The title is the setup, and nobody in this van ride to oblivion has ever seen a pimple in his or her life: There’s the jock, the slutty one, the stoner, and the jock’s sensitive buddy who hits it off with “the Final Girl.” Co-written by director Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) and his cult-hero producer Joss Whedon (creative mastermind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and this season’s The Avengers), The Cabin in the Woods knows that you know they know all the clichés of American horror. The film takes a giddily maximalist swing of the machete at becoming the ultimate of its kind, so how do you tell someone about it without spoiler alerts?
“I’m still trying to figure that out,” Goddard says. “But it’s not like The Sixth Sense, where if you know that one spoiler, it changes the whole movie. Cabin is much more about escalation than secrets.”
Still, it would be a bummer to offer any more than the trailer does, which is that unbeknownst to those horny, half-sloshed kids playing “Truth or Dare,” their remote getaway is remote-controlled by an enigmatic organization with murderous intent. It’s like hell’s version of The Truman Show, an angry spit take on nefarious institutions of power as well as Hollywood’s degradation of the horror genre itself . . . but, you know, with laughs.
“Humor and horror are much closer in their style and intent than people realize,” Whedon explains. “We both love, love, love horror movies, but the formula they were falling into had left the concept of horror behind for the torture of dehumanized people who had it coming.”
Goddard elaborates: “I can find examples of the scenes we’re railing against in Cabin in movies I’ve loved. It’s all about execution. The biggest thing that upsets me is the fetishization of the slaughter without the appropriate counterbalance. It’s just beautiful shots of killing people that would be at home in a Victoria’s Secret ad.”
Believe it or not, Cabin wrapped production three years ago. The natural reaction to hearing that a project has been collecting that much shelf dust is to assume it’s a real dog, but in this case, only the economy is to blame.
“Like lots of big companies that were hit hard by this recession, MGM went belly up after we finished shooting,” Goddard says. “It didn’t just affect us. When James Bond and The Hobbit are also getting delayed, you’re like, ‘OK, this isn’t about any one film.’ Luckily, it all got sorted out in the best possible home with Lionsgate.”
With a filmmaker’s worst fear then squelched—that their fake blood, sweat, and tears would never be unleashed on the masses—what else makes this longtime collaborative team personally squirm?
Goddard answers first: “The hardest to beat is a guy standing in your yard with a bag on his head. Guys that are human but slightly off—the Michael Myerses of this world—are what scare the crap out of me.”
And you, Mr. Whedon? “I’ll cover my eyes every single time for anybody being embarrassed or making a fool of themselves. I used to hide behind my chair when I was a kid watching The Patty Duke Show, literally. I can watch evisceration no problem. I like to be scared, but honestly, humiliation and sometimes lying. Those two things make me crawl around in my chair.”
Although their ambitiously rambunctious finale builds to an end-of-the-line conclusion, would it be perverse to consider a sequel or expansion to the Cabin universe?
“We definitely see this as an enormous franchise,” Whedon jokes, before a hint more sincerity: “Drew and I often discuss, ‘What were the things we didn’t get to do?’ There’s not a lot, but we’re greedy. “ “The Cabin in the Woods” opens April 13 (Lionsgate), discoverthecabininthewoods.com.
‘Damsels in Distress’
Whit Stillman’s deliciously offbeat return to snappy ivory-tower comedy (see also: Metropolitan, The Last Days of Disco) follows an idealistic clique of New England college girls (Megalyn Echikunwoke, Carrie MacLemore, and scene-stealing ringleader Greta Gerwig) whose stylized, glibly self-involved repartee could be the sunny-day yin to Heathers‘ mean-spirited yang. On a mission to “help” depressives, noxious-smelling frat boys, and a new recruit (Analeigh Tipton), the young ladies find time for song-and-dance numbers that are as infectious as their wit. Sony Pictures Classics, in limited release, sonyclassics.com
Haunted-eyed Alfredo Castro (the murderous John Travolta obsessive of Pablo Larraín’s unhinged 2008 drama, Tony Manero) reteams with his director for another politically charged, darkly comical provocation that’s as cold as a corpse. It’s 1973, literally the eve of Pinochet’s coup, and a lonely Santiago morgue bureaucrat (Castro) has finally worked up the nerve to hit on his neighbor (Antonia Zegers), a cabaret dancer who’s just as indifferent to the background upheaval. Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, filmforum.org
‘My Mars Bar Movie’
Famous to East Village culture but now infamously closed for good, the Mars Bar was the diviest of dives, a grimy punk-rock steeple and graffiti-covered bastion of New York’s unruly past. For more than two decades, avant-garde film luminary and former Voice columnist Jonas Mekas called it his local watering holeo, and anyone who has ever gotten trashed or stepped in puke there will want to raise a glass to his vérité, barfly-friendly love letter. Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, anthologyfilmarchives.org
‘Goodbye First Love’
That first kiss is always followed by the agonizing first heartbreak. . . . Again digging into the bittersweet nostalgia of adolescence vanishing, rising French writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve (The Father of My Children) proves a sensitive storyteller with a Rohmer-like talent for sustaining mood and sexually candid nuance. When teenage Camille (Lola Créton) falls for older boy Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), their familiar affair and subsequent implosion leads to a decade of misguided devotion and poignant, gorgeously lensed longing. IFC Films, in limited release, ifcfilms.com
‘Sound of My Voice’
Writer-actress Brit Marling broke out of last year’s Sundance with two naturalistic sci-fi dramas—the first being the modestly cosmic dud Another Earth. Working here with director/co-writer Zal Batmanglij, Marling shines as the messianic leader of an insidious suburban cult that has been infiltrated by two doc filmmakers. Never less than riveting, this tautly scripted feature proves teasing suspense is more important than a blockbuster budget. Fox Searchlight, in limited release, foxsearchlight.com
‘Céline and Julie Go Boating’
When redheaded librarian Julie (Dominique Labourier) spots cabaret magician Céline (Juliet Berto) dropping her scarf in the park, the pursuit leads to a curious new friendship and a down-the-rabbit-hole, shaggy dog of a masterpiece from the French New Wave’s most mystical figure, Jacques Rivette. Presented in a new 35mm print, 1974’s flirtatiously dreamy, delicately experimental comedic melodrama (of sorts) is hard to define but drips with spontaneous energy, game-changing puzzles, and delightful mise-en-scène. Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, filmforum.org
‘God Bless America’
Divorced and terminally depressed, office drone Frank (Mad Men‘s Joel Murray) sets off with a teenage stowaway (Tara Lynne Barr) on a prolific killing spree to rid the world of American culture’s pervasive repellents. Like a vitriolic Idiocracy, Bobcat Goldthwait’s scathingly hysterical follow-up to World’s Greatest Dad is a critique-cum-fantasy that imagines Network‘s Peter Finch as not just mad as hell, but also packing heat against entitled reality-star brats and double-parking douchebags. Magnolia Pictures, in limited release, magpictures.com
‘The Color Wheel’
A long-undistributed critic’s darling, Alex Ross Perry’s snarkily indulgent, black-and-white 16mm comedy stars the squeaky-voiced filmmaker as arrogant would-be writer Collin, one half of a hostile sibling rivalry with aspiring actress J.R. (co-scripter Carlen Altman). Persuaded by his sister for a lift to Boston, where she plans to reclaim her belongings from her smug professor paramour (Harmony and Me auteur Bob Byington), the duo exchanges barbed witticisms at each other and passersby, their complex grudges revealing a profound shared vulnerability. Brooklyn Academy of Music, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, bam.org