A chat with the cast of “The Cabin in the Woods”

If Lionsgate’s new horror film “The Cabin in the Woods” had been released back in 2010 like originally planned, there’s a good chance that audiences wouldn’t have recognized any of the young faces in the cast. Chris Hemsworth’s biggest claim to fame up to that point was a cameo role as James T. Kirk’s dad in “Star Trek”; Jesse Williams had just started his recurring stint on the medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy”; Fran Kranz was working on the short-lived Joss Whedon series “Dollhouse”; and Kristen Connolly and Anna Hutchison didn’t even have a noteworthy acting credit to their names.

Though most of the actors have still yet to truly break out (save for Hemsworth, of course), “The Cabin in the Woods” is definitely the kind of movie that could put them on the map, especially with so much positive buzz leading up to its release. I was fortunate enough to see the film at South by Southwest last month and joined a group of journalists in speaking with several cast members – including Connolly, Williams, Hutchison and veteran scene stealers Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins – about their experiences making the movie. Below are some highlights from the roundtable discussions, although because of the secretive nature of the film’s story, consider this your official warning that the following may contain potential spoilers.

And when you’re done, be sure to check out my interview with co-writer Joss Whedon and writer/director Drew Goddard for more on “The Cabin in the Woods.”

Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison and Jesse Williams on their initial reactions to the script.

JW: Our audition sides were totally fake. I think Joss just wrote them to fuck with us. And because they’re such good writers, they could just make stuff up in two seconds and have us jump around like animals to get the part. I didn’t read the script until after I agreed to do the movie, I don’t think.

KC: I had an inkling of what they were up to because I read one of the later scenes in the movie with Fran [Kranz]… to see if we were compatible. So then I finally got to read the script and I knew it was really special right away. It’s just mind-blowing, and it’s amazing, and it’s awesome and rare to read something that makes you want to keep reading, and that you really don’t know where it’s going to go.

AH: You kind of have a bit of blind faith if it’s a project with Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, because their previous things have been so rad, you’re kind of like, “I think this might be awesome.” And you guys didn’t have much of an idea going into the film, right? But you kind of knew that it might be good, and it is. I think that’s why I was just like, “Heck yeah, get me on this bad boy,” without even reading it.

Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins on the film’s script.

BW: I’ve said this a bunch, but what’s miraculous about this is you have two guys who obviously are great imaginative storytellers, and they look at each other and they go, “What would we write if we could write anything?” And the fact that that actually got done and that that movie got made is just a fucking miracle. (Laughs)

RJ: I almost think it was a bet that they made. They wrote this unbelievably complicated story and then [Joss] turned to Drew and they flipped a coin and said, “Okay, you direct it. See if you can possibly direct something.” And you know, as good as the script is, the movie’s better, which was amazing to see.

BW: It is amazing that he’s a first-time director, because when you’re reading the script, when the elevator doors open and there’s a lot of stuff that comes out of there… How do you make that work? Modulating that kind of ridiculous horror and remaining human is really difficult. Most directors will fuck that up for you. It was a shock seeing it. Realizing that the original impulse was achieved with that kind of clarity was amazing to me.

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SXSW Film Fest 2012: Day One

This is my third year down in Austin for the South by Southwest film festival, and I think that I’ve finally figured out the science to covering the event all on my lonesome. Instead of past years, where I’ve done a mix of both full-length and shorter movie reviews, this time around, I’m going to be doing daily blogs with even shorter, capsule-style reviews of the films that I saw the previous day. I’m hoping this will make me more productive than usual, but as my schedule is constantly in flux, please bear with me. And if you can’t wait for my daily posts, be sure to follow me on Twitter @JasonZingale for more.

“The Cabin in the Woods”

Leave it to Joss Whedon to take the horror genre and turn it on its head. Though it appears to be nothing more than a typical slasher flick at first sight, “The Cabin in the Woods” (which was directed by Drew Goddard and co-written with Whedon) is an entertaining and completely original genre hybrid film that has more than a few tricks up its sleeve. The setup is simple: five friends head to a cabin located in the middle of nowhere for a weekend of fun, only to find themselves fighting for their lives when they accidentally resurrect a family of killer rednecks from the dead. Of course, there’s much more to the story than that, as the audience learns very early on that there’s a third party behind all the death and destruction. It’s an excellent twist on a tired genre, with Whedon and Goddard’s script not only defying convention on several occasions, but also lightening the mood with deft strokes of humor. Though the film features Chris Hemsworth in a role that precedes his “Thor” days, the real stars are Fran Kranz (from Whedon’s short-lived “Dollhouse”) as the pot-smoking comic relief, and Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as the men orchestrating all the mayhem. It goes a bit off the rails in the final act, but for a movie this ambitious, sometimes it takes that kind of risk to yield such a refreshing reward.

“The Babymakers”

It may not be an official Broken Lizard movie in theory, but that’s not going to stop some people from comparing “The Babymakers” to the group’s other films, mainly because it was directed by Jay Chandrasekhar and features him and fellow member Kevin Heffernan in supporting roles. But while it definitely shares the group’s brand of goofball humor, “The Babymakers” feels like a cheap imitation without the other Lizards. Fortunately, it still has its share of funny moments thanks to Paul Schneider, who delivers a wonderfully dry performance as a man so desperate to impregnate his wife (Olivia Munn) that he plots to steal the last vial of sperm he donated years before after learning that his current count is too low for conception. Much like fellow “Parks and Rec” alumnus Adam Scott, Schneider has been on the verge of a big breakout for years, and “The Babymakers” proves that he’s a more than capable comedic lead. Munn is better than usual, but she’s definitely not leading lady material, while the rest of the cast fails to do much with a script that goes for the easy joke far too often. And that’s a shame, because with a sharper script and better execution, “The Babymakers” could have been the perfect Broken Lizard vehicle.