"Ohhhhhhh man, this thing is great," wrote film critic Eric D. Snider on Twitter following the world premiere of "The Cabin in the Woods" at SXSW on Friday night. "I want to make out with it." What he said. Co-written by geek emperor Joss Whedon ("The Avengers") and Drew Goddard (writer of "Cloverfield") and directed by Goddard, "The Cabin in the Woods" is a revelation -- the type of film that actually delivers on its hype and then some. In fact, as one site wondered, it might be the "most crowd-pleasing movie of all-time." And to think, it almost never came out.
Written in 2008 and shot in 2009, "The Cabin in the Woods" became an unfortunate casualty of studio financial trouble, when MGM -- which financed the film -- filed for Chapter 11 on Nov. 3, 2010. "Woods" was thrown into flux: its Jan. 11, 2011 release date was scrapped for an indefinite hold. Was this the end of Rico? Fortunately not, as Lionsgate acquired distribution rights in 2011 and will finally release "Cabin in the Woods" for wide consumption on April 13 -- Friday the 13, which seems fitting for its premise.
"My biggest fear -- because there was some uncertainty as to what was going to happen with the studio -- was protecting the film," Goddard told Moviefone hours before "Cabin's" successful SXSW premiere. "Once Lionsgate came in and saw the film and said, 'We love this movie, we don't want to change a frame,' my fears went away. I knew it was going to be fine."
Ironically, the lengthy delay has made "The Cabin in the Woods" seem even more lucrative for the studio. It features Chris Hemsworth (better now known as Thor) in a lead role, as well as "Grey's Anatomy" star Jesse Williams.
"Weirdly, it's the best possible thing that could have happened to us. We're in a wonderful home, our actors -- in the meantime -- have gone on to become stars," Goddard said with a laugh. "Joss and I look at each other and are like, 'Wow, this bankruptcy has turned out to be the best thing we could have hoped for.' You learn not to get too worked up over things in Hollywood."
It's hard to discuss "Cabin in the Woods" without giving away the film's central conceit, but just know that it focuses on five college-aged friends (Hemsworth, Williams, Fran Kranz, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchinson), who travel to a secluded cabin in the woods for a night of fun. It doesn't go smoothly, especially with -- well, two character actors you know and love pulling the proverbial strings.
Moviefone spoke with Goddard about the process of making "Cabin in the Woods" and why audiences shouldn't be too wary of spoilers -- but should probably avoid them anyway.
You and Joss worked together on television, but what made you decide to write a script together?
We just loved writing together. Back when we were on "Buffy" and "Angel," we would have to write things fast, because we were always behind schedule. We would write episodes over a weekend. There was something very fun about that -- sort of kids-in-a-garage making rock music sort of feel to it; you're not doing it for anybody other than yourself. It's just so good for creativity and energy. When you go back to your day job -- and movies just take a long time -- you sort of miss that energy. So, Joss and I were talking about that a lot. We were just trying to find a way to work together again and write something fast -- get back to that garage-band mentality. We were talking and trading ideas back and forth as to what we could possibly do, and Joss had this original idea for "Cabin." As soon as I heard cabin movie, I was like, "I'm in."
Was the process on "Cabin" fast? Because the film has a very crisp energy.
We worked on the structure and the outline for months. Just to get that right. I learned that structure is everything. Once we got that, we wrote it as fast as we could. It was trying to capture that energy; trying to keep it moving. You have to write it fast -- it tends to make you keep things moving. That was definitely the goal. We locked ourselves in a hotel room and said, "We're not allowed to leave this hotel room until we finish the script." That's what we did.
It's quite an undertaking for your first feature directing job. You've got to walk a tightrope between comedy and horror, but never veer into parody.
It was the single hardest part of the job: maintaining tone. Keeping a consistent tone in this movie. Tone is such an ephemeral thing anyway. At the end of the day, the tone just comes down to what I like. Which is hard to convey to everyone. I'm asking people to be in my head. When you have a crew of 300 people and a tight-rope walk like this, it can be very challenging. That's why I had to be there with the cast and crew everyday, 24 hours a day, talking through what I was going for. Within that, you have to give people freedom to try different things. It all comes down to casting, I suppose. You have to cast people who get it. We knew these people were on board for what we were trying to do and could find this voice.
It's funny: the film feels like TV in the best way possible. Not necessarily episodic, but just so quick and sharp.
We talked about that a lot. One of the things that was fun about "Angel," was that -- at a certain point -- we got the same rating no matter what we did. So that gave you a freedom to try different things; be unafraid to shift gears. I learned lessons on that and I want to carry that with me for the rest of my career: It's OK. The audience will go with you if you keep that break-neck gear change going. You just have to be brave enough to do it.
How do you feel about spoilers about this film? It's more than the sum of its twists, but it might be hard to sell audiences on a cabin-in-the-woods thriller without revealing some key plot points.
It's tricky. I have two mindsets about it. As a filmmaker, I wish we didn't have to give anything away. I wish we didn't have to do trailers. I wish people would just come, but that's not the world we live in. As a human, as a person [laughs], I understand that these things need to be worth my time. As a filmgoer, I want to know that this is going to be worth it. I want to know that you're giving me something new and different. I respect that. We need to tell people that this is not your average movie. We're going for it here. We want people to see that. It's sort of finding that balancing act. I wish we didn't have to give anything away, but I didn't design "Cabin" to be about any one twist. It's not a movie where I tell you one thing and it'll ruin the movie. I always say "Cabin" is more about escalation than it is about twists. It's more about, "You're not going to believe where we go," rather than, "Oh, you're not going to see it coming." I wish people don't want to find out; it's unquestionably better to me, the less you know. But if you're not quite sold, then I'll tell you what you need to know so that you come to the theater [laughs]. I feel that responsibility to the audience that this is going to be worth their time. I want people to know we're here to entertain you. Let us entertain you.
For more SXSW coverage, click here.