Let me preface this review with some context: This film was originally completed in 2009 and sat in Unreleased Movie Hell for 3 years. When MGM filed for bankruptcy in late 2010, the rights to the film were handed over to Lionsgate. Unfortunately, many of the film’s champions were lost in the transfer. Over the years, attempts were made to turn it into a midnight movie, a 3D movie, an independent film tour, and a direct-to-video release–none of which came to fruition.
Finally, producer Joss Whedon had the good fortune to become the director of The Avengers, and lead actor Chris Hemsworth became a superstar as Thor, so someone at Lionsgate finally sat down and watched the damn thing. This led to the movie getting an official release date of April 13, 2012. People like me who’ve had to suffer–listening to the few who’ve seen the film talk about how amazing/funny/revolutionary/evolutionary it is–would finally be able to check it out. After hearing that this film would do things for the genre that Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream did, I knew I needed to see it. Add in that it was Friday the 13th, and you’ve got a perfect evening for this movie-going experience.
There is something that makes me extremely nervous, though, and that is this: The film seems to have piqued the curiosity of many, but not enough to pack theatres. People know it’s more than a classic teen horror movie, but (and trust me on this one) when the film opens, the uninitiated may wonder if they walked into the right theatre. It takes 3-5 minutes to get a grasp on where you are, and even then, you’re more lost than our protagonists will end up being. To give a lot of detail about the film is to start the gears of the mind working in a way that will ruin the experience of going to see it. That said, if it is possible to be a loving homage to horror films of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, while also being so harshly critical of them that there’s no chance you’ll ever just sit down at a teen slasher flick again without having flashbacks to this film, then this flick manages to pull it off.
Sadly, this movie won’t be allowed to turn Chris Hemsworth into a huge star as it was destined to do when it was completed years ago. Kristen Connolly is the classic wide-eyed ingenue and Fran Kranz could have a fight with Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins for the scene stealing award. Yes, there are Whedon-verse cameoes, including one that they’ve managed to keep from the world for several years (so I won’t be the guy to ruin that for you).
This film is innovative, funny, scary, smart, twisted, and everything you’ve come to expect from someone in Joss Whedon’s inner circle. Drew Goddard should be extremely proud of this effort and allow no one to come in and sully this horror movie game-changer with worthless sequels and direct-to-Netflix spinoffs. There is a reason the people who’ve seen this film over the years haven’t been able to stop talking about how great it is. Its true premise is smart, it has a level of carnality you can only dream of, and it is the horror movie we need for this generation. For three years, this film had to wait to be seen by audiences… and that’s already too long. This is a love letter to classic horror movies, a feature length inside joke quiz and a challenge to the genre to step up its game. Get out there and see it now.