This is great fun, though I’m not sure it’s quite as brilliant as some of the reviews suggest – for fans of co-writer Joss Whedon, much of the ground has already been covered – in Buffy, Angel and even Dollhouse (though not really Firefly) even if the horror has been ramped up a little for a Cinematic “15” rating, compared to a pre-watershed TV release.
We start off in some kind of technological facility with three technocrats (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford and Amy Acker) discussing the pressure on them to perform, since international rivals can’t be relied on, and whether they’re taking their work sufficiently seriously. We are not told what their work entails, and who they work for remains mysterious.
Cut to a suburban house. Four students and their stoner friend are heading off for a weekend in the country – Dana (Kristen Connolly), just recovering from a break-up with her professor, Jules (Anna Hutchison) her friend, newly blonde and looking for fun, Curt (Chris Hemsworth) Jules’ athletic boyfriend, Holden (Jesse Williams), a serious and studious man who Jules is trying to fix up with Dana, and Marty (Fran Kranz) the clever, funny but wasted stoner. As they leave, mysterious observers report on their progress…
It’s been noted that the less you know about this in advance, the better since the movie relies heavily on its twist; this is probably true, and I won’t give the game away. Most people know already that, like Scream, this plays with genre clichés and, typically for Whedon, there is plenty of wit and cleverness in play. I have heard complaints that it’s not scary enough and that might be true – there were enough ‘yuk’ moments to make me squirm and there was certainly a sense of menace but I didn’t really get involved in the film until the reveal, when the characterisations came more to the fore.