Joss Whedon was very clear when he and co-writer-director Drew Goddard introduced the first public screening of their horror goof The Cabin in the Woods Friday night at the SXSW Film Festival: “I want you all to enjoy the movie,” he said from the stage of Austin’s Paramount Theatre. “And then keep it to yourselves.”
Whedon, who co-wrote and produced the film, and Goddard made no secret of how much they wanted to protect the movie’s, uh, secrets. As an epic ironic tweak on all things horror about five archetypal friends who head off into the malignant unknown, Cabin thrives on its multitude of references, allusions and surprise twists — and the filmmakers were asking this first round of viewers to talk up the film without discussing the actual plot. The filmmakers even made a point to thank Lionsgate for taking on the challenge of distributing and marketing the film without “being allowed to say anything that happens in it,” as Whedon joked.
From the response of the crowd, Whedon and Goddard should get what they want: good word of mouth with a conspiratorial spirit of guarding its secrets. The premiere screening was full of good energy and tons of laughs despite the pouring rain many viewers had to stand in beforehand, as the crowd ate up the campy film’s pop culture-stuffed comedy and gore. For horror junkies, it played like a heroin buffet.
Afterward, Goddard, Whedon and stars Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Anna Hutchison and Kristen Connolly answered questions from the audience in a kind of stilted Q&A session. Goddard seemed genuinely thrown off balance by the positive reaction to his directorial debut. “That was a dream come true,” he said earnestly.
Originally put together with Mary Parent at MGM, the film was sidelined for years by the company’s bankruptcy proceeding until Lionsgate was able to swoop in and pick up the low-budget film for half price (in the $12 million range). With Whedon and Goddard’s fanbase from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Cloverfield, Cabin should clear that easily in its opening weekend April 13. Asked by a fan why the film was put on a shelf, Jenkins, who had just seen it for the first time, stepped in to crack: “Because it stinks.”
Whedon noted that he and Goddard had holed up in a hotel and cranked out the script in three days, “a good kind of fast.” Ultimately, he said, the characters played by Whitford and Jenkins were stand-ins for he and Goddard. “On one level, it’s about being writers,” he said. (I can’t explain further, for reasons stated above.)
“This came from a place of love,” Goddard said, noting that he and Whedon spend an inordinate amount of time just kicking around scenarios inspired by their passion for horror films and archetypes. “It’s not that we don’t like them,” Whedon said of the latter, which get sent up in numerous hilarious ways during the film, “it’s that we feel they need to be honored.” One member of the audience made a case for the main characters’ resemblance to the Scooby Doo gang, to which Whedon responded, “All great fiction is Scooby Doo-like.”
Points to Goddard for telling the kind of story only a film such as this could prompt, which entailed him taking a stand in a visual effects meeting with the line: “No, no, no — it’s not an angry raping tree, it’s an angry molesting tree.”
Whedon continuously joked that anyone who wished to stump for the film was encouraged to do so by describing it as “a timeless classic.” Given the film’s copious references to other horror touchstones of the past forty years, one moviegoer asked, “Did you intend to make the last horror movie of all time?”
“Yes,” Whedon said deadpan. “That’s it for horror. I hope you like rom coms, because that’s all you’re gonna get.”