April 26, 2012

'Cabin in the Woods' fiendishly clever


---- — Stop me if you've heard this one before: Five college students — a jock, a nerd, a hot girl, an intellectual and a virgin — go to a remote wilderness cabin for a wild weekend. A weekend that turns to horror.

It's a classic schlock horror movie setup, but "The Cabin in the Woods" is far from typical horror fare.

The film has buckets of blood and gore, and a fair share of scares, but it's also fiendishly clever. It toys with the genre's cliches and stereotypes, offering sharp dialogue and some unusual and unexpected humor.

"The Cabin in the Woods" plays like a very special episode of "Lost," if "Lost" had been shown on HBO or Showtime.

That's probably not a coincidence, since first-time director Drew Goddard also wrote and produced "Lost" (and the movie "Cloverfield") and teams up here with Joss Whedon, the mastermind behind "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly."

Without giving away the surprises, "Cabin" sticks five young people in a typical scary shack in the spooky forest. Chris Hemsworth ("Thor") is the not-so-dumb jock, traveling with his fun-loving girlfriend, Jules (Anna Hutchison). Fran Kranz ("Dollhouse") is outstanding as Marty, a nerd high on a number of things besides life. Kristen Connolly is shy Dana, with Jesse Williams as a sensitive potential love interest.

Bad things are obviously going to happen to these people — but what does that have to do with a couple of jovial government scientist types, played with aplomb by Bradley Whitford ("West Wing") and Richard Jenkins ("The Visitor")?

"The Cabin in the Woods" tips slasher movie conventions on their heads, but it's not self-mocking in a "Scream" sort of way. It's got an interesting central mystery — what the $?%!? is going on here? — that makes the violence and gore not seem quite so gratuitous.

As horror movies go, it's only a medium on the fright scale, but it's got plenty to offer that other scare-fests don't.

Rental recommendation: "Tucker and Dale vs. Evil" is a satisfyingly goofy member of the horror genre. Grade: B+

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