I saw the new horror film Insidious in a crowded theater last night. The film was great — check out Owen Gleiberman’s full A- review — and it’s the first movie in a long time that has literally made me want to run out of the theater and go see a charming 3D-animated children’s movie just to remind myself that there is still joy in the world. (Actually, the last time I felt that way was Paranormal Activity, so maybe I just have a problem with house sounds. In my defense, house sounds are the most terrifying sounds in the world.) Only one thing got me through Insidious: The fact that I was in a crowded, highly reactive theater. Whenever the movie threw a new shock-terror in our faces — some freakish ghost sisters, or a dancing Newsie ghost — everyone in the theater would scream, and then laugh, and then spend about a minute talking about how scared they were and how funny it was to be so scared. (The mostly-teenaged crowd also hurled lots of insults and suggestions at the characters onscreen, all of which are unrepeatable here.) I have friends who can’t stand it when people talk during a movie, but I think I actually I enjoyed Insidious significantly more thanks to my loud audience. Which got me wondering: Are there times when talking in a theater is justified, even necessary?
There might just be certain genres that lend themselves to the loud-crowd experience. Comedies and horror films both strive to inspire a highly specific emotional reactions — laughs and shrieks — and it’s easier to tune into those emotions when you’re in a crowd of fellow viewers. This is why the vast majority of comedies always seem less funny when you watch them alone. It’s also why you only really notice how ridiculously funny Alfred Hitchcock movies are when you see them with a big-screen audience.
Then again, maybe all movies are more fun with a loud audience, as long as everyone is on the same page. I’m really big on the opening-weekend viewing experience, because there’s the feeling in the air that everyone is there for a reason. (Put it this way: You don’t accidentally decide to go see a Harry Potter movie at midnight on a Thursday.) Speaking as someone who is not nor has ever been a teenage girl, I got a huge kick out of seeing The Twilight Saga: New Moon specifically because everyone in attendance was so passionate about the movie. For most of the movie, the opposing clans of Team Jacob and Team Edward were locked in a battle to see who could chant longer and more stridently for their guy. (Jacob won.) Some cinephiles may revolt, but it’s worth pointing out that talking in a movie theater is hardly the provenance of philistines. I had an elderly film professor in college who rhapsodized about his youthful experiences watching movies in Paris back in the’50s, when the Cahiers du Cinema crowd would take over two rows and loudly deconstruct whatever film was playing onscreen.
I suppose you could argue that there are just some movies that demand quiet — sober character studies like The King’s Speech, say, or verite-dramas like The Hurt Locker. But I think there are definitely some films that can be enhanced by audience comments. PopWatchers, do you have any favorite loud-crowd movie memories? Or, conversely, have you had a film absolutely ruined for you by a talking audience member? (I should point out that everything I’m saying here has nothing to do with cell phones. We can all agree that anyone who talks on a cell phone while a movie is playing deserves at least two days in the stocks.)
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