Chris Hemsworth subverts expectations in a letterman jacket.


“The Cabin in the Woods” is a riotous horror comedy where the best kill shots are metaphorical and directed at filmmakers and fans who have allowed scary movies to get so stale over the years. The lack of insight and innovation is really all our fault, the movie says, so no one’s getting out of this alive.

“Cabin” lampoons slasher-movie tropes with the enthusiasm of “Scream” and wrings dark comedy from violence with the skill of “The Evil Dead.” But what sets “Cabin” apart from the rest of the horde is its call for change.

The movie seeks to show viewers their own culpability in the recycling of these stories. We as horror movie fans have come to expect — or even demand — stock characters who act a certain way and die in a certain order. We invite assembly-line scares and by-the-numbers resolutions that signal nothing besides the potential for a sequel. And so these movies continue, with filmmakers eager to profit by providing exactly what we expect and nothing more.

“Cabin” smartly suggests that the only surprises left to be derived from the premise of sexy twenty-somethings being brutally killed in a remote locale will come from examining how and why storytellers keep revisiting this scenario. Finally, the movie presents a challenge to audiences and filmmakers: expect more from your horror.

All of this barely resembles the ad campaign Lionsgate is running for “Cabin,” which focuses on the story of attractive people going to a spooky cabin and discovering that something in the woods wants them very, very dead. Co-writer and producer Joss Whedon — helmer of cult-favorite televisions shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly” — probably favors this approach, knowing that the less said about the plot behind the plot, the better. Whedon teams up with co-writer and director Drew Goddard, who wrote some of the best episodes of “Alias” and “LOST,” in addition to the monster mockumentary “Cloverfield.” The two have created a movie that Whedon has described as a “loving hate letter” to its own kind. This is a risky approach, given that many people buying tickets for the film want exactly what Whedon and Goddard are railing against. “Cabin” is one of the few movies that goes out of its way not to give the audience what it wants. This may anger some viewers and cause others to scratch their heads, but those who would rather not be challenged are free to seek out the many other horror movies that are just like the one they imagined “Cabin” to be.

For viewers open to something different, “Cabin” will prove an exhilarating experience. It’s funnier than many standard comedies, wildly inventive, appropriately gruesome and chilling in its implications. It’s not exactly what you’re paying for, but when these characters confront the horror hiding in the shadows, they at long last find a genuine surprise.

Grade: A

Culture ‘Cabin in the Woods' Gives You More for Your Horror