’t exactly satisfying. The Cabin in the Woods is an entertaining trip for fans of the genre, but it just deconstructs these cheesy thrills; it doesn’t remind us of why we loved them in the first place.