Stop me if you heard this one before. A big movie studio takes a chance on a strange little horror screenplay from people who are really knowledgeable in sci-fi/fantasy/horror. The writers make the film and the studio doesn't know what to do with the finished product. The studio comes up with scheme after scheme--reshoots, new director, recasting a small role with a name actor, post-convert to 3D, cobble together a trailer that looks like every other successful film in that genre of the last five years--and eventually settle on shelving the film. A smaller studio known for the genre picks up the film, dusts it off, and promises a release. The new player in the not-getting-released game is The Cabin in the Woods. This sci-fi/horror hybrid--originally slated for a February 2010 release through MGM--will now be released by Lions Gate on 13 April 2012. The screenplay was written by Joss Whedon (Buffy, Firefly) and Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) and the collaboration shows. Whedon is known for smart self-aware genre writing and Goddard is developing a reputation for strange genre-hybrids.
The first trailer was just released last week. Have a look.
My big concern is very evident in this trailer. How many cliches can you throw at the screen before a film loses all meaning? Group of 20-somethings traveling to a remote location? Creepy man warning against the journey? Some monster or other hiding in the woods awoken by partying? Innocuous location being tracked by unseen men in a control room filled with monitors? Masked strangers surrounding a victim? Drugs altering behavior in a horror film? Hidden passageways and quasi-religious code words? Self-aware characters commenting on horror film cliches? The list could go on.
It looks like an attempt to make an epic mind-bending sci-fi/horror hybrid. I'm not willing to dismiss this based on the trailer. Clearly, something about the film posed a marketing problem. You shelve a film because you don't know what to do with it. Maybe the wide range of cliches is being used as a catch-all reference to any type of horror/sci-fi fan. This could be a good sign if The Cabin in the Woods turns out to be some revolutionary force in the genre. It could be a bad sign if its an incomprehensible mess (I'm looking at you, House of 1000 Corpses).
Here's what I'm hoping happens. Lions Gate doesn't back out of releasing the film in theaters. The last time they got cold feet, they wound up dumping what would become a critically acclaimed horror film into the DVD graveyard--Trick'r Treat. I doubt they will make that mistake again with a film that has as big a reputation and higher clout from the writers/director.
Lions Gate is notorious, however, for changing release dates. The original Saw was pushed back from a late spring release to an early summer release to a Halloween release in the US. The film would have been a hit at any of those release dates. They just tend to really over-think their release schedule. If you give horror/sci-fi fans a quality original property (not a remake, not a sequel: something brand new), they'll seek it out whenever you release it. If it's bad, the fans will find out. Better to get the material out there before the pirated screener becomes the format of choice.
Thoughts? Love to hear them.