By Colin Covert, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
MINNEAPOLIS — Writing the TV series “Lost” and the sci-fi thriller “Cloverfield,” Drew Goddard made a reputation as the man to see for familiar-seeming story concepts twisted into phantasmagoric new forms. Directing his first feature, “The Cabin in the Woods” (which he cowrote with the prolific Joss Whedon), Goddard offers a uniquely warped vision of movies about scared college kids in the forest. His take on the old spook story isn’t high concept, it’s in the ionosphere.
“Cabin” is deliciously disorienting from the prelude, where two well-known character actors, playing weird babysitters, frame and comment on the story as it unfolds. Rather than opening like a standard fright film, Goddard said, he wanted to challenge the audience from the very first scene.
“It’s saying, ‘We’re telling a different kind of story,’” he said. “And then when we do pull the rug out later, the rug is way, way crazier than you would have thought.”
The film tackles ancient legends as well as the clichés of pop horror. “I didn’t want to make a movie that’s just about other movies. I wanted to use this as a way to explore mythology in general and just where we are as a culture,” he said. “Why do we have this need to idealize and then destroy youth?”
“Cabin” was shot three years ago in Vancouver, B.C., but got entangled in MGM’s bankruptcy proceedings until Lionsgate rode to the rescue. It’s a gutsy move for the distributor to release a movie that’s almost impossible to describe without spoiling its surprises, much less one that subverts the horror films that are Lionsgate’s bread and butter. In some ways, the delay helped the film; costar Chris Hemsworth became a marquee name in the meantime as “Thor.”
Though “Cabin” is largely a supernatural tale, it riffs on myriad horror sub-genres. “You can fit the giant monster movie into the genre, the Japanese ghost stories, and the weird Swedish movies — I don’t even know what to call them except weird. We wanted to talk about how horror movies are so much more than just any one thing,” he said. With remorselessly cracked logic, the story builds to a frenetic climax that Goddard intended to be the bloodiest ever filmed.
“I was certainly looking to set a record but I couldn’t beat Kubrick,” who inundated the elevator corridor of “The Shining’s” Overlook Hotel with floods of blood. “I said, ‘Can we use more than that,’ and they said ‘No, because they reset the elevator so many times’” to satisfy the notoriously perfectionist director. “I wanted to beat Stanley’s record but we didn’t come close.”
The scarlet-spattered climax was just one of the film’s daunting technical challenges. In one sprawling set he had to choreograph crowds of actors moving through the foreground while 80 separate viewscreens behind them display separate video feeds. “It was just a logistical nightmare. We started calling the room Bruce after Spielberg’s (mechanical “Jaws”) shark that would never work and drove them so crazy. We made it work, it just took years off my life. In your first film you actually have naiveté on your side, and that’s a great weapon because if you don’t know better it will lead you to try things you never would have tried if you knew better.”
Science fiction and horror have been good to Goddard but he doesn’t see them as the be-all and end-all of his career.
“I get bored and it’s fun to try different things. I definitely would love to do a period costume drama. They don’t make them anymore, it’s hard to get studios to bankroll those. I feel like our culture — and I’m guilty of this — is living in this cinema of nostalgia. I’m excited to see adults come back. My favorite movie of last year was ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.’ It felt like, ‘Oh, the adults are here, this is nice.’ I’d like to do something like that. I don’t have this need to keep doing this. I go with what is interesting on that particular day.”