The underlying concept of Cabin in the Woods is nothing special. It’s a horror movie that’s also a satire of/commentary on horror movies, but that’s not uncommon after Scream (and April Fools’ Day and Friday the 13th Part Six before then) – in fact, it’s got to the stage that mediocre horror movies can be identified by the leads making “cute” “meta” comments about horror film rules.
There are a host of differences, of course. Cabin in the Woods commits to its conceit aggressively, and is a touch more critical of horror films (and their audience in general) than usual. It’s also much more cleverly constructed than similar films.
But what really sets the film apart is the Joss Whedon touch, the screwball sense of fun, actors who clearly enjoy what they’re doing (generally delivering clever, lively banter). Every scene in the film is composed with the number one priority not to be clever, or scary, but to be fun and, usually, funny as well. The film is also commendable for spending the first half incessantly teasing a trip to the fireworks factory, then following through in imitable style, unleashing a whole shitload of fireworks in the breathtaking, no-holds-barred final act.