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March 26, 2012

‘Cabin in the Woods’: After long hike, a sly (and bloody) riddle

Posted in: Movies

cabin in the woods1 Cabin in the Woods: After long hike, a sly (and bloody) riddle

"The Cabin in the Woods" (Lionsgate)

What’s awaiting horror fans who visit “The Cabin in the Woods”? The answer will be revealed on April 13 when Drew Goddard’s sly and subversive genre riddle finally reaches movie theaters. At WonderCon, Lionsgate hosted a special sneak preview of the film and, afterward, director-writer Goddard was joined on-stage by his partner on the project, writer-producer Joss Whedon. I interviewed the two of them and, between a lot of laughter, there was a feeling in the room that pair would deliver one of the most intriguing popcorn diversions of 2012.

You’ll find some highlight moments from the Q&A below, but first a bit of background about the film’s protracted path to the projection room. Some horror movies keep the audience on the edge of their seat — this one had that effect on the cast and crew, which filmed it back in 2009 with an early 2010 target release. The fiscal calamity at MGM snuffed that plan, though, and it was left to Lionsgate to reel in the property from cinema limbo.

joss whedon and drew goddard cabin in the woods Cabin in the Woods: After long hike, a sly (and bloody) riddle

Joss Whedon, left, and Drew Goddard at an Anaheim screening of "The Cabin in the Woods" (Gary Deocampo/For Hero Complex)

The film is the directorial debut of former “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” writer Goddard (he also wrote “Cloverfield”) and it stars pre-Asgardian Chris Hemsworth, as well as Jesse Williams, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz and Kristen Connolly. It also features a number of Whedonverse veterans in the cast, including Kranz (“Dollhouse”), Amy Acker (“Dollhouse” and “Angel”) and Tom Lenk (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”).

The movie is a wild, wild ride with big laughs, nasty shocks and some (literally) cosmic-scale plot twists. To protect the film’s truly unexpected revelations, this is a spoiler-free, much-abridged version of the stage conversation.

Whedon on the origins of the project: “During the ‘Buffy’ years was when we started talking about it; when I first said, ‘I have an idea.’  And [Drew] said, ‘That’s awesome, let’s do that.’ But it was a couple years after ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’ had ended that we finally sat down and said, ‘OK, we really gotta hammer this out.  It’s important.’ Structurally it was completely complete.  Which is why we sat down to write it, because that doesn’t happen a lot.  It’s happened to me twice in my life.  Where you have an idea that has a third act. [The other time was] ‘Afterlife,’ which I sold for great scads of money and then was never made.  Which was my career [pattern] before I ran ‘Buffy.’  And yeah, that was the first, this was the second time.  No. 3 any minute now.  Hold it…OK we’ll wait.”

Whedon on the film’s tone and his rapport with Goddard: “We knew what the tone was, but making sure that that sustained throughout the filmmaking and the film was probably the hardest part.  Making sure we didn’t get too jokey, didn’t get too violent, like having just enough of everything.  But you know, as far as what was difficult about it, less than anything I’ve ever worked on.  It just sort of poured out of us.  It’s just, this is how we think. … The thing about me and Drew is we are similar enough to enjoy each other’s company, and just different enough to keep surprising each other.  Once we got to the writing process we did actually fulfill the writer’s dream. We locked ourselves in a hotel bungalow.  We broke the story in the morning and spent all day writing the different acts.  We wrote the entire movie in three days.  We had done a bunch of prep before that, and we did polishings after that — but the bulk of what you see on the screen was just the two of us going over it [those three days].  We never flagged; we didn’t lack focus.  If you’ve been in a room with a bunch of comedy writers, generally speaking about 15 minutes into the process of trying to figure out the story it’s just dirty jokes and talk about snacks. And that goes on for about seven hours.  Whereas the two of us, we were so invested, we were so focused, and we knew exactly what we were trying to accomplish.  So, you know, we’d just divvy up the scenes.  There was never even an argument about, Oh, can’t I have that scene?  Like we knew exactly which ones we wanted to take, and where we wanted to overlap.  It was one of the most organic processes I’ve ever had as a writer.”

cabin in the woods q and a Cabin in the Woods: After long hike, a sly (and bloody) riddle

Geoff Boucher, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard at an Anaheim screening of "The Cabin in the Woods." (Gary Deocampo/For Hero Complex)

Goddard on the title, which underplays the scope of the movie: “Was there pressure to change it? No, but in one of the test screenings it was one of our favorite notes.  It said, ‘cause one of the questions they ask in test screenings is what do you think of the title.  And somebody wrote, well clearly it should not be called ‘The Cabin in the Woods,’ clearly it should be called, ‘You Never Know!’ with an exclamation point at the end of it. I was like, ‘Is that clear?  I’m not sure that it is.’ Luckily, the studio did not bow to that pressure of that one.”

Goddard on  the delayed release: “You try and keep perspective.  There’s a lot of worse things that can happen to you than your movie comes out slightly later than you wanted it to.  But you know, it’s frustrating.  But when you see stuff like ‘The Hobbit,’ or what happened, in case you didn’t know, MGM went bankrupt, our studio that made this movie.  And so we got delayed.  But when ‘The Hobbit’ gets delayed, and James Bond gets delayed, you’re like, ‘Eh, there’s nothing we can do about it.’  So you just, you just wait, and we knew it would come out eventually.  We joke, but you realize — this is the best possible thing that could have happened to us. We’re at a studio that loves us.  Our actors have gone on to become gods of thunder. So you know, be careful what you worry about because it’s actually turned out the best for us.”

— Geoff Boucher


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