The movie begins with a hurricane on Mars, a life-threatening debris storm, and a spaceship that might not be able to lift off in the chaos. And that’s the easy part. After the rocket finally blasts from the surface, an astronaut—presumed dead—is left behind on the Red Planet, and he’s got to figure out how to stay alive by himself until a very improbable rescue mission could pick him up. That will take many, many months, if it happens at all. So The Martian is a problem-solving movie: How will castaway Mark Watney (Matt Damon) figure out the fundamental problems of food, shelter, and communication? The movie doesn’t waste much time worrying about issues of loneliness; after we’ve spent time with Watney, who has a complete lack of introspection and neurosis, it’s no wonder.
The Cabin in the Woods (Lionsgate) – There’s more knowing horror comedy and meta-horror commentary than actual tension and thrills in the self-aware, awfully clever love letter to the horror movie fandom from Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon. That’s fair, because scares or not, I had more fun watching Cabin than almost any other film this year.
Whedon, producer and co-writer, first established his fan credentials with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a self-aware, pop-culture strewn horror show in weekly installments, but he and co-writer Goddard, a Buffy writer making his directorial debut, take a different approach here. No spoilers, just in case you’ve managed to steer clear of them so far, but the first scene isn’t about the five kids headed off for a weekend in the haunted woods. It begins with the quip-laden banter of lab-coat technicians (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) as they head to work in their quasi corporate bunker culture. That work has something to do with the kids’ weekend plans, and the rest of the film shows us just what and why that is.
As far as the fresh meat college kids go, keep an eye out for the handsome young guy playing Curt, the smarter-than-he-lets-on football player. Back in 2009, when the film was made (release was delayed by the bankruptcy of MGM, which produced the film), Chris Hemsworth was an up and coming actor with a lot of promise. Now he’s Thor. And he’s still upstaged by Fran Kranz as the twitch stoner Marty, who makes the case that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.
Unabashed horror movie fans Whedon and Goddard let their monster mash impulses go wild, riffing on every “kids in the woods tormented by supernatural killers” film ever made (with special affection for the Evil Dead films) before launching into a pulp rumination on our need for scary stories as a kind of ritual.
Which is not to say it’s pretentious or, you know, particularly intellectual. It’s just clever, a fun riff on the clichés, conventions, and expectations of American horror movies. That it tries to make sense of all the bad decisions and unbelievable coincidences that drive the stories, and mostly succeeds, is just part of the fun.
Drew Goddard goes way back with Joss Whedon. He got his start writing episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, his launching pad to Alias and Lost and his first feature film screenplay, Cloverfield (produced by Lost creator J.J. Abrams). The Cabin in the Woods reunited Goddard with Whedon, who co-wrote and produced the film but handed the directing over to Goddard. That’s a vote of confidence for a first-time director and Goddard ran with it, delivering the most high-concept horror film of 2009. Unfortunately, the bankruptcy of MGM left the film in limbo until 2012, when Lionsgate picked up the film and finally brought it to theaters. In the intervening years, one of their young, unknown actors became a little more known, thanks to a couple of little comic book movies called Thor and The Avengers (the latter written and directed by Joss Whedon).
The Cabin in the Woods arrives on Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand this week, and director Drew Goddard is doing the interview rounds again. In our too-brief phone call, we talked about horror movies, the tricky balance of horror and comedy, and why making The Cabin in the Woods was the most fun he’ll ever have on a movie set.
What are you watching?
I haven’t seen the film yet, but I can’t stop watching the extended “Cloud Atlas” trailer. It is possibly my favorite movie of all time. I have watched it so many times, I cannot tell you how excited I am for that movie. I don’t know what it is about that five minute trailer but I am just weeping every time by the end of it. I am so excited for that movie. And it sounds like we’re in for a really good fall as movie lovers. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this excited about movies.
I just finished listening to the commentary track to “The Cabin in the Woods,” with you and Joss Whedon, and right at the end, during the credits, you blurt out, “Oh my god, this is the most pretentious commentary track we ever did.” So of course I have to ask: what was the previous champion?
(laughs) I’m sure there’s so many. I try not to do these things for that exact reason. Let me think… I’m sure there are some gems on “Buffy: Season Seven” where I was really full of myself.
I love the way you guys just geek in the commentary out over the monster movie mash of the third act, where every horror icon you guys could create this side of copyright infringement appear like a roll call. You can tell that you guys love movie monsters and horror films.
I’m glad that comes across because it really is the answer to every question that people ask me about “Cabin.” I just love this movie. I just love this genre and what we could do with the genre and everything came from that place. Everything about this movie came from, We love horror movies, let’s just make one.