Review in a Hurry: Venture into the Woods for laughs and scares, stay for the commentary on our sadistic, voyeuristic culture—it's like Scream spliced with The Hunger Games. A twisty puzzle, as promised by the Rubic's Cube cabin on the film's poster, this blood feast has gore galore to satiate your thirst.
The Bigger Picture: Hear that loud buzzing sound? No, it's not a chainsaw-wielding maniac sneaking up behind you—but you better check!—it's the rapturous, advance word-of-mouth surrounding this long-delayed slasher from cult filmmakers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard. Though not the Second Coming of Horror, as many giddy bloggers have enthused, this bloody valentine will titillate fanboys with its satirized archetypal characters, choose-your-adventure plot device and last-act cameo by a sci-fi star.
In the well-worn setup, five college friends—all hot and randy, natch—spend the weekend at an isolated country cabin. They soon exhibit typical horror-movie behavior as they take on familiar types: the alpha male (Chris Hemsworth), the brainy guy (Jesse Williams), the flirty girl (Anna Hutchison), the good girl/virgin (Kristen Connolly) and the jokester stoner (Fran Kranz), who spouts the filmmakers' thesis. As we remember from Lit class, the fool always speaks the bitter truth.
These creeped-out coeds are being monitored and sometimes controlled by a group of technicians, led by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins with some nifty technology at their disposal. Before you can say slice and dice, the meddling kids unwittingly summon a Zombie Redneck Torture Family, as well as a whole host of horrors.
To reveal more would spoil some of Cabin's pleasures, which include snappy dialogue, genre skewering and a wild blood-orgy climax. But for all its clever mayhem and plot machinations, this splatter flick lacks flesh-and-blood characters, so it's ultimately as cold and calculating as those white-coated technicians. Even between its self-aware winks and nods, Scream created people we could relate to and root for.
As with most movies, including horror, we'd rather emotionally invest in the players than just admire the handiwork of the puppet masters.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Hungry gorehounds hoping for a fresh kill in reel one are forced to wait a while for the first blood to be spilled.