Okay, this is a tough one. Telling you that Cabin in the Woods is a good movie isn't a particularly insightful statement, but explaining why it's a good movie might ruin your enjoyment of it. Should we mention that there's a twist? This will have you going into the movie looking for the twist, which isn't nearly as good as going in blind. Forget we said anything about a twist! And avoid the trailer if you can.
Treading as lightly as possible to avoid accidental spoilers, we will say that Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the upcoming Avengers) and Cloverfield writer Drew Goddard (who also directed) have crafted a horror movie that finally rescues the genre from the morass of torture porn and allows it to be fun again. Cabin is a blast.
It starts out with the most cliché of horror movie openings: A gaggle of college kids pile into a Winnie and head to a remote getaway in that specific area of nowhere where cell phones get no reception and the few locals you do run into are of the creepy, unwelcoming variety. Goddard almost succeeds in casting total unknowns as the kids, which works to the movie's benefit, but unfortunately, Cabin — which was completed in 2009 but sat on the shelves due to MGM's financial woes — failed to hit screens before the group's alpha male, Chris Hemsworth, appeared in a little blockbuster called Thor. Even more shocking than anything that happens to them, however, is the fact that they are all…likable. If you've seen even a handful of horror movies in your lifetime, you know that this crew usually involves some combination of an oversexed couple, a virgin, and the loner bonehead friend. In short, not always the easiest people to care about, but the charisma of the cast goes a long way to contribute to the overall funhouse ride the movie turns into. As resident stoner Marty, Fran Kranz is the standout. Whedon and Goddard clearly had a lot of fun writing for him, and he has by far some of the best lines in the film. When a basement trapdoor flies open and one of the characters remarks, "The wind must have blown it open," Marty responds, "Because that makes what kind of sense?" This is just one of many winking nods to the convention, as is Marty's hesitance to read aloud from a discovered diary: "I’m drawing a line in the fucking sand. Don't read the Latin."
A lot of horror flicks will fall back on the "jump scare" technique (quiet, quiet, LOUD!), which usually signals an inability to generate real terror, but Goddard makes effective use of the technique from the opening sequence on, because he's got more up his sleeve and he knows it. And we won't even mention how fantastic veteran actors Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitfield are, because we don't want to explain their characters and WE'VE SAID TOO MUCH ALREADY!
If you are a horror fan who knows all the gimmicks, you need to see it. If you are someone who is sick of the self-serious grimness of the genre's recent offerings, such as backwoods cannibal flicks like Wrong Turn or increasingly overdone "found footage" ruses like Paranormal Activity, and want to hoot and holler instead of cower, you need to see it. Just go see it.