The right theatre experience is critical for proper appreciation of films on the big screen, while the wrong sort of audience can ruin the show
Yes, yes, a theatre is the best place to experience a film in, but they forgot to add the crucial bit, ‘unless it’s a horror film, and you’re watching it in India’. Annabelle: Creation at a popular multiplex felt like a carnival. If David Sandberg, the director of the film, had seen the ebullient atmosphere inside the theatre, he would have decided two things: 1. To stop making horror films, considering how seriously his confidence would have been dented, 2. That Chennai people have nerves of steel. Each time a painstakingly created scene was leading to a scare, someone from the audience would howl, in loud mockery of the very heart and soul of a horror film. A couple of people began speaking on behalf of the characters on screen, and the people who were laughing in response continued to fuel such interruption. One person, meanwhile, was trying to execute his own version of the jump scare. Each time a quiet scene was playing, he would suddenly let out a quick shrill cry. These antics weren’t from one person, or even one section of the crowd. Towards the end of the film, the infection had spread across the entire cinema hall.
In star vehicles like Velaiyilla Pattathari, such raucous cheering abets the overall enjoyment of the film. The very film, with its highs and lows, is calculatedly created to draw such response. Films like Annabelle: Creation are not. It’s important, essential even, that deathly quiet be maintained in the theatre to fully appreciate such films, which rely so much on mood and atmosphere to generate the scares. Annabelle: Creation, I can comfortably say, is among the worst experiences I’ve ever had in a theatre.
It reminded me of a contrasting, more enjoyable time in a cinema hall about a couple of years ago. I was watching Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur in a San Francisco theatre, and was thoroughly fascinated by the general silence in the theatre. You would be conscious of even munching your popcorn, for its sound would seem deafening, amid the dignified, overwhelming silence in the theatre. The audience, every now and then, vocally expressed itself. But this was a response to the film, its characters. When the animated baby dinosaur expresses its love, some let out an audible ‘aww’. It showed investment in the film. It’s the sort of reaction a director dreams of.
I imagine it’s difficult for theatres to crack down on unruly sections of the crowd. Where do you draw the line? It’s a cultural thing, I dare say, and I’d even go as far as saying that it is our masala films that have created this culture of restlessness in a movie hall. Having grown up on a diet of fast-food films, as I call it, our audiences, it seems, cannot stand too much silence in a film. Every time a Malayalam film is being remade in Tamil, the director usually talks about how the script has been ‘adapted to suit our sensibilities’. What they mean is that they will be compromising on all the ‘slow development’ that they are worried will make our audiences restless. And it doesn’t take much to do that. Like fidgety teenagers raised on fast food, we apparently lack the patience to wait for a wholesome meal. We want to eat, and we want it fast… never mind if it’s healthy. We will howl till we get it.