While thousands of people gathered at WonderCon to see clips of the biggest movies coming in 2012, about 150 people got to see what could be one of the most surprising horror films in years, not just because of its script or how long it took to finally reach theaters. The movie is The Cabin in the Woods, a collaboration of first-time producer and co-writer Joss Whedon and co-writer and rookie director Drew Goddard. They were at the showing at the UltraLuxe Cinema, and a question and answer session afterwards.
First, a look at The Cabin in the Woods: it’s safe to say that half of the plot is a typical horror movie in the tradition of Saw, Final Destination, and Hostel, where a group of friends who think they’re having a fun weekend wind up fighting for their lives, and mostly losing. The twist is why it’s really happening.
Since Joss doesn’t want anyone to reveal the plot, or they risk being mocked by him according to a YouTube clip, we’ll keep the details to a minimum. The movie works best when you don’t know too much. If you’ve only seen the trailers, you should be fine. How it starts will make you wonder if you’re in the right theater, especially since the credits feature a lot of blood and some nasty images that fit into the rest of the film.
It begins with Dana (Kristen Connolly) and Jules (Anna Hutchison) getting ready to go to the cabin owned by a cousin of BMOC Curt (Chris Hemsworth). They’re joined by Holden (Jesse Williams) and stoner guy Marty (Fran Kranz). They travel in their RV, and stop off at a gas station that seems deserted. They find the owner, a crazy old guy, to get directions. They get to the cabin, and settle in. There are a few strange things about it, but they soon get to the basement where they find some creepy items. One of them does something that will apparently seal their doom.
Again, we don’t want to reveal a lot, since the film won’t officially premiere until April 13th. Besides, that was just half the story. The other half involves Bradley Whitford, Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins, and Amy Acker, a familiar face to Whedon fans. They have their roles to play in all of this. Hemswoth is great in this movie, along with Whitford and Jenkins, but I enjoyed Kranz more. As a stoner guy, he was more profound than when he was a computer genius on Dollhouse.
After the movie, Geoff Boucher of the Los Angeles Times talked to Whedon and Goddard about how long it took to get this movie made and released. The first thing Boucher said about the movie was “So, that movie’s nuts.” Joss said it was a documentary.
It was supposed to open two years ago. I still have the mini-posters from San Diego Comic-Con 2009. The release was held up by MGM’s financial woes, but Goddard said it worked out in the end, since Hemsworth eventually wound up being Thor. That may help get people to check the movie out.
Both men said they had been thinking about this movie since they worked on Buffy, but got down to work about six years ago. They were surprised about how quickly they were able to write the script. Whedon said the toughest part was keeping the tone consistent, “making sure it didn’t get too jokey,” he said, “didn’t get too violent, like just having enough of everything.” He did admit that he and Goddard worked well together. “We are similar enough to enjoy one’s company, “ he said, “and just different enough to keep surprising each other.”
Goddard also said he had a great time making the film. “If you can’t have a good time and keep perspective,” he said, “then really you’re in the wrong business.”
They also talked about working with an actor who has a major role in the third act. This actor is famous, especially in sci-fi and horror, and Joss and Drew were surprised that the actor asked for a signed script afterwards. It was almost a honor to be asked.
Then the audience asked questions. One commented that the movie was almost like a Twilight Zone episode. Goddard liked the comparison. “It wasn’t a conscious thing,” he said, “but there’s nobody better than (Rod)Serling. We both studied at the hand of the master.” He also talked about being a director for the first time, and how he found the secret to success. “We surrounded ourselves with the best possible crew,” he said, “That’s what made it so much fun.”
Whedon was also the second unit director for the film, which included the early scenes with the college students. He talked about how they had to deal with a sudden snowstorm, and getting the lighting for the basement just right. They revealed someone from a test screening thought of a better title for the film: “You Never Know!” Actually, that could have worked.
Whedon explained he made the movie because he always wanted to be in charge of horror, or maybe a Secretary of BOO! He said after seeing remakes of 1970s horror and torture horror movies, and how they took all the things that he liked as a horror fan and made them less interesting, he wanted to make, as a fan put it, a loving hate letter to horror.
At one point MGM wanted to release the movie as 3-D after the success of Avatar. Goddard said he didn’t shoot the movie that way, but was willing to try making some of the scenes in 3-D. Fortunately, it’s a good 2-D horror movie with a 3-D script.
Fans were able to get a ticket to this screening by getting the right WonderCon issue of Hero Complex. Only a few hundred were hidden in thousands of issues. There were reports that some people may have accidentally thrown them away, because the theater wasn’t quite full for the showing. Too bad, because they missed a good horror movie that traveled down a familiar road with some very interesting detours.
When The Cabin in the Woods does open in your town, take a trip to see it, quickly. Do it more than once, so you can see all the details in the movie and especially the script. Again, though, for maximum enjoyment, just see the trailer first, then the movie. That’s when it really works.