[Slight spoilers ahead – you have been warned]
This past weekend The Witch was finally unleashed on audiences and as I anticipated, many were unhappy with what they saw. The main reason for the backlash is the movie’s trailer. Or rather, trailers, because these days it seems to be mandatory for films to have multiple trailers while also releasing poster upon poster. By the time you actually get to see the movie in question, you’ve probably seen most of it in bits and pieces via all of the advertising and while this is troubling on it’s own, even worse than this, it the fact that all of this advertising was probably selling you a film that is markedly different from the actual product. Imagine buying a box of Thin Mints only to find out that they’re actually lemon flavored. I don’t know about you, but I would start throwing furniture and this is why I understand the people who feel like they were duped into seeing a movie that they, otherwise, would not have been interested in.
You may, or may not, know that movie trailers are actually farmed out to separate companies. Basically, pretend you wrote and directed a film about a kung fu fighting dog who travels the land, exacting revenge on animal abusers, but the trailers sell a movie about a possessed car that is just trying to make it to Disneyland. Sure, technically, there is a scene in the movie where our hero dog gets a ride in this car and they have a nice conversation about Space Mountain, but it’s only five minutes of the film. So, you go to see a movie about a possessed car and end up with a kung fu fighting dog. All because the trailer sold the film incorrectly. Sound familiar?
Goodnight Mommy trailers made it look like a film about a woman who comes back from surgery only be be inhabited by some sort of supernatural or alien entity, but this couldn’t be further from the actual story. The Babadook is more a commentary and dissection of grief than it is about a spooky story book character. (Although, in both the film and the trailer, the kid was consistently annoying.) Crimson Peak, a gothic romance, was advertised as a horror film and this prompted Guillermo del Toro to get onto Twitter and tell audiences that it was definitely not a horror film. Unfortunately, not everyone saw that particular tweet. This list could go one forever, but these are just a few of the most recent and biggest offenders of the misleading trailer crime.
The common bedfellow of the inaccurate trailer is the assertion that you are going to witness a film that is truly terrifying. Ever since Paranormal Activity, every single horror movie is THE SCARIEST MOVIE YOU HAVE EVER SEEN. Or, as I pointed out a few days ago on Twitter, we can reach back to Hostel. Remember the Hostel advertising? If you went to see this movie, you were going to be traumatized for the rest of your life. They had this movie at Exorcist level hype. This would be the first and last time that I fell for this kind of horror movie hype. I dragged along another poor soul to this movie because I just had to see it, but I was so worried that I would be too terrified to go it alone. To say that this person was annoyed beyond belief by what he sat through would be a kind re-imagining of events. I still clearly remember the row of frat guys behind us who actually started complaining about whether or not we had come to a horror movie or a tits and ass movie. Personally, I really love Hostel and it’s sequel, but it certainly didn’t traumatize me, make me vomit, have a panic attack or induce nightmares. The only thing Hostel made me feel was remorse for subjecting someone else to the hype.
Advertising is a necessary evil and you may be wondering to yourself, if I don’t watch trailers, then how will I know what films I’d like to go see? I can only speak for myself, but for the last year or so, I have actively avoided trailers and stuck to only reading about upcoming movies. As technology progresses at a rate faster than we can wrap our minds around, we have been led to feel that the constant stream of moving pictures that are available to us on our computers, tablets, phones, television screens and even at the gas pump are mandatory viewing. They’re not.
You may be receiving Fangoria or any other number of film and entertainment publications, blogs, newsletters, etc. on your iPad these days, but that doesn’t mean that you must click on the trailer that might accompany this information. As far as reading goes, I still caution you to only read a little before seeing a movie. Perhaps save reading about the directors influences and intentions until after you have viewed the finished product. While it is always wonderful to hear from an actor what they were trying to achieve and what they believe their character’s motivations are, it’s so much more fun to read all of this after you have formed your own opinions. The onslaught of information that we are given before experiencing a movie for ourselves often dilutes and, at times, sullies the experience.
Trailers are fun and exciting and really cool mini movies in their own right. Their siren call is definitely irresistible and some people are just fine with a lot of information before going to see a movie. I’m not here to admonish trailers. They are a necessary tool and to blame a trailer for your personal unhappiness with a film is only partially fair. The indie horror film industry seems to have been hit particularly hard lately with deceiving trailers and it saddens me to see people leave a film with a negative feeling. Especially a negative feeling that can be attributed to someone else being guilty of nothing other than doing their job really well. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is this: when the next new “Horror film of the year” is being advertised, ask yourself how much you really want to know about the movie before you go see it.
If you’re interested in what the trailer makers have to say about their job, you may find the following articles interesting. I know I did.
Images: IMDb, metacritic, hitflix, movieposter.com