The Cabin in the Woods ★★★

At first glance, it's all very been there, gouged that, torn the tight-fitting T-shirt: a dusty, tree-hugged habitation distinctly reminiscent of the home of Evil Dead’s supernatural atrocities. A quintet of youngbloods who swiftly nestle into hoary archetypes: jock, joker, sensitive guy, good girl, slut. A threatening redneck gas-station clerk, happy to impolitely usher these unwitting “lambs” to “the killing floor” up that dark, snaking dirt-track. Yes, it’s all very Fisher-Price My First American Horror Movie.

Of course, there’s much more to it than that.

If you’ve seen the trailer (which you probably shouldn’t have), you’ll already know this. Even if you haven’t, the names attached should provide a whopping great clue: Joss Whedon, he behind Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, produces and co-writes. Drew Goddard, Whedon’s Buffy/Angel compadre as well as scripter on Alias, Lost and Cloverfield, directs and co-writes. Together and separately, Whedon and Goddard revel in toying with audience expectation, messing with archetypes, and taking genres, chewing them up (while impressively managing to avoid biting that tongue in their cheeks) then spitting them back out again in some glisteningly new, irreverent, fan-pleasing form. And this is precisely what they do with The Cabin In The Woods, a movie which, thanks to the inconvenient bankruptcy of MGM, arrives via a different studio and roughly 18 months late. Fortunately, that has done little to harm its freshness. Like his peer and friend-in-law J. J. Abrams, Whedon’s been sure to keep this baby shrinkwrapped.