The marketing is very simple and is representative of the films major hook: It presents you with an idea you have seen used repeatedly in the horror genre, one you know inside and out, and then proceeds to toy with your expectations in unique ways. What The Cabin in the Woods does is present us with old ideas, ones audiences have come to expect with an almost tiring predictability, and recontextualises them.
We see characters behaving in the expected ways, we see story points so obvious that we can practically plot out the entire film from the moment we spot them, and then we see the flipside of those ideas. The film presents the genre to us in the way a film-maker would, we see design where there was once convenience, necessary decisions made to ensure the audience enjoys themselves. The genre is explained to us in a context that makes sense and the baffling decisions made within now appear rational. It's a remarkable feat by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, they give the genre new meaning.
The film also works as a fantastic thesis on the necessity of horror stories in our culture, for as long as one cares to remember: Why we need them and what we demand from them. The genre is celebrated and, unlike the Scream movies, The Cabin in the Woods never once feels ashamed of the tropes and clichés, instead it loves them and it wants you to love them again. It reminds us why horror is important, showing us that it functions as some of the purest entertainment and as an essential part of our cultural mindset.
So often a film has to decide whether it wants to have a message or if it wants to entertain, The Cabin in the Woods does both with flair. The script is among the tightest and most assuredly paced that I have seen in some time, where scenes build on each other, creating a natural escalation in both ideas and set pieces.
The dialogue crackles and the cast are more than capable of delivering it in a naturalistic way. Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkns are truly fantastic in their roles (the nature of which I will get into post-release, but they are tellingly the first characters you will see), with a palpable chemistry and the effortless line delivery that comes from being among the best in your field. That experience pays off because they have the hardest job in the entire film, selling the reality of their situation takes a lot of effort, which they make look effortless. The cast of murder-fodder are all equally strong with Fran Kranz being the stand out, given the best zingers outside of Whitford and Jenkins.
While Wes Craven's iconic slasher was also very entertaining, it basically ruined the genre for the better part of a decade, making it impossible to watch more traditionally structured horror movies that followed without feeling like you were watching a relic. The Cabin in the Woods refuses to do that, it has too much affection for the weird and wonderful possibilities of genre film-making, and instead breathes new life into it. Any film that follows on from this, no matter how standard, the moments that may have once caused eyes to roll will now be appreciated in new ways, you will see purpose in contrivance.
A film that works as a commentary, deconstruction and revitalisation of the genre, while also being one of the most entertaining movies of the last few years; The Cabin in the Woods is a work of demented genius and sure to become a lot of people's new favourite movie. It's certainly made a strong case to me.