SXSW Film Festival Day 1: 'The Cabin in the Woods' + 'The Babymakers'

The Cabin in the Woods

Two words accurately describe the first day of the 26th annual South by Southwest Festival, or, as it’s more commonly known now, the Hipster Mecca of the Universe: “Wet” and “Shhhhhhhh!”

The Cabin in the Woods

Director: Drew Goddard
Cast: Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Chris Hemsworth
US Release Date: 2012-04-13

The Babymakers

Director: Jay Chandrasekhar
Cast: Paul Schneider, Olivia Munn

It’s been raining since I arrived in Austin, and it looks like it will keep pouring down liquid demons for the next two days. Though rain usually makes it all the more acceptable to spend six hours a day (or more) indoors watching movies, the lines to get into these movies at SXSW are all outside.

It’s a testament to SXSW film-goers that they stuck it out. Even after waiting in line for more than an hour and a half for the world premiere of The Cabin in the Woods, the crowd exploded in cheers and laughter as writer/producer Joss Whedon took the stage with writer/director Drew Goddard. Despite everyone smelling (and looking) like wet mops, Whedon and Goddard heated the crowd into a fervent frenzy. Whedon showed his wit -- after instructing the audience on what words to use describing the top secret film, he loudly whispered to Goddard that repeating the phrase “instant classic” would make it more memorable and thus more likely to be used in print -- and Goddard demonstrated his (seemingly) legitimate humility when he said he would do his best not to cry on stage.

The movie did not disappoint, but that’s as elaborate a description as I’m willing to provide. As I discussed with a new friend outside in line, films are so much better without movie trailers, advanced clips, and spoiler-filled reviews. Whedon would undoubtedly agree, at least with this film. Before and after the film, he pleaded with a crowd constantly snapping pictures with their iPhones to keep the film’s secrets to themselves. I, for one, will honor his wish happily.

The Cabin in the Woods works, and works very well, because of its surprises. Sure, there’s some excellent dark humor and inspiring performances, but it’s the horror send-up’s twists and turns that provide the necessary support for its comedic elements. It’s a succinctly brilliant piece of pulp art, brimming with life and relevance even after two years on the shelf (Whedon also briefly discussed how MGM’s bankruptcy kept the film off screens for so long). Ok. I’m done. Just go see it next month. Then we’ll talk.

Immediately following the successful debut of Cabin came the disappointing comedy The Babymakers, also premiering in the 1,200 seat Paramount Theatre. Though director Jay Chandrasekhar (of Super Troopers and Beerfest fame) and costar Kevin Heffernan (of the same fame) were greeted by cheers and laughter for their in-person introduction featuring a beer-chugging contest, these same moviegoers fled the screening before the credits ended (even though the two were coming back for a post-film Q&A).

Starring Paul Schneider and Olivia Munn as a couple determined to get pregnant the old-fashioned way, The Babymakers kicks off with crude jokes, throws in some crude stunts, and ends with a crude idea of modern marriage. Schneider proves he can handle leading man status despite the juvenile script, but Munn can barely carry the few non-sexpot scenes in which she’s actually asked to act.

The few laughs to be had are ones you’re ashamed of by film’s end. Chandrasekhar has terrific comic timing, as evidenced by his directorial work on successful TV shows like Community and Happy Endings, but the premise, sets, and jokes all feel too much like something that should be found on CBS after Two and a Half Men, albiet R-rated.

The best (or worst) part for me was seeing Wood Harris (aka Avon Barksdale from The Wire) appear in a bit part as one of Schneider’s stereotypical bros. Having loved him in the HBO series, I’ve been wondering what happened to the talented thespian. Well, here he is. At least he’s the smartest of the four friends.

With so many films to come, including the hotly anticipated premiere of 21 Jump Street (ok, maybe I'm in the minority here), I'll gladly accept a 50% average for the fest. Especially if the good ones are as much fun as The Cabin in the Woods.

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