The premise of this movie seems to be saying a lot, but at its most basic it’s a fairly transparent parable about the act of creating stories. It cane be said that Sitterson (Jenkins) and Hadley (Whitford) are authors – or directors – and the kids in the cabin simply characters they’re manipulating to create the most entertaining story.
When it turns out towards the end that the powerful but comically workaday agency they work for, all pocket protectors and office betting pools, sustains and propels these horror stories in order to placate gods that live in the underworld, they could be Hollywood studio executives, the audience the all-powerful, unseen rulers who can destroy them at a stroke if their thirsts for entertainment aren’t satiated.
In a parallel universe the controllers-behind-the-story plot would have been a major spoiler, but the fact that it’s front and centre in the trailer and marketing reveals it as the bigger story, the cabin in the woods just fodder to make the more important plot happen.
We meet the pair at work, chatting in the lunchroom like middle managers in a million factories the world over. But rather than balancing accounts or fulfilling sales orders, their work is to terrorise a stereotypical group of horny teenagers holidaying in a remote cabin where any number of horrors await them, unaware they’re merely blood sacrifices.
In some sequences we see similar efforts going on all over the world as the agency monitors efforts to haunt and kill people everywhere according to local horror traditions (a bunch of schoolgirls in Japan, for example, are haunted by the archetypal J-horror ghost with long black hair).
The central operating procedure of the agency is that the kids will be butchered, dismembered and tortured by monsters of their choosing depending on what ancient curse or spell they unleash thanks to a series of objects in the basement of the house. And in the funniest motif in the film, the workers in each department watching them are running a betting pool on whether it’ll be the risen zombies of hillbillies, witches, werewolves, etc.
But when the horror (hillbilly zombies) is unleashed and the kids start falling victim, things don’t go according to the script when some of them notice something strange – stranger than hillbilly zombies, anyway. And before Sitterson and Hadley can lock things down, nice-girl heroine Dana (Connolly) and comic relief stoner sidekick Marty (Kranz) have escaped the Matrix-like confines of the cabin’s woodland location and are running amok in the agency’s headquarters, releasing monsters everywhere as they try to get to the bottom of what’s befallen them.
It’s hard to say if it’s a self-consciously deliberate attempt at metaphor or parody. It works just as much as one as it does as a piece of entertainment, and there are some great laughs too, especially the doomsaying redneck suddenly stopping his soliloquy of damnation short when he realises Hadley has him on speakerphone.
Blu-ray details/extras : An excellent transfer (video/audio is top-notch) is accompanied by welcome extras such as an informative yet funny commentary from Writer/Director Drew Goddard and Writer/Producer Joss Whedon; numerous featurettes; the Wonder Con Q&A; and a Picture-in-Picture bonus view mode that feature the cast talking about the movie as it plays.