Quite a surprising mashup parody of science fiction and American horror movies, The Cabin In The Woods grows on you as it turns out to unleash some high concept mayhem in a much more trippy and meta way than the Scream movies.

It is hard to explain the premise without giving it away, which would be a sin, for if there is something truly fresh about this movie is that you definitely don’t see any of it coming. A group of five good looking, inconsequential young adults retire to a remote cabin in the woods for some r&r. The place is spooky, but that’s not the half of it. They are unaware that they are part of a greater narrative that belongs to another genre and becomes more and more bizarre. It is quite entertaining. One of the characters is the classic stoner who ends up being more clear and aware than anyone else. His inclusion made me think that writer-producer Joss Whedon and writer-director Drew Goddard probably burned several fat ones while they were coming up with ideas. The plot twists pile up, systematically and right on time, and the movie is surprising, even nasty fun. It is diverting, but alas, not delightful; clever, but not entirely meaningful. It’s too busy trying to nail all the frantic paces it has to go through to let itself breathe. As is typical, they spend more time in plot mechanics than in making the most of their fantastic concept. This is a pity, because the concept is an illustration of the fact that all horror movies are some sort of a cathartic collective nightmare, some kind of massive purification ritual (while this sounds really pedantic, the movie manages to make it fun and cheesy).

I wish they had been a little less pitch perfect about the idiot stock characters of the American horror film and given us more funny, endearing characters to root for. The actors (who are complete unknowns to me), are competent, but their characters don’t matter. This is done on purpose, but it feels very emotionally disconnected. I had far more fun watching the always excellent Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford effortlessly chew the scenery in roles I cannot disclose.

The same with some of the movie’s better gags. There is a stunning sequence when all hell breaks loose that would be even more magnificent if the filmmakers allowed themselves to linger for a few seconds more on the fantastic chaos they unleash.

The movie has a liberating feeling of we’re going to get away with this, just you wait. It thrives in its own contrariness. Stuff that never happens in American movies happens here, so you sit there thinking, this cannot be happening right now, it is not possible that they are going for this. Which just makes me rue how conditioned we are by the trite narratives of heroes and happy endings. This film, which is unabashed about exposing the inherent cruelty, the two-way sadism of horror movies, is out to have some fun at the expense of the genre, and while it is not scary at all, it is quite fun.