A quintet of partying coeds finds nothing but menace at the titular location, in this high-spirited take on horror cinema clichés.
The story follows five very typical horror movie characters — the jock who wants to party at his cousin’s cabin; his hot-to-trot girlfriend; the studious and somewhat virginal girl; the smart guy who is there to be set up with the previous girl; and the stoner, who also doubles as comic foil. They make one stop for gas and, of course, meet a creepy backwoods guy who tells of local legends and appears to have only marginal knowledge of hygiene.
Meanwhile, a laboratory full of scientists, engineers and assorted nerds are busy discussing this group and watching them on hidden cameras. We soon learn they are manipulating their subjects by chemically reducing their thinking patterns. The end result is they start acting like those dumb youngsters in horror movies. They split up when they should regroup and go lock themselves in their rooms when they should be boarding up the bungalow.
Things go totally wonky when they are lured to the basement and discover a diary that tells of abuse, torture and murder by a backwoods family as part of some ritual. The story is backed up by the assorted trinkets found in the basement, which tell a tale of travelers being taken in, sheltered and subsequently slaughtered.
It doesn’t take long for things to get very bad, as they are set upon by zombified killers who resemble the family spoken of in the diaries they discovered. They are in for the fight of their lives while the workers we have occasionally glimpsed appear to be very happy with the situation. Turns out they have done everything in their power to put these teens at risk.
Finding out why is half the fun. It turns out that these people behind the scenes may be doing humanity a favor, but it will be a hard sell to the kids in peril. These two groups are not supposed to meet, but that is exactly what happens as everything becomes clear. We learn why this is all happening, but that doesn’t stop the whole project from going down in flames, as the creatures of our favorite horror stories are unleashed in a frenzied finale that catapults this one to “Army of Darkness”-sized coolness.
To tell more would be criminal, so it is best that we just proceed with a rundown of the great talents at work here. Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”) proves he is our best storyteller when it comes to making self-aware genre material. This rivals his work on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” when it comes to hip self-awareness.
He cowrote the film with its director, Drew Goddard. This is a guy to watch. Goddard is a keen writer who cut his teeth on “Lost” and has just written the screenplay for Stephen Spielberg’s “Robopocalypse.”
The cast seems to be having a good time here as well. Fran Kranz all but steals the film as the stoner guy who is actually the first to figure out that reality is being manipulated. Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing”) and Richard Jenkins (“Six Feet Under”) are very funny as the middle-aged techno-geeks entrusted to pull off the entire scenario. There is also a cool-as-heck cameo by Sigourney Weaver as the real power behind the whole enterprise.
Throw all of that in a blender with an army of monsters and wall-to-wall carnage, and this becomes the best ending of a horror film since Frankenstein’s monster grabbed a lever and said “We belong dead,” before wiping out the entire cast of “Bride of Frankenstein.”
2012, rated R.
“I am sorry I let you get attacked by a werewolf and then ended the world.”
“I had to dismember that guy with a trowel. What have you been up to?”
“Good work, zombie arm.”