On the first night of South by Southwest, there were plenty of films playing around Austin on Friday, including the psychedelic-tinged Mormon pregnancy movie "Electrick Children" and the age-inappropriate rage-rampage of Bobcat Goldthwait's "God Bless America." But the film festival's official opening night selection was the world premiere of "The Cabin in the Woods." The film, originally with MGM, will be released in April by Lionsgate after being held up for some two years due to MGM's bankruptcy proceedings.
The film's story holds many surprises that will not be spoiled here -- needless to say there is a cabin, it is in the woods and the attractive young people who make their way to it find more than they expected. With its knowingly subversive storytelling, "Cabin" in many ways was built for the excited, whooping horde at Austin's Paramount Theater.
"I'm about to cry onstage," director and co-writer Drew Goddard said after the screening. "That was a dream come true. Thank you."
Goddard was joined onstage by co-writer and producer Joss Whedon, actors Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins and actresses Kristen Connolly and Anna Hutchison. The audience's enthusiasm for the the movie was palpable. Goddard and Whedon talked earnestly about the process of writing and making the film, Whitford and Jenkins provided comic relief and Connolly and Hutchison added a bit of fizzy, leggy charm.
"I think this came from a place of love; we just love horror," Goddard said of the inspiration for the story, which he and Whedon wrote over three days staying together (in separate rooms) at a hotel. "It came from a place of 'all right ... it.' If we could do whatever we wanted to, let's just do that and if nothing comes of it that's fine because we just enjoyed writing it."
Perhaps revealing Austin as the college town it is, amid the questions from the audience regarding the film's references to "The Evil Dead" and "Scooby-Doo" were a number of inquiries regarding the way the film handled storytelling archetypes.
"It's not that we don't like that," Whedon responded, "it's that we feel they need to be honored, and then killed."
Whedon was asked about the film's portrayal of its female characters and why (given the film's interest in subverting stereotypes) the girls were still sexy objects of desire in tiny tops and short shorts. He responded: "We did want to be making that movie at the same time we were talking about that movie. And making images that were sexual and on occasion sexy, even if they were exploitative."
When his response garnered a smattering of applause, Whedon added: "I have never been applauded for exploitation before. This is a great festival."
The Paramount was cleared out and anther audience brought in for the world premiere of "The Babymakers," directed by Jay Chandrasekhar. Best known for his work as part of the comedy team Broken Lizard, with rowdy comedies such as "Super Troopers" and "Beerfest," Chandrasekhar seemed here to be reaching partly for something like maturity. But he's not emulating the emotionally sensitive raunch of the recent Judd Apatow school of filmmaking.
Before the screening, Chandrasekhar and his collaborator Kevin Heffernan worked the crowd a bit from onstage, including a contest to chug a couple of beers that was met with wild cheers.
The film stars Paul Schneider and Olivia Munn as a couple trying to conceive a baby. When they discover that their problem may be "confused sperm," a plan is hatched to steal back a healthy dose from an insemination clinic. The film's greatest strength may simply be Schneider and Munn. Each has as winning a screen presence as one could ask for, and there's an unusual chemistry between Schneider's earthy authenticity and Munn's upbeat perkiness.
The movie played unevenly to the usually friendly Paramount crowd and after the film the audience thinned substantially for the Q&A. Munn wasn't present -- perhaps not surprising, given that just days ago some racy photos apparently from her cellphone appeared online. Actor Johnny Knoxville, who starred in Chandrasekhar's big-screen version of "The Dukes of Hazzard," shouted a few joking questions from the audience to pump things up, but the energy seemed to have left the room before the credits rolled.
-- Mark Olsen, reporting from Austin, Texas
Photo from "The Cabin In The Woods" courtesy of the South By Southwest Film Festival.