Walter Mencken 1 p.m., May 1
Interview: Kristen Connolly, star of The Cabin in the Woods
Five teenagers alone in a remote location are systematically done away with by unstoppable evil. Normally I'd ask that you stop me if you've heard this one before, but The Cabin in the Woods, a new horror satire that opens wide tomorrow, does its best to play against audience expectations.
The star of the film, Kristen Connolly, was in town earlier this week on a promotional tour, and I can't remember the last time a studio issued a list of spoilers that the press was forbidden to mention in their reviews. How does an actress hype a film that she is not allowed to discuss with the press?
The answer is very well. Connolly knew the ground rules and only when I stopped recording for a minute or two, and vowed to keep her thoughts off the record, would she dare reveal her true feelings about the film's many twists and turns.
For the first 40-minutes of the film audiences are treated to an encyclopedic vivisection of everything wrong with contemporary horror movies. The overly-clever script, by Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard, eventually falls victim to its own satirization, but not before sufficiently broadsiding the genre.
We spoke at the Hard Rock Hotel with the lovely Ms. Connolly clad in a blindingly bright Easter-yellow sweater.
Scott Marks: Have you seen The Hunger Games?
Kristen Connolly: I have seen it and I’ve read the first two books.
The similarities are there.
You know what’s funny? I hadn’t really thought about it until last week when (co-star) Fran (Kranz) and I were in Washington, D.C. doing interviews. We were talking about what is this craving our society has for watching young people be tortured and killed. Then I was like, this is The Hunger Games.
The problem is The Hunger Games doesn’t have a sense of humor and is rated PG-13. This is one instance where violence was needed to better push its anti-violence message. I’m not crazy about films that ask a woman to strip down and display her sexuality before piercing her skull with an ax. I laughed out loud several time during The Cabin in the Woods and if I had to classify it, I’d call it a satire more than a horror film.
It’s a funny question and one that has come up a lot. I think in a way it’s a love letter to horror movies, but it’s also a critique of them. The movie isn’t just a horror film; it’s also a comedy. There are also aspects of action, sci-fi, and other genres thrown in there. It’s a tricky film to try to classify or to call one thing. I know a lot of people that hate horror movies and love this.
So how do you sell a virtually unclassifiable film?
I don’t know. That’s one of the problems. The other is, I am not allowed to talk about it. I wind up telling people it’s awesome, take my word for it.
Here’s the one burning question I have: is what we’re looking at a goof on reality TV shows?
I don’t know. It’s more of a question for Joss and Drew. Drew deliberately kept the five of us in our own little bubble. We were really just playing everything as truthfully as we could with these crazy given circumstances. It wasn’t out job how to figure out how to play the archetypes. Drew took care of that. It was his job. My job was just to be real.
You’ve obviously seen the finished product.
So what do you think? Is it a reality show?
No. I don’t think it’s a reality show.
Is it even a show? It’s kind of fascinating that I’m even having questions about a contemporary horror film because most films in this genre do not exist to make audiences think. So who is the target audience, providing there is one, for what Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are filming in the booth?
I don’t know that I am allowed to say. I think that’s what people will go to the theatre to find out.
[At this point, I click the tape recorder off and Kristen explains the entire movie to me. Sadly, I prohibited from sharing a word of what she said.]
What movies scare you?
Drew gave me a bunch of movies to watch at the beginning of the shoot. We watched The Evil Dead movies and those were just crazy, hilarious, and weird.
I’ll ask the same question of Evil Dead 2: is it more of a horror film or a comedy? I didn’t jump once during ED2 or The Cabin in the Woods because I was too busy laughing.
I haven’t seen a movie like this in a long time where I was cracking up laughing at it while also being scared.
I’m curious to learn what other films Drew gave you.
He gave us The Descent which I thought was one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen. I think what he wanted us to take from that was how invested those actresses were and how intense their performances are. It didn’t fell like anybody was winking at the camera or phoning it in. It felt very real and very believable. Even though you don’t know much about the characters’ backstory you watch them thrown into this situation where they care for each other.
What horror films have you seen on your own that gave you the willies?
I saw the first Scream movie when I was in high school and I was terrified that my parents would leave me alone in the house. Jaws terrified me. Psycho is terrifying. There are times where I’m in the shower and think I hear something and jump.
He gave Fran and I Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
That’s a horrifying film, but for different reasons.
He wanted us to watch the last scene in the movie. Knowing how each one ends, you can see how one informs the other.
What was it about working on two soap operas (Guiding Light, As the World Turns) that prepared you for your performance in this film?
I think you’re kind of game for anything. You can’t get shocked and sort of go with it. Especially the second soap I worked on which I was on a little bit longer. I was really involved in the crazy plot. I kidnapped and baby, was kidnapped myself, I got amnesia, but then it turned out I was faking the amnesia. I was in a love quadrangle. It was outrageous.
Aside from television shows and movies, have you ever personally known anyone who had amnesia?
Kermit the Frog had amnesia in Muppets Take Manhattan. That’s about it.
I’m from the old school. What is an internet series? It’s bad enough we have to watch films on television. Do you really want people to experience your larger than life beauty on a puny cell phone?
The way people watch movies and TV is changing. It’s what’s happening. People do watch movies on iPhones and iPads. They watch more stuff on their computers than they do their televisions. I watched all of Downton Abbey in two day off of Netflix. It’s just the way it’s going.
I would not have been happy were my inaugural viewing of The Cabin in the Woods in my living room on a small screen.
Especially this film which is meant to be watched in a movie theatre with other people.
Is this your first visit to San Diego?
Yes. This is my second visit. I was out here a few years ago visiting a friend and I got to see the zoo, we went to Coronado, we went to Balboa Park, I was a show at the Old Globe...
You were a real tourist!
Oh, yeah. Big time. I’m psyched to be back. We got in yesterday, so it hasn’t been a long trip, but I think we’re going to go to the zoo again later. We wrap up this afternoon at about 12:30 and I don’t have to be at the screening until 7, so it’s nice to have some time to explore a little bit.
So tell me about iChannel. Was that your first break?
It wasn’t really a break. It was more like a bunch of friends throwing something together. We wanted to do a show and we were auditioning a lot, but when you’re starting out you tend to audition more than you work. Auditioning really is your job. We wanted to do something on our own so we just started shooting this thing. I was still in grad school when we started shooting.
All of the apartments we shot in were our own apartments. My boyfriend at the time was the main guy on the show. It was a lot of his classmates from NYU and a lot of my classmates from Yale and we threw it together and did it week to week. It caught on which was really cool. The crazy thing is for my next job I’m shooting a show for Netflix that David Fincher is directing. One of the main actors who was in iChannel -- we’ve been friends for years -- is also on the show. We’re shooting 13 episodes, so we start that next week and we’ve already been picked up for 2 seasons.
I saw you on the morning news today where you were asked to let out a scream. Are you afraid that a film like this could typecast you as a scream queen?
(Laughing.) It’s not my favorite thing to do, but I figured whatever.
Just make sure you’re not doing commercials for Activia Yogurt when you turn 50. How does one make the leap from the Yale Drama School to The Cabin in the Woods? You don’t expect to find too many Yalies in a horror film that calls for them to be covered in blood. And I must add, you look terrific with a blood facial.
(Laughing.) Oh, thank you! The makeup people were great with the blood. It was like hours of blood application day after day. I actually wanted more. If they smashed my face, shouldn’t my nose be broken and they were like, “No, you’re the girl in the horror movie. Your nose doesn't get broken!"
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