By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—From “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Angel” to “Alias” to “Lost,” Drew Goddard has been one of the architects of modern pop culture alongside uber-producer Joss Whedon.
Turning his sights on the big screen, Goddard flips the traditional teen horror flick on its head in “The Cabin in the Woods,” which he directed and co-wrote with Whedon, who serves as a producer.
Shot with a modest budget, “Cabin” stars hot Aussie heartthrob Chris Hemsworth (“Thor,” the upcoming “Avengers”) as one of five young people who head off to a remote cabin on holiday, but their frolicking outing is cut short with the arrival of some unexpected guests. Veteran actors Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”) and Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing”) also star as a pair of behind the curtain wizards.
Goddard sat down to discuss his genre-bending flick, opening this Friday, which integrates horror and comedy in equal measure.
Front Row Features: Can you talk about the casting?
Goddard: For the adults, we had our wish list. We wrote the parts for Richard and Bradley. I said in a meeting, “If we don’t get Bradley, I’m not going to make this movie because I don’t know who else we could cast.” We didn’t have a back up plan. And I can’t say enough good things about Richard Jenkins. He absolutely was the greatest. We sent the script to Richard the week he got nominated for an Oscar for “The Visitor.” I didn’t think he was going to do it but, God bless him, he said “yes” the next day. He just got it. Luckily, they both said yes. It just energized the whole project with the both of them.
Front Row Features: What about the Chris and the other younger players who go up to the cabin?
Goddard: With the kids, we had to roll up our sleeves and see every actor in town. Fran (Kranz, who plays nerdy camper Marty) we knew from (Whedon’s) “Dollhouse.” In some cases, we were casting up until the day before shooting.
Front Row Features: Since you filmed this, Chris’ career has really taken off. Did you see a star in the making when you cast him?
Goddard: Absolutely. We knew. I could feel it as it was happening. This guy is going to go into the stratosphere and I was thankful we got him before that happened, because it felt inevitable. I knew this guy has this thing.
Front Row Features: The premise for this film is a deconstruction of the genre. When did that idea hit you?
Goddard: The kernel of it was Joss’ idea. We’d been brainstorming. He had the upstairs-downstairs idea (of the cabin) early. As soon as he told me, I said, “Oh, that’s great, this is a chance to do something different.” We just love horror movies. At the end of the day, this movie is a love letter to the genre.
Front Row Features: What is your obsession with the ancient evil ones element that recurs in your work?
Goddard: There’s something I’ve always loved about blending the mythological with the personal. That’s what Joss does better than anyone. You understand (in “Buffy”) that a girl is a vampire slayer, but she’s a girl first. That’s something I respond to. It comes down to mythology and storytelling.
Front Row Features: How hard was it to balance the comedy and horror in this without being too campy?
Goddard: It’s the hardest part of the job—not that this is new to us. We had this with “Buffy” and we had it with “Angel.” This is very much the world we live in. It’s very much the world I live in with everything I do because I like crossing genres so much. People aren’t always going to quite get it, at least at first glance, because five degrees this way, we’re in comedy, and five degrees that way, we’re in exploitation. It’s hard to thread that needle but the nice part about it is as you find people who get it. It just takes time. Once you get the team right, it takes on its own momentum.
Front Row Features: Are there subgenres of horror that you’re a fan of?
Goddard: I guess I’m a fan of all of them if they’re done right. If I had to pick, I tend to follow more the fun horror genre rather than the traumatic horror genre. I like movies where you’re laughing as much as you’re screaming, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the other ones.
Front Row Features: What’s your favorite monster?
Goddard: The nice thing is I love it, all which is why “Cabin” exists. If I had to pick just one, I really love “The Thing.” I love John Carpenter, in general. In terms of a monster, I can’t think of a more perfect monster that can function as one of us and go to the crazy places that movie goes to.
Front Row Features: Would zombies be up there on your list too, considering they play an important role in this movie?
Goddard: I love zombies, for sure.
Front Row Features: What did you do to make sure this movie was as entertaining to hard-core horror fans as well as general movie fans?
Goddard: We didn’t want to be too inside because if you like horror movies, we’ve got something for you, no matter where you are in the spectrum. We can speak the ultra-literate side. But I didn’t want it to feel like an exclusionary party. If you’ve never seen a horror movie before, you’re going to be able to follow the story. It’s not about horror movies, exactly. We certainly reference that but it all comes back to the basics, just tell the story you’re trying to tell and not worry about being too meta. We just let stuff happen naturally. It’s a story with a distinct beginning, middle and end.
Front Row Features: Did you guys debate at what point in the movie you would pull back the curtain and subvert people’s expectations?
Goddard: We reveal (the twist) within the first two minutes. It didn’t change at all from the structure. That’s what I responded to as a director because when you have a strong structure, it makes your life so much easier. This one had a strong structure from the beginning. Most people who would be telling this story would save the reveal of the downstairs for the middle of the movie. One of things I love about Joss is he says, “Let’s not play coy. Let’s start in a different place than everyone else starts, and just start the movie there, and then go from there.” He’s always been that way with his storytelling. He doesn’t do the things that everyone else does, which is one of the things I love about him.
Front Row Features: Do you want to work more in the horror genre?
Goddard: I love this genre. I certainly felt like I got to say what I needed to say about this with this movie, but will I be back to the horror genre? Probably.
Front Row Features: You and Joss like working with actual creatures rather than CGI. How much input did you have in the design of the creatures you had?
Goddard: The rule was if we could do it practical, we did it practical. I just like real (monsters). We always saved visual effects for things we simply couldn’t do. It was an aesthetic choice. That’s the fun part of being a director is that I get to pick my artists and oversee what I feel is the best toy box I could ask for.
Front Row Features: Do you think the vampire movie craze is over?
Goddard: Vampire movies have been around forever, and certainly they’re still popular. In my mind, they’ll always be popular. It all comes down to good movies versus bad movies. It’s not that vampires are inherently bad; it’s just people need to make better vampire movies.
Front Row Features: Do you have your next project?
Goddard: We’re not in announcing terms yet.
Front Row Features: Is TV something you still want to do?
Goddard: I love television and I love movies. I’ve been very lucky that I get to do both. Both have things I love about them—features and TV—so I hope I get to do both for the rest of my career.