Back in 1996, Scream hit theaters and completely rebooted the horror movie genre. It played with tired stereotypes and turned everything you expected on its head, all while keeping its cinematic tongue planted firmly in its cheek.

Now longtime buddies Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (Lost, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) are joining forces to do it all again with The Cabin in the Woods, and the result is a game-changing, mind-blowing, helluva ride.

For the first five minutes, you might think you’re in the wrong theater, as Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) and Richard Jenkins (Let Me In) are inexplicably standing around a watercooler in a lab talking about fertility tests and how to baby-proof a house. Then the action jarringly slams to a gaggle of pretty, young people who are packing for a weekend trip to the titular locale. Okay, here we go.

Within moments, you know you’re in horror movie-ville. Cutie-pie Dana (Kristen Connolly) is walking around in her underwear. Super-jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth) shows up tossing a football with his buddy Holden (Jesse Williams). There’s another girl (a blonde, natch) who’s prancing around in a sundress, and then comes stoner, fun-guy Marty (Fran Kranz).

They hop in an RV, and the clichés continue. The GPS doesn’t work. The only gas station is manned by a backwoods, redneck Deliverance cast-off. When the gang gets to the cabin, they play Truth or Dare. When they find a dark cellar, they of course go exploring…

Turns out, we’re all just being played. Whedon and Goddard have written an intelligent, fun (and, yes, plenty gory) horror film that never stops entertaining and, better yet, keeps you guessing until the very end.

Even when we slowly come to learn how the watercooler guys fit into all this, it turns out we don’t even know the half of it. (The less said, the better, so we’ll leave it at that.)

Suffice to say that the last twenty minutes may, in fact, be among the bloodiest ever recorded on film. It’s also among the most creative, as all hell (literally) breaks loose and carnage rains down like cats and dogs (and all kinds of other creatures).

Goddard, who also directed, has all kinds of fun jumping between the cabin and the lab with a series of perfectly-timed, well-crafted segues. He also manages to get above-average performances from the relatively unknown cast, particularly Kranz as Marty, who, the more stoned he gets, seems to be the only one catching on. (Sidenote: Cabin was filmed back in 2009, even before Hemsworth was cast as Thor; the delayed release is due to the combination of MGM’s woes and Whedon battling successfully with the studio to prevent the film from being converted to 3D.)

And then to top it all off, the string of recent inspired cameos continues (after Mirror Mirror and American Reunion), as ‘The Director’ makes a third act appearance.

In a recent interview, Whedon described The Cabin in the Woods as a “classical horror movie… until it explodes in your face.”

That loud bang you just heard was horror genre getting a brilliant kick in the pants.

4.5/5 stars