A chat with co-writer Joss Whedon and writer/director Drew Goddard of “The Cabin in the Woods”

Joss Whedon is a bit of a geek god in some circles, having created cult shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Firefly” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long-Blog,” but that’s all about to change with the upcoming release of “The Avengers.” Before Whedon assembles the Marvel superhero group on the big screen, however, the writer/director is reteaming with longtime friend Drew Goddard (a writer on some of Whedon’s TV series, as well as others like “Alias” and “Lost”) on the genre-bending horror movie “The Cabin in the Woods.”

Co-written by the duo, the film also marks the directorial debut of Goddard, who’s had to sit idly by and watch the movie endure a number of setbacks on its way to theaters. Originally completed back in 2009 before being indefinitely shelved due to MGM’s ongoing financial problems, the film eventually found a home at genre-friendly studio Lionsgate and will be released April 13th. “The Cabin in the Woods” had its world premiere last month at the South by Southwest Film Festival, and to say that it was well-received would be a serious understatement. I had the chance to speak with Joss and Drew (as well as some of the cast) with a roomful of other journalists two days after the premiere. Here are some highlights from the roundtable chat, although because of the secretive nature of the film’s story, beware that spoilers may follow.

Joss Whedon on whether making a horror movie was the next natural step for a filmmaker with a habit of killing off his characters.

We like killing characters, but I think we’re ready to step it up and kill actual people. (Laughs) I do not look forward to killing people. I love the people. The point of this movie, I think to a large extent… was definitely about the idea that people are not expendable, and that as a culture and for our own entertainment we assume that they are. Although I absolutely love horror movies and always have, I love the most when I really, really care about the people in dire trouble.

With the exception of “Alien,” I think… It’s not that I don’t care about them; it’s that I was very frightened by that movie because they didn’t care about each other. I didn’t think they were going to band together and fight back. I thought, “These guys would sell each other down the river in a heartbeat.”

Joss Whedon on the inspiration for the story.

The story itself really just sort of popped out. And then because it’s so clearly the kind of thing that we love – which is true horror with a cold eye toward “What is that about?” at the same time as we’re in the thick of it – and then once the idea just sort of came, it was years before we actually sat down and did it. But that was what made it so easy to do when we finally did, because we bandied back and forth… This is an entire movie of “I wish we could.” It’s too raging ids just enjoying themselves for 90 minutes.

Drew Goddard on introducing the Hadley and Sitterson characters (played by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, respectively) so early in the film.

This was Joss’ original idea, and it was in that first conversation [that he] said, “This is how we’re going to start the movie, and we’re going to start the movie in the exact opposite way that all other horror movies start.” And as soon as he said that I just got it. Okay, I get the tone, I get what this movie is. We sort of say what this movie is in the first five minutes so people can get a sense that this isn’t going to be your average movie.

Joss Whedon on the importance of giving the female characters a sense of empowerment.

That’s really [Drew’s] thing. (Laughs) You know, it was important for the characters to have integrity and to pretty much leave it at that. This isn’t a movie about gender. It is not a text about that. It is just making sure that everybody is a human being with integrity across the board.

Drew Goddard on the attention of detail paid to the movement of the film’s monsters.

The amount of time I spent working on the head cock… you just totally made my day that you noticed that. We actually had meetings, where the meeting is “zombie movement meeting,” and when that’s your job and you see that on the schedule, you really have a pretty good life.

Joss Whedon on applying the sensibilities of his distinct dialogue to different genres.

I talk, other people like to talk as I talk… talking is normal. (Laughs) It’s a blessing and a curse to have your style recognized. Part of the great thing about running a TV show is that you get a bunch of people together who both influence and can echo it. Drew and I, when we write, we speak each other’s language… there’s no, “Oh, that’s clearly Drew.” There are a couple things that I recognize is clearly coming from one or the other, but it’s the same voice. Ultimately, I don’t want people to hear my voice. I don’t like people to think about what we wrote. You don’t want the distance that that brings.

Drew Goddard on the film finally being released after the long delay.

Whenever there’s a shift in management, especially on a film like this, you worry that they may not see what you’re trying to do, and they may make us change something. And to Lionsgate’s credit, they saw it and they said, “No, don’t change a thing.”

It felt like everything happens for a reason, and everything has worked out for the best here. We have a studio that loves this movie and is behind us 100 percent. Our actors are turning out to be huge superstars, which they were not when we cast them. (Laughs) We keep saying, “Be careful what you worry about.” This is actually the best possible thing that could have happened to us, so we’re just happy to be here.

Joss Whedon on whether the movie will challenge other horror filmmakers to think outside the box in the future.

We just wanted to make a horror movie that people would really enjoy. I don’t see this like a watershed movie. I just see it as if people have a good time, it’s not going to make them go, “Well, now I think differently about loving horror, but I still love it.” Other filmmakers are going to do something that we could never have thought of and didn’t expect, and that’s what I’m waiting for. It’s not an answer to this; it’s a new question.

  

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