Today, for the first time ever, I left a film before the end. The film in question was James Wan’s latest horror The Conjuring, which has been aggressively trailered for months. In the same ball park as films such as this year’s disappointing Dark Skies, this seemed like a better than average attempt at getting the haunted house genre right.
Unfortunately, I have no idea whether or not it managed. My decision to walk out of the screening room after 20 minutes had nothing to do with The Conjuring, but everything to do with the ludicrous behaviour of my fellow audience members.
Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the increasing problem with cinema audiences. In it, I issued a plea to filmgoers to approach cinema in the same way that they would approach any other kind of art.
Films are an art form, to be enjoyed with the reverence that is afforded to fine paintings or classical music. They are not simply a cheap form of entertainment designed to serve as a background to loud conversation, mobile phones and the use of popcorn as projectiles. As cinema audiences continue to be populated by those without a single jot of respect for the medium, the industry is struggling to get money out of the fans they actually want.
Unfortunately, today’s screening of The Conjuring was the straw that broke this particular camel’s back. I love cinema enormously. It is an art form that is consistently capable of surprising, delighting and astounding me in a way that no other form of entertainment can.
I especially feel that way about the horror genre. Horror is an intricate patchwork of sound design, visual trickery and expert direction that relies on the slow creation of atmosphere and dread. Unfortunately, for many people, horror films are just a stunt. For many, going to see a horror film is nothing but a display of masculinity and has very little to do with the merits of the material.
As such, this particular showing of The Conjuring was populated by a deeply irritating group of teenagers who could only be described as “lads”. From the moment I took my seat and the adverts began, they talked constantly and rustled their bags of sweets/crisps/nachos/extra bags for implausibly long periods of time. I hoped that this would cease as soon as the movie began, but I was unfortunately very wrong.
When the film began and slowly drew out a few opening scares, they continued to chatter and rustle. It really says something when the sound of rustling packets can almost drown out a huge surround sound speaker system. By the time the first few jump scares occurred, they were virtually shouting.
At this point, one of Odeon’s startlingly incompetent ushers appeared and stood at the side of the room for around five minutes. The “lads” continued to casually fuck up the movie, with no reaction from the member of staff, who promptly left.
The Conjuring was beginning to amp up its scares at this point, but I was uninterested. It wasn’t that I was being snapped out of the film, but that I had never been offered the opportunity to invest from the beginning. Whatever James Wan was attempting to do, I was oblivious to it. It was then that I decided to leave, having consumed less than £2 of the film to which my ticket entitled me.
I have no idea if The Conjuring is any good, although according to 86% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing, it is. What I do have a clear idea of is that cinema is in a dire position. Horror thrives on atmosphere, which is impossible to create when the row behind you is discussing the previous scene or even discussing the trailer in alarming detail.
It really is damning to think that cinephiles must wait for several weeks after release before they can consume a new film – especially a horror flick – in a quiet auditorium where they have half a chance of enjoying themselves.
The more that films are considered simply a “night out”, the more difficult it is to enjoy them as art. With independent cinemas all but dead outside major cities, there is often no alternative to the multiplex and the crowds of individuals who don’t appreciate the majesty of cinema.
It comes down to the need for better staffing and ushers in cinemas. Their role is to ensure that everyone’s cinema experience is as good as possible, which is not something that can happen if there’s a noisy game of Candy Crush Saga going on in the room.
I will try and see The Conjuring again before the week is out and I really hope that I’ll enjoy it. But I’m sure that, one day soon, I will again be forced to walk out of a screening for which I have paid money as a result of disrespectful imbeciles who cannot understand the basic etiquette of a cinema.
If you run a multiplex cinema and you’re reading this, simply print the following poster (courtesy of Radio 5 Live’s excellent Wittertainment show) on the door of every screen. Zero tolerance.
Update (9th August): Since this blog post, I sent a complaint to the Odeon cinema in question. They have pledged to investigate the issue further and have posted two free cinema tickets to me. I’ve also managed to see The Conjuring… and it was great.