Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods is, I’m sure you’ve heard by now, a remarkable film. It’s fun, witty, gory, surprising and downright inspiring. Best of all, it doesn’t have to trade in its bona fides as a horror film to accomplish all of this. It’s 100% horror and 50% everything else.
When I sat down with Goddard last week in an office in Hollywood it was hard to stick strictly to spoiler-free terrain. Pretty soon, I gave up completely. After all – I had 30 minutes to talk about one of my favorite films of the year with its co-writer and director. I was gonna talk about everything.
Which is why I’ve broken the interview into two parts. The one you’ll find below is more or less spoiler free – which is to say it contains less spoilers than the film’s trailers. Look for the second half of this interview the week after the film’s release on April 13th. Do me a favor and go see the movie before you read that second part.
Meanwhile, it’s reasonably safe to head below and check out the first portion of our chat. This was an idea that you and Joss had together. Did it start out as a bit of a joke?
Joss had the original idea of, “let’s do a cabin in the woods movie.” He sort of worked out the basic structure in his head before he came to me, but we were looking for something to do. I had started out on “Buffy”.
And that was on season seven, right?
Season seven, yes. And then I went over to “Angel” after that. We just got along, you know? We really enjoyed writing together and we were looking for something else to do. And we didn’t want to do it at a studio and develop something in that environment, we just decided to write something we would like. A movie for us. And then see if a studio would want it. If they didn’t that was fine, because there’s pleasure in the act of writing itself. I just really enjoy writing with him. It’s really fun, and it makes me a better writer to be around him. So we just did it for the sake of that. And we just went from there and just started meeting and working out an outline. It was all very easy. As easy of a process as I’ve ever been a part of.
So when you’re developing that kind of story you’re subverting genre tropes and embracing them. It’s not a spoof. Was there a winding path to figure out how you would embrace that? Because the movie has so many options.
Not really. It wasn’t like we set out to deconstruct the “horror movie”. We just decided to tell the story, we wanted to see where it would take us. We had the basic construct, and then it was a matter of “what do the characters want? How do we complicate their lives? How do we make things worse for them?” Basic screenwriting stuff, let the story reveal itself to you as you go.
It’s hard to ask questions about a lot of this stuff because I wrestle with giving too much away to our readers. But, like the trailer indicates, everyone knows this isn’t just a “cabin” movie. What would you say the film is saying about those tropes?
I leave that for the viewer to decide. I believe that, once the film is made, it doesn’t really matter what I think anymore. It’s about how people respond. I will say that it’s not just a movie about horror movies. Like you said, it’s not a parody. The questions that were much more interesting to me were, “how does the horrific fit into our society? What role does horror play in our culture? And what role does the objectification and destruction of youth play in our culture?” These are the sort of questions that I feel are at the heart of this movie. And how we resolve them and answer them is the journey of Cabin In The Woods I suppose.
I see a lot of it as a validation of the genre as well. A lot of deconstructionists believe that any element of the genre can be done away with, but it feels to me that the film makes an argument for the existence of those elements.
Absolutely. We love movies. We love horror movies. We love facing the nightmares inherent to us as a people. This was never meant as a screed against those things, it’s a celebration of them.
This is your directorial debut, and Cloverfield was the last big feature you wrote. What was the learning curve like for you on this? You’ve been a working writer for over a decade, did you feel prepared stepping behind the camera?
I felt as prepared as you can until you’re doing it. The nice thing about television, particularly working for Joss and J.J., is that the writers are empowered. They have a level of power that allows you to function as somewhat of a director. You’re talking to the actors, you’re seeing the cuts – stuff you leave to the directors in the feature world. But there is an element of this job you can’t know until you do it. You just have to throw yourself in the deep end and know you can swim. And luckily, to Joss’ credit, he believed in me enough to say “you’re ready. Let’s do this.” And I can’t imagine a deeper deep end than Cabin.
It’s ambitious. Without giving too much away, there’s been a certain amount of information doled out in the marketing – but it’s holding back on a whole lot more. What’s it like having the audience even know that much going in?.
I like movies that are better the 4th time. I’m not as interested personally in twists, I’m interested in escalation. I’m interested in conflict and surprise. The goal is always, even if you know the plot – you can still discover the movie. With Cabin the thought was, “let’s not milk this. Let’s put all of our cards on the table and then keep putting cards on the table.” Just keep adding to it. Audiences are so savvy and they’re already ahead of the game. I’d rather embrace that than try to manipulate it.
The film wrapped some time ago and was put on hold while MGM went through some financial difficulties. At one point during that period, there was talk of a 3D conversion. Did you ever test that?
There were discussions. That was very much an MGM thing. We were against it, but when your boss wants you to explore something you explore it. This was at a time when everyone was exploring 3D. The success of Avatar had everyone doing this. But when I looked into the process of post-conversion I was against doing it. It took the studios a while to get on that page as well, that you have to plan on doing it. And I didn’t set out to make a 3D movie. And we dealt with it more publicly because I think MGM put out a press release at one point, but luckily that all went away.
I take it you’re pleased with the film.
What was it like having this movie you’re happy with just kind of sit there for a while?
It was frustrating. But The Hobbit got delayed. James Bond got delayed. When the heavyweights are kind of dropping around you, you realize there’s nothing you can do. When you’re dealing with billion dollar bankruptcies, that’s way above my pay grade. I was much more concerned about protecting the film. Because I knew sooner or later we were going to have new management. And luckily Lionsgate saw it, flipped out and said “we love this, don’t change a frame. This is the movie we want.” I knew it was going to take longer than we wanted, but I knew we were going to have the right home. It was like, “okay, I can be calm about these things.”