Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on April 8, 2012
Jerry Aronson, one of my weekly poker game buddies, gave me a last-minute invitation to a sneak-preview. Jerry’s a retired film instructor, and the movie in question was by one of his former students who had graduated back in 1998. That student was Drew Goddard, who later found success as a writer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Alias, and Lost (to mention only his TV work, he also scripted Cloverfield, as well as its pending sequel, and Robopocalypse – which Spielberg will release next year). Drew is currently scheduled to set the world on fire this Friday the 13th with The Cabin in the Woods, a directorial debut he co-wrote and co-produced with Joss Whedon.
The Cabin in the Woods recently made big waves on the fest circuit (it opened SXSW) and has reaped many rave reviews. Some of the enthusiasm for the film is due in no small part to the way it straddles two divides. On one hand there is deliriously fun horror, such as can be found in Evil Dead 2 (Goddard makes several playful references to Sam Raimi’s masterpiece). On the other hand you have the knowing winks and genre-bending that are the coin of Whedon’s realm.
To say that the fanbase has been whipped up into an unusual frenzy for this film does not quite do justice to the long lines of people I saw at the multiplex hoping to get in. People drove from near-and-far and camped out early. Many would not make the cut and were destined to get shut out. I was lucky that Jerry got the V.I.P. treatment along with two reserved seats. Even better, Drew was quick to approach Jerry once we were inside and this is when I was introduced to the director. Despite the beard, he was vaguely familiar, which was not too surprising as I started working at the C.U. Boulder Film Studies Department a year before Drew graduated. When I asked Drew if he’d consider coming back to Boulder in the near future for a special presentation as part of the campus film series I program he enthusiastically replied in the affirmative. As we talked, it was hard not to notice that the 37-year-old director is about six and a half feet tall, he towered over us near the aisle. From his vantage point it was easy for him to spot other people in the crowd that he knew, and after exchanging a few words with us he walked over to talk with some of the redneck zombies from the film who were sitting nearby. Then it was on to the intro, where he singled out Jerry for attention. Drew added that it was his connection to the C.U. Boulder Film Studies Department that made him want to end his two-week long and 10-city sneak preview tour with a blow-out finale near his old alma mater. He also told the crowd that they had his permission to make as much noise as they wanted during the film, because it was meant to be a boisterous affair full of laughs and shocks in equal measure.
Having now seen the film I can say: mission accomplished. I won’t go into any details, or a formal review, because much of the pleasure to be derived from The Cabin in the Woods comes from the gleeful way in which Goddard and Whedon confound both audience and studio expectations. I’m not alone in saying that the less you know going in the better. But what I will add, which shouldn’t spoil anything, is that the film had intelligent and moral things to say about our voyeuristic tendencies. Expanding on this point is a quote from Joss Whedon that can be found on the Wikipedia entry for The Cabin in the Woods:
For the Q&A after the film, Drew was joined on stage by Amy Acker, who has a role in the film and also previously worked with Drew on the TV series Angel. Much of the terrain covered in the Q&A has already been well documented elsewhere, including how the bankruptcy of MGM stalled the initial release date several years ago, how “the suits” that came later hoped to re-jigger the film into 3-D over the filmmaker’s objections, and on to the eventual happy ending of getting Lion’s Gate to set aside their reservations and finally release the film that Drew and Joss intended.
When someone asked Drew about his favorite horror films, he mentioned Alien (which afforded a detour into what it was like for him to later work with Sigourney Weaver), as well as the work of John Carpenter in general. It was at this point that he brought up his film teacher again to thank him for an internship that Jerry had wrangled for Drew in New Mexico. The internship itself was for a forgettable TV production, but it happened to be near where Carpenter was shooting Vampires and it was that particular bloody production that Drew was interested in visiting. As Drew reminisced on the thrill of seeing actors being prepped by f/x gore for Carpenter’s film it was self-evident that this singular experience left an indelible mark – and now he’s grabbed that same torch and is ready to pick up where his idols left off.
As the evening wrapped up, Jerry was hand-picked to cap off the Q&A with the last question. Jerry started by recalling the student film Drew made while at C.U. Boulder. It was a black-and-white film about appendicitis based on Drew’s own experience of having his appendix removed while attending school. The 10-minute-long short was artful, ominous, and funny. Jerry wanted to know what relationship there was between that film and The Cabin in the Woods. Drew’s answer was that at the time he was surrounded by people making documentaries about how sad they were, and as a happy-go-lucky guy he didn’t fit into that scene. The worst thing that had happened to him was having his appendix removed, so he conflated that into an existential spoof. (Jerry recently showed me the short, and it reminded me of what La Jetée might have been like had Woody Allen been at the helm instead of Chris Marker – circa Bananas, not Interiors.) Making this mockumentary about appendicitis (see Easter-appropriate screen-grabs below) reinforced Drew’s intuition to ignore what others are doing and to focus instead on marching to his own drumbeat, an experience that he says has served him well in L.A.
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