Cabin in the Woods-485
Photo by Diyah Pera, Courtesy Lionsgate

Everybody likes to be in on an inside joke, but so many horror films have hopped onto the bandwagon of self-awareness that the joke itself may be getting tired. If anyone could reinvigorate the concept, it’s Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, and that’s what these savvy collaborators try to do in The Cabin in the Woods.

The setup is achingly familiar: five college pals head to a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway. There’s a hot blonde, a jock, an egghead, a pothead, etc. The roles are well-cast, and the creepy atmosphere is just as it should be, with one addition, another layer that reveals that these essentially nice young people have been set up. They’re being manipulated.

That’s all I can say without drifting into spoiler territory; I haven’t revealed more than you can glean from the trailer. And I haven’t begun to hint at where this movie goes, because it is pretty well unimaginable.

The question is how much fun you’ll derive along the way. If you’re a fan who’s grown up on self-referential horror films, from Scream on down the line, you’re a prime candidate. And if you’re a Joss Whedon enthusiast from Buffy onward, you’re already on board. But if you like your horror films to be genuinely scary, as opposed to ironic and self-reflexive, you may stop short of unbridled enthusiasm. I fall into the latter category. (In fact, in spite of the bloody gore on display, and my self-confessed wimpiness, I wasn’t scared while watching the film. That’s not a good reaction to a horror movie.)

In the press notes for The Cabin in the Woods, producer-writer Whedon and Goddard, who co-authored the screenplay and directed the picture, talk about the reasons they wanted to explore this brand of horror film.