Drew Goddard's directorial debut, co-written and produced by Joss Whedon, will have a limited release in June thanks to Australian fans who protested the distributor's plans to release it straight to DVD.
The passion of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon supporters should never be underestimated. The men who created and produced the cult television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel and the sci-fi film hit Cloverfield have long inspired a passionate following. To gain some perspective, Whedon's latest global phenomenon is The Avengers. In The Cabin in the Woods, they turn their attention to the horror genre to engage and subvert the standard conventions of the genre.
Five friends travel from the city to a cabin in the woods for a weekend, with each character representing a particular horror movie stereotype. There's the jock (Chris Hemsworth), the druggie friend (Fran Kranz), the siren (Anna Hutchison), the intellectual (Jesse Williams) and the innocent (Kristen Connolly). Added to the cast are control room bosses Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins who use technology to force the five to embody their roles. To avoid spoilers, details of the plot will stop here. All I will say is that the actors move between horror, drama and comedy within a template of meta-narrative twists and surprise.
“On one level Cabin functions as your classic horror film but it's our version of that type of movie,” says Goddard, “which means things get a lot more insane than you might expect.”
As a rule, Goddard insists avoiding strict classifications for his projects. “Buffy appealed to me at the time because there was nothing else like it,” he says. “I don't know how to classify Buffy and I don't know how to classify Cabin, to be honest. You learn not to worry, to just tell the story and not to be afraid to be different and to try something new. I learned from Joss and also J.J. Abrams that you don't have to do the same old things, that the audience will come with you. It sounds obvious but it's not always the case in Hollywood.”
While The Cabin in the Woods is Goddard's first time at the helm as director, the past decade of writing, first on Buffy and Angel and then on Lost (with creator Abrams), has been solid training for the shift.
“I was lucky enough to work on great TV shows as writer/producer, talking to actors, managing the sets. Directing was a comfortable transition,” he says. “Both Joss and J.J. are empowering for writers. When I first worked with Joss more than 10 years ago on Buffy, he asked me where I would put the camera. I didn't think I needed to know that but he did. From the very start that influenced my writing. I'm continually thinking 'Where would the camera go?'”
Goddard and Whedon spent eight months developing the film. “Joss pitched me the idea. As soon as I heard the words “cabin, movie” I was hooked. Once we had the outline, we locked ourselves in a hotel room and didn't leave until we had a first draft.” The process took only a couple of days. “We were able to be quick because we had figured out the structure,” Goddard explains. “We just had the dialogue to write and dialogue is fun. We divided both sides of it, the upstairs and the downstairs. We each took different acts to make sure we were working on it equal amounts.”
The Australian distributor's plans were not the first setback for the film, which was originally green-lit by MGM Studios and completed in 2009. Eventually Lionsgate stepped in. “The truth is that it might have been the best thing that could have happened,” Goddard admits. “My biggest concern with the delay was that someone would change the movie but there's no question that Lionsgate is the right home for Cabin. And the cast became famous. We have the God of Thunder [Chris Hemsworth] in our movie now! I've learned from this experience that I'm only casting Australians from now on. There was a real rivalry on set between Australia and New Zealand, Chris Hemsworth and Anna Hutchison. Chris represented you well.”