SXSW 2012 Interview: Drew Goddard Lets Us Inside ‘The Cabin in the Woods’

By  · Published on March 20th, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods isn’t much of a deconstruction of the horror genre. In actuality, it’s a love letter from writer/director Drew Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon to the genre. Some have labeled the horror-comedy as being in the vein of the Scream series, but The Cabin in the Woods should not be mistaken as a satire. Aside from a few winks here and there, Goddard stays away from smug self-referential storytelling. He tells his own story, rather than making fun of others.

Forget the conventions you know about the horror genre, because what you know won’t help you say “I saw that coming!” while watching The Cabin in the Woods. It takes turns we haven’t seen before, making the film all the more difficult to discuss, especially with Drew Goddard.

Here’s what Goddard had to say about The Cabin In the Woods and making out with wolves:

I had a more difficult time than usual coming up with questions for this. How would you discuss the movie?

It’s hard. I think, to some extent, discussing the genre seems to be the best way to do it. Sort of a love of the genre, because this movie is very much a love letter to the horror genre, and that was definitely what inspired us to make this movie.

That’s a good starting point. Some people have called the film a deconstruction, but it never feels like a smug satire. So you never saw the film as a dig at the genre?

Yeah, absolutely. That’s good to hear. It was never our goal, actually, to be meta. It was never our goal to sort of undercut a genre. We just love the genre and we want to celebrate. There’s things about the genre that sort of delight us and we want to sort of understand and play with, but it was never a goal to sort of say, “Isn’t this dumb?” It was more our goal to say, “Aren’t these movies wonderful?”

There are certain conventions you poke fun at, especially with one speech I won’t spoil. Were there certain conventions you and Joss just couldn’t help but to make a joke of?

Well, it’s funny. What was interesting about the screening last night, that was the first time we watched the finished version with an audience, and they were way ahead on that, which was fun to see. I didn’t expect them to be so far ahead of it, which was nice. I think when you are doing these things for a studio, the studio will sometimes go, “I’m not sure we’ve spelt this out enough.” Joss and I were like, “Trust that the audience will understand where we’re going.” It was nice to see that happen. Whenever we’ve said to a studio, “You know what? Trust us. The audience is smarter than you think,” we’ve always been right. You can always trust that an audience is smarter than a studio thinks it is.

There’s not much exposition in the film. Was the plan earlier on to have the tightest structure possible?

We worked really hard on structure. We spent months just sort of getting the structure of the movie right. I find if you get the structure right, the exposition takes care of itself because the structure actually becomes the exposition, and you don’t need as many lengthy scenes where you are explaining. You are showing the audience rather than telling the audience. I mean certainly there’s a couple places where we needed some exposition, but we took tremendous care to sort of keep the story going at a break-neck speed so that you are learning as you are going.

There’s definitely some playing around with the structure when you compare it to other horror films. The opening scene you’d usually get as a third act twist.


So did you and Joss approach the structure that way, where certain plot points went the opposite way in the film?

No. It’s funny. That was a…because this was originally Joss’s idea. He had this basic idea of this cabin in the woods with an upstairs and downstairs quality to it. In that first pitch he said, “And here’s how we start the movie.” And then he pitched me that, I was like, “Oh God.” [Laughs] It was just everything that excited me. It’s everything that I love about Joss and working with Joss. He’s unafraid to do something different. He’s unafraid to say, “Let’s just skip the part that the audiences wish we could skip. Let’s just skip to where it gets interesting and start there and see what happens after that.”

Since the script was pretty tight, when you got to editing, was it a fairly easy process or were you finding new things?

Editing is always hard, but yeah, we didn’t change the structure. So it was more about just making each scene work to the best of its ability. It was more about that than it was about, “Oh no, do we need to put the middle at the beginning?” When you put it like that, you know, I’ve had that happen on other…it certainly happens on TV. And it can be fun, but you don’t have a lot of choices.

Was there anything specifically, say, in the writing process or when you got to editing you were worried about, but maybe wasn’t a problem?

You know, I was always just worried about walking the tightrope of tone in this movie. Because we do…it’s a very small needle we’re trying to thread. So that was definitely my biggest challenge, the thing I took the most responsibility for, is allowing everybody else to play but corralling that into one coherent tone. That’s hard. It’s a lot harder than it might appear. You know, every day in production and post production, that was my job, to keep everyone on that same page.

Did you and Joss just naturally find certain sequences inherently funny, where the comedy naturally just came out?

We never set out to say, “Oh, this needs to be funny.” It’s just more let the story unfold, tell it in our voice because we like to make jokes. That’s what we like to do, and let that happen organically. But no, if we tried to just make a scene just to be comedy, it wouldn’t be part of this movie. So everything that may seem little to you, [laughs] it’s hard for me to even tell anymore.

Where did the wolf head make-out scene come from?

Yeah, that was one that was definitely in my mind for a while, and definitely one where I got a lot of sideways glances on set. Like, “No, no. We’re going to do it…We’re going to put the camera right here, right up in the…right up close.”

“Trust me, this will be hot!”

I’m like, “You know what? I can’t really intellectualize this one for you guys. I just need you to trust me.” God bless my cast. They would just do it.”

The Cabin in the Woods opens in theaters on April 13th.

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Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.