Apr. 11, 2012 - Issue #860: Beowulf
The Cabin in the Woods
The less you know going into The Cabin in the Woods, the better
Directed by Drew Goddard
The title and poster art for The Cabin in the Woods do a remarkable job of representing quite precisely what lies at the heart of the movie while telling you virtually nothing about it. That's the idea—more than is usually the case, this movie works best if approached knowing next to nothing, partially because it's withholding a whopper of a reveal, partially because once that whopper's on the table the whole thing proves to be much more clever than genuinely iconoclastic. It's a movie about what feeds horror movies, yet it ultimately doesn't have much to say about what makes horror movies truly scary or resonant. Still, its best moments really are a lot of fun, and its final act is nothing if not unbridled. Let me just tell you how it starts.
There are two narrative trajectories; the intrigue comes from not knowing how they'll eventually intersect. In one trajectory we meet a quintet of your archetypical middle-class Caucasian sacrificial lambs about to set out on a weekend getaway. You've got your innocent nubile babe who forgets when she's neglected to wear pants. You've got your stoner conspiracy theorist and trusty agent of comic relief. You've got your ominous slobbering backwoods yokel setting us up for some hillbilly horror. Elsewhere we meet some wisecracking dudes in white lab coats occupying some vast subterranean scientific or military compound. This second trajectory seems less generic than the first; it most closely resembles a workplace comedy. Whatever the lab coats' project is it appears that the stakes are pretty high.
Which to some degree mirrors what The Cabin in the Woods represents for Drew Goddard, making his directorial debut. He wrote Cabin's script with long-time collaborator Joss Whedon, co-creator and show-runner of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse, and the guy who jumpstarted Goddard's writing career. Goddard spoke to Vue Weekly while promoting Cabin in Toronto.
VUE WEEKLY: Something that intrigues me about The Cabin in the Woods is its implication that the more technologically capable we become, the more we're compelled to slip back into some primal belief in superstition, to regress into fearing some paternal, wrathful deity figure.
DREW GODDARD: The whole thing started from just analyzing the horror film. If you analyze it enough you find that many horror films objectify, idealize and destroy youth. But then you realize that this isn't limited to the horror film—we've been doing this all along. There are wars going on and we send kids to fight them. It's not like adults are going out there. Once you start to notice that you realize that this is who we are. Myths are based on this. As technology develops things get more complicated, but the core of who we are stays the same.
VW: How did Cabin become your directorial debut?
DG: I'd been looking to direct for a long time and Joss was very supportive of that. We just felt like this was the right project. And because we didn't develop the project with a studio, we were able to present it as a package, saying: "Here's the script and Drew's directing it. Take it or leave it." [Laughs] Luckily there were studios who got excited enough about the project to take a chance on me.
VW: You hadn't directed any television, so this truly was your first time working in this capacity. Was it nerve-wracking, being thrown into the deep end like that?
DG: I was lucky in that the guys I'd been working with, Joss and JJ Abrams, both treat TV like they're making a new movie every week, and in TV the writers have much more responsibility than they do in features. Things like talking to actors, working with budgets and editing are actually done by writers in television, so the medium prepares you for these challenges. I've written or produced over 100 hours of TV, so by the time we were making Cabin I felt like I was as ready as I was ever going to be.
VW: Do the monstrous elements in Cabin represent any particular sources of fear from your own childhood?
DG: I was a very scared child, very timid, and I had this overactive imagination, so anything even vaguely horrific would haunt me forever. I feel like a lot of this movie is me exorcising those demons.
VW: But did you watch horror films nonetheless?
DG: I did. At first I was just traumatized, but by about 12 or 13 I started to be OK with them. I have a younger brother, and I remember that as early as age six he was watching things like Alien. I wasn't made out of the same stuff. My love of horror didn't really hit until I was in my teens.
VW: You grew up right at the time when VHS and pay television made it possible for kids to see a lot of freaky stuff.
DG: Stuff we probably shouldn't have been watching, yeah. Which is why my gateway drugs were the works of John Carpenter, which were a little more fun.
VW: And kind of old-fashioned.
DG: Old-fashioned, but emphatically a good time, even when horrible things were happening. That spirit is definitely something I was going for with Cabin, to give people that ride that you can only get in a horror movie, where the audience is laughing as much as it's screaming. I didn't conceive of the film first and foremost as something to give you nightmares ... Though if it does, great! [Laughs]
Directed by: Drew Goddard
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