Sunday, June 18, 2017

EDITORIAL: Expectations and How We Let Them Impact Our Viewing Experiences

It is nearly impossible to go into a film with no expectations. With the immense marketing infrastructure, and huge movie review space, having no information about a film prior to sitting down is nearly impossible for anyone of any ilk. That said, many people try (and effectively do) set those expectations aside and enjoy (or not enjoy) the movie on its merits. This editorial will dig into the many situations where that isn’t the case and how we might be unduly harming our own enjoyment of things as a result.

The reason I thought to write this editorial now was that I saw my two favorite movies of the year in back to back weeks with both receiving some kind of negative reaction largely due to expectations (from my point of view at least). Last weekend, I saw the horror-drama It Comes At Night from A24. This is my current favorite film of the year and was received wildly positively by critics, resting at an 87% Rotten Tomatoes approval rating with a 7.4/10 average. That said, audiences felt very differently. They liked it at only a 43% rate on Rotten Tomatoes and gave in an awful “D” Cinema Score. This week, I had the pleasure of seeing Colin Trevorrow’s The Book of Henry. The film received an ok 72% from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes and brought in just over $1 million on its opening weekend. Critics eviscerated it, however, giving it just a 25% approval rating with a 4.3/10 average. I couldn’t believe how underappreciated these two felt by certain communities and I wanted to ask about the role expectations play in arriving at where we are.

Though I think we all like to expect things, and it helps get us in the theater, I think that some expectations ruin the in-theater viewing experience. Both It Comes At Night and The Book of Henry were punished as a result of expectations. It Comes At Night was billed to the audience as a typical horror film/creature feature. When the audience realized it wasn’t that, they were left disappointed. Critics faced a similar dilemma with The Book of Henry. That film was billed, and felt, like a somewhat light-hearted Amblin-inspired piece. Instead, it was that combined with an exceedingly dark and sad story (that I won’t get into at risk of spoiling this film). Many other films have had this problem as well (need I mention The Village?).

The ultimate question is whether there is anything to do about this. Should we do something? How? Those are complicated questions that I couldn’t ever claim to have the answers to. That said, I think we need to work on giving ourselves up to the whims of filmmakers. In our modern age of cinema, many in the film fan community are complaining about the glut of franchise films and reboots, but the reason that we see those primarily is that it is easy for the studios to trade on audience expectations and accurately assess profit margins. With smaller, riskier fare, it is much more difficult to figure out what will connect. It Comes at Night had a respectable first weekend, narrowly missing the top 5. However, it fell over 55% in its second weekend of release to enter a realm of disappointing obscurity. The Book of Henry struggled in its limited debut, performing even below the per theater averages for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie in their 7th and 3rd weeks of release, respectively. This kind of thing is really unfortunate if we’re looking for some new and interesting works of cinema to succeed.

The bright side of expectations is that they make us excited. Further, when a film delivers (or over-delivers) you might leave the theater even more ecstatic than you would have otherwise. This is what spawned the overwhelmingly positive reactions to Wonder Woman, Logan, and Get Out earlier this year. Let’s try and band together this summer and check our expectations at the door. Give yourself up to a storyteller. The results might surprise you.

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