Hasitha Fernando revisits The Cabin in the Woods ten years on from its release…
The Cabin in the Woods celebrates the 10th anniversary of its release this month. Yep, you’ve read that correctly. It’s been a decade since one of Hollywood’s most imaginative meta-horror flicks hit theaters, back in April 13th 2012. Originally slated to be released in the year 2010 with principal photography having wrapped up a year prior, the film underwent multiple delays until it finally saw the oh-so-sweet light of day two years after. But more on that later.
Drew Goddard was already a well-established writer for the small screen before he stepped into the big shoes to direct The Cabin in the Woods. Up to that point the talented scribe had contributed to several critically acclaimed TV shows from J.J. Abrams’ Alias and Lost, to Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Whilst collaborating with on the set of Whedon’s TV shows, the pair struck up a friendship and somewhere down the line they felt the need to make a bold statement regarding the horror genre. Because the genre, at that point in time had sort of fallen into a compendium of its own cliches, offering little novelty or originality to its audience. In an interview with Total Film, Whedon spoke his mind about this, stating that: “The things that I don’t like are kids acting like idiots, the devolution of the horror movie into torture porn and into a long series of sadistic comeuppances. Drew and I both felt that the pendulum had swung a little too far in that direction.”
Over the years Whedon and Goddard had repeated discussions on the story they wanted to tell, but nothing really materialized. However, crushed by the failure of some unsuccessful film projects the duo finally decided to give a crack at their pet project. They locked themselves up in a hotel room and challenged themselves to conceive a screenplay over the course of the weekend, and succeed they did. Within three days they had accomplished what they set out to do. Initially neither Goddard nor Whedon showed interest in helming their fledgling effort, looking at the likes of Victor Salva of Jeepers Creepers, to steer the ship. In the end, Goddard took over the reins, making The Cabin in the Woods his directorial debut, while Whedon produced the movie.
With a production budget of $30 million, principal photography officially commenced on March 9th, 2009 in Vancouver. Since the aesthetics of a horror film play an integral role in setting the right atmosphere and mood, an adept group of technical professionals was assembled for the task. Peter Deming who’d previously lensed Evil Dead II and the Scream films, was hired to be the DOP of the movie, while Martin Whist who’d worked with Goddard previously on Cloverfield took over production design. Since Goddard and Whedon were going for a more classical gothic ‘look’ for their picture, especially for the derelict cabin’s setting, Whist took inspiration from the book Wisconsin Death Trip, which offers an appropriately eerie glimpse into life in 19th century Midwest Americana.
Extensive sets and the British Colombia Institute of Technology’s Aerospace building, were used to bring to life the underground facility controlling the chaos above ground. Being huge fans of Neil Marshall’s cult-horror The Descent, the duo brought on its composer David Julyan to craft an equally effective, atmospheric score. Two-time Academy award winning makeup artist David LeRoy Anderson of AFX studios, took on the challenge of creating the impressive creature effects featured in the film. Whedon and Goddard created over 60 different types of monsters specifically for The Cabin in the Woods, so Leroy Anderson had his work cut out for him in accomplishing this monumental task.
A cast of relatively unknown actors were chosen to embody their respective roles in the movie. “It was really important to not only get people who know what they were doing, but to also get a ‘group’ that is more than the sum of its parts,” said Whedon during one of his interviews. Each of the characters represent five slasher film archetypes- the whore, the athlete, the scholar, the fool and the virgin. Kristen Connolly was cast to play Dana, the headstrong ‘final girl’ and main protagonist of the narrative. Connolly later went on to have a successful run on the small screen in HBO’s House of Cards and recently appeared in the erotic thriller Deep Water. On the other hand, Chris Hemsworth is a name that requires no introduction now, what with his breakout role as Thor Odinson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But back in 2009 when he was Curt the football jock, on the set of The Cabin in the Woods, his career hadn’t taken off into the stratosphere just yet.
The constantly stoned Marty, played by Fran Kranz had several successful television and big screen collaborations with Whedon, becoming a series regular on Fox’s Dollhouse. Kranz even made a successful directorial debut last year, with the critically acclaimed drama Mass starring Jason Isaacs and Ann Dowd. Anna Hutchinson who took the role of sultry seductress Jules, when on to nab the lead in Spartacus: War of the Damned. while the scholarly Holden embodied by actor Jesse Williams got his big break on ABC’s award-winning series Grey’s Anatomy. The members of the covert facility were filled with some great talent like Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, but the real icing on the cake was pop-culture icon Sigourney Weaver as the foreboding director of the whole underground operation. Performances all around, were top-notch, and went a long way in making the audience invest in the movie’s characters and its brilliant genre-bending story.
By May 2009, principal photography wrapped and the movie was slated for wide release on February 10th, 2010. However, between post-production and its eventual release date the unthinkable happened in the form of – Avatar. The debut of James Cameron’s box-office behemoth and its inevitable success, saw studios hastily scurry to convert their completed films also into 3D. MGM too, thought it wise to capitalize on this gimmick’s popularity and delayed the release of The Cabin in the Woods to January 14th, 2011, so the film could be converted to 3D. But that proved to be just the start of its problems. On June 17th, 2010 MGM announced that the film would be indefinitely shelved, due to the ongoing financial situation of the studio. However, fortunes turned in Whedon and Goddard’s favor when Lionsgate showed interest about their project and on July 20th, 2011, they announced that they had acquired the distribution rights to the film, eyeing a release date of April 13th, 2012.
With their effort being put on ice for over two years, the duo had little faith with what they accomplished, but Lionsgate’s ecstatic response convinced them that they’d indeed done delivered something special and then some. On its release The Cabin in the Woods received rave reviews from critics and audiences alike, with its devilishly clever script and meta, genre-twisting story receiving glowing praise. Even 10 years later amidst masterful contemporary horror like Get Out, The Witch and Hereditary, there’s no denying the brilliance of Whedon and Goddard’s splatterific love-letter to horror. ‘Cos let’s face it, no one in hell will ever forget that iconic elevator cubes sequence and the bat-shit-crazy carnage that follows. No one.
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.