(Poster by Mondo)
The Cabin in the Woods is 2012's answer to 1996's Scream. It manages to be a tongue-in-cheek take on slasher movie cliches and a straight up horror bloodbath at the same time. If you're not aware of the tropes and archetypes that make up the recipe for a modern horror flick, you might miss out on a couple of the jokes and references but you'll still get a tense, bloody and hilarious death-fest.
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have written what is about as formulaic as a slasher movie as you can get. A bunch of young, pretty people decide to go for a trip away to a cabin (in the woods no less!) where there's no cell phone reception, no internet and only one road in and out. It's like these people want to die horrible deaths in isolated wilderness. But Whedon and Goddard's writing knows how obvious this is, and has a lot of fun with just how stereotypical it is to start with through a repertoire of references, in jokes and parodies. One early scene in particular is a duelling banjo away from being straight out of Deliverance, one of the first in the isolated-in-the-woods-being-hunted-by-hillbillies genre.
It's easy to read CitW as a satirical criticism of modern horror films. The pacing in particular is exaggerated in such a way that the slow building tension of the first half ramps up exponentially and reaches a fever pitch later on where there is no time for build up, you just get horrific image after horrific image. CitW does it in such a memorable and bombastic fashion that it is clear that these guys weren't simply following the recipe, but taking the piss out of it. Some of the subversions are misses though, and it'll be a fifty-fifty split on whether the ending embraces the "traditional" horror film ending or if it avoids it.
Laughs and lacerations abound in Cabin in the Woods. Even if you think everyone who tries to point out all the obvious things about horror films (see "The Rules" scene in Scream) is just being pretentious and self important, you'll probably be able to garner enough enjoyment out of Cabin in the Woods as a normal slasher film that just takes a few unconventional turns.