Five teenagers head off for a weekend at a secluded cabin in the woods. They arrive to find they are quite isolated with no means of communicating with the outside world. When the cellar door flings itself open, they of course go down to investigate. They find an odd assortment of relics and curios but when Dana (Kristen Connolly), reads from a book she awakens a family of deadly zombie killers. There's far more going on however than meets the eye as the five campers are all under observation.

Cult duo produce modern horror classic.

Finally coming to an inexplicably meagre number of Australian screens, Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods carries with it a sizzling sense of fan anticipation. It’s a lofty position for a seemingly straight-forward horror film to have attained, so the obvious question is, 'What’s all the fuss about?"

Goddard and Whedon are entirely in control of what at times seems like an entirely out-of-control nightmare

The term 'genre deconstruction’ has been bandied about by buffs and critics alike since the film premiered to a rapturous response at the South-by-Southwest Festival in early March. It is an interesting if hard-to-define term and one generally overused by marketers determined to woo the core demographic to opening weekend seats. But when a film truly reflects a deep understanding of its cinematic traditions, tinkers with the mythology and ultimately transcends its roots, any acclaim coming its way is rightfully earned. (For the record, the last really great one was Wes Craven’s Scream – 16 years ago.)

Goddard has co-written the script with man-of-the-moment Joss Whedon (The Avengers) and applies an energetic directorial hand to the film’s instantly familiar first act. Following a terrific pre-credit sequence that introduces white-collar company men Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), we meet coy, virginal hottie Dana (Kristen Connelly), who’s first glimpsed standing by an open window in white panties reading text books on Cold War politics; for horror hounds, this signifies we are 'in the (genre) zone’. Dana has been coaxed by her vampish BFF Jules (Anna Hutchison) to spend the weekend at the titular abode with buff charmer Curt (Chris Hemsworth), goofy stoner Marty (Fran Kranz) and hot egghead Holden (Jesse Williams).

So far, The Cabin in the Woods amounts to little more than an exceedingly well-made but entirely recognisable positioning of slasher film tropes. (The appearance of Tim De Zarn’s creepy last-chance-gas-station hillbilly owner is hilariously sign-posted.) But Sitterson and Hadly, sitting in a control room panelled with dozens of large screens, keep popping up in cutaway scenes ripe with smug, middle-management chatter; an eagle is zapped by an energised grid-wall. But at the cabin, our five archetypes are duelling to the death with undead denizens of the forest; their terror is real, but the film keeps subjugating their plight to visit upon the puppet-masters who seem to be controlling their fate.

And it is here where I have to apply my very strict 'no spoiler’ policy, in line with the international critics who have kept the surprises of the last hour out of their coverage to date. Suffice it to say that The Cabin in the Woods goes about its deconstruction with tremendous wit, spectacularly gory effects and a wonderful evocation of centuries-old mythology. The denouement could have skidded wildly off-course, but Goddard and Whedon are entirely in control of what at times seems like an entirely out-of-control nightmare.

The Cabin in the Woods is smart, savage fun written by fans for fans. It is a terrible shame that a wider Australian audience will not get the chance to experience it on the big-screen, as it is the sort of original work, ably marketed, to which local viewers would have responded.

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1 hour 35 min
In Cinemas 14 June 2012,