I was excited for The Cabin in the Woods like no movie before it. When it first played at Buttnumbathon last year, I didn't hear a single comment about it that was anything less than over-the-top enthusiasm, and the trend continued through its official premiere at the SxSW film festival in March. I wanted to go into the movie as pure as possible, so I avoided all discussion of it, and even took to leaving the theater if they played its trailer before some other movie. When Mondo announced a special screening of the movie, I jumped at the chance to see the movie before its Friday the 13th release date not because I get any real extra pleasure from seeing a movie early or even because of the poster (although it's pretty great, too), but because it would relieve me from a week of vigilance against potential spoilers. And after seeing the film, I can appreciate how hard it is to say something about it without spoiling anything. I'll do my best to be interesting without ruining anything, but you'd be best served by just going to see the movie before learning anything about it). You won't be disappointed.
On the surface, it's an extremely cliché take on the theme for which it is named. It features five students (a jock, a nerd, a stoner, a slutty girl, and an innocent girl) who pile into a Winnebago and head out into the wilderness where there's no cell phone reception and no one around for miles. They of course make a stop at a creepy gas station with a creepy attendant who doesn't like outsiders before the final leg of their journey into complete isolation. And when they finally arrive at the rickety old cabin there's the usual disappointment with the quality of the accommodations and the usual discussion of sleeping arrangements. There's swimming and drinking and smoking of pot and flirting before the real stuff starts to happen. It's the kind of thing you've seen in every Friday the 13th movie and everything inspired by that theme since then like Cabin Fever and Pumpkinhead. But all of this is done in what is kind of a tongue-in-cheek manner, and the rest of the film is decidedly not a rip off of the same old story.
I rarely find anything in movies scary, so I'm not really the best judge of whether a horror movie is scary or not, but I don't think that there's really anything in The Cabin in the Woods that will cause your skin to crawl if you're familiar with other stories with this kind of setting. The violence and gore look good and are very satisfying, but you can see it all coming so that you're prepared for it when it does arrive. However, that's not to say that it's boring or lacks entertainment value, because that is decidedly not true. Writer Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dollhouse, and the upcoming The Avengers) has a good amount of experience combining genres like horror and action and comedy, and that's done with great effect here. Even if you aren't scared by what is only a surface-level horror, you will be thoroughly engulfed in the story and constantly reacting to something.
It's exceptionally difficult to explain what makes this movie so great without running the risk of spoiling something. However, this is not the kind of film that's only good the first time and loses something the second time around when you know what's going to happen. I know a few lucky people who've already gotten to see it a couple of times, and none of them are any less enthusiastic after their second viewing. I also don't know anyone who's already seen it once that isn't chomping at the bit to see it again. I'll definitely be seeing it again next weekend.