Seeing The Cabin in the Woods can be an intimidating experience if you’re not a fan of Joss Whedon‘s work. The movie’s horror pedigree — it’s both an homage to and criticism of the genre — as well as its many years in development hell may have swelled it to greater proportions. I wouldn’t be surprised if potential audiences were turned off thinking that they would have to subscribe to the cult of Whedon in order to understand a movie that, despite the mostly spoiler-free reviews, is nonetheless being praised as a meta film that makes you love movies again.
You know that I’m a diehard Whedon fan and have been since I first started watching Buffy and Firefly back in 2002. But as someone who interacts with non-fans, I can understand your trepidation: What if there are jokes or allusions that will sound like gibberish to the uninitiated? Do you have to be “a certain type of person” to get the meta critique going on here? The answer to both of those is: Prior experience with this genre doesn’t hurt, but it’s not a requirement, either.
So let me take you through the reasons why, even if you’ve never heard of Captain Tightpants or don’t know what “five by five” means, you’ll still love The Cabin in the Woods.
Universal characters. My friend Danny Bowes at Tor.com puts it best: “Considering that character archetypes and even stereotypes are part of that critique, the movie’s characters also have to be archetypal and yet not stereotypical, a tremendously difficult balancing act that Whedon and Goddard pull off.” Cabin is in some ways an update to Scream, the equally self-referential horror tale that had its own opinions on how the victims of scary movies have to act. So you’ll recognize the familiar tropes in the fivesome who inhabit this abandoned cabin in the forest… and then you’ll realize, at the same time everyone else does, how they’re nothing like what you’ve seen before.
You don’t need to know any Whedonverse canon. Sure, some of the sets are visually indicative of Dollhouse and season 4 of Buffy, but that’s an Easter egg, not a requirement for enjoying the movie. Similarly, there are baddies aplenty to genuinely scare you, but while it’s clear that they sprang from Whedon and Goddard’s minds, it’s not as if you’re watching a “Buffy‘s Greatest Hits” monster mash-up.
The no-spoiler rule. A really helpful factor is the smackdown on spoilers in reviews. At our critics’ screening, the press rep specifically asked that we refrain from mentioning any plot twists or unexpected cameos—and there are plenty of both. I know that you might be tempted to snatch up every spoiler you can find, and unfortunately a couple of negative reviews seem to have spitefully included them. But I urge you to go in the opposite direction. This is truly the kind of movie where you’ll have the best experience if you have absolutely no idea of what’s going to happen next.
So that means, you don’t have to second-guess if you’ve “prepared” yourself enough for this movie. All it requires is an open mind. Don’t look so nervous—within the first ten minutes, you’ll be in on the joke with everyone else. Then you can relax and fully enjoy the movie.