The Cabin in the Woods is not a scary movie; it's a thousand scary movies (at least), all rolled into one kick-ass extravaganza that resurrects the horror genre just long enough to send it whimpering back to its grave. Producer Joss Whedon, foreman of his own cult classic factory, and director Drew Goddard, who along with Whedon also co-wrote the film, have accomplished a rare feat — a satisfying and subversive film that also feels "of the moment," even if it did take three years to release.

Veteran actors Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford play Sitterson and Hadley, two geeky government tools tasked with overseeing a closely monitored ritual in which five college students are sensationally slain, for reasons that are mysterious at first (no spoilers here). Unaware that they are under surveillance (and influence, by way of behavior-altering pheromones released into the air), these five friends — played by Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Kristen Connolly, Jesse Williams and Fran Kanz — camp out at a spooky cabin in the woods, where survival is a luxury that, at most, only one of them can afford. It's like The Hunger Games meets Friday the 13th.

Of the five young actors, only Kanz is given lines that exceed the glib, faux-teenaged cliches passed around by horror films like a smoking bong. As a result, Kanz's perpetually stoned Marty becomes at once the cool voice of reason and the froggy voice of paranoid insanity — which, when you think about it, are essentially the same thing in a movie where decapitation, mutilation and annihilation actually lurk behind every closed door, every shadowy threshold to escape. Kanz, in a true underdog role, rises to the occasion with spot-on comedic timing and a subtly delivered poignance you won't see coming.

There is plenty you won't see coming, in fact — unless spoilers or chatty, early viewers have ruined it for you. I wish I could say that The Cabin in the Woods will thrill you regardless of what you already know, but that level of praise would be undeserved. The film's thrills depend on expectations accrued after decades of horror movie-watching, and just as newcomers to the genre may fail to see what all the fuss is about, those attending repeated viewings will similarly watch their passionate love for Cabin dwindle to deliberate admiration.

That's the rub with surprise endings: they achieve full effect only once. Totally fastened to a genre as self-referential and dependent on surprise as horror, The Cabin in the Woods gives us what we want, albeit with a postmodern aftertaste suggesting that we're a bunch of sick fucks for wanting it in the first place.

Oh well.

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