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A new take on terror

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The Cabin in the Woods' an atypical horror story

Making a horror movie is a tricky thing. Finding ways to scare people is difficult in and of itself. Considering that there's almost a century of celluloid fear-mongering behind us, coming up with a new way to scare someone at the movies seems almost impossible - right up until some director or another finds one.

This time, it's Joss Whedon. His latest project is 'The Cabin in the Woods.' While the film was directed by first-timer Drew Goddard, Whedon wrote the script and produced the film, in addition to serving as second unit director. His fingerprints are all over this movie in the best way.

Dana (Kristen Connelly, 'Certainty') is a college student getting ready to get out of town for a weekend with some of her friends. There's the smart and athletic Curt (Chris Hemsworth, 'Thor') and his sweet girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchison, TV's 'Wild Boys'). Curt and Jules have invited Curt's new buddy Holden (Jesse Williams, TV's 'Grey's Anatomy') in order to maybe set her up with Dana. Rounding out the crew is the chatty, likable stoner Marty (Fran Kranz, TV's 'Dollhouse'). The quintet piles into an RV and heads off to Curt's cousin's new cabin.

Parallel to that action, we are taken on a trip through a mysterious, yet oddly banal workplace by Hadley (Bradley Whitford, TV's 'The Good Guys') and Sitterson (Richard Jenkins, 'The Rum Diary'). Despite the matter-of-factness of it all, it rapidly becomes clear that this is no typical workplace. However, what it is they actually do isn't immediately apparent. There are cryptic hints, but it's not until the stories come together that we see what's really going on.

And that's as much as I can say. Spoilers would damage this film more than most; it's a really good movie, but detailing the good stuff would definitely result in spoilers. I won't be that guy.

What I can say is that Whedon has flipped the script in a remarkable way. 'The Cabin in the Woods' is the sort of deconstruction of the horror genre that only Whedon could pull off. Wes Craven showed us how powerful a tool genre self-awareness could be with 'Scream'; that's the analogue that comes to mind here, although they are very different movies. It's that willingness to both exploit and ignore standard horror clichs and conventions that makes 'The Cabin in the Woods' a spiritual cousin to Craven's film.

The young ensemble is solid across the board. Chris Hemsworth is particularly good; he's clearly doing his damnedest to make sure that we don't only think of him as Thor. Kranz steals a number of scenes with stoned rants and crackpot theories he also mines some of the biggest laughs. Whitford and Jenkins are typically excellent, even providing some oddly appropriate workplace humor in the middle of it all.

Apologies for some of the vagueness here. Honestly, 'The Cabin in the Woods' is a good movie. It's well-written and well-acted and it's a story you haven't seen before. But the less you know going in, the more you'll enjoy the film.

A good scare can be fun. But getting scared in a new way can be even better.

5 out of 5

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