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Now You See It, Now You Don't

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Mark Kermode Mark Kermode | 10:27 UK time, Friday, 28 September 2012

I've just been to see House At The End Of The Street, the new horror film starring Jennifer Lawrence. It wasn't shown to the press before it opened - I wonder why?

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  • Comment number 1.

    I like Jennifer Lawrence a lot (Winter's Bone especially), and after reading her profile on Wiki I was heartened to see that she wasn't another actor's daughter or a former model like so many of these modern starlets. Nepotism is rife in the movie industry - any other employer would be up to their eyes in writs and industrial tribunals.

    Now a lot of 'em are very good - Jake & Maggie, Len DiCaprio, Gwyneth etc - but it must be utterly galling for those aspiring thesps in the audience of The Actor's Studio when some superstar's sprog comes on, talks about their 'art' and gets to dispense advice on their 'chosen vocation' just because their folks phoned a friend.

  • Comment number 2.

    Good subject for a blog, for sure, but obviously your professional conscience sent you down the road to see the film. Is there not some unwritten code that says that if the critics are spurned by the distributors, then the film doesn't get column space? And can they expect a different response if, instead of putting on a screening, they send you a pre-release disc with "promotional copy" above the picture?

  • Comment number 3.

    A scathing review of the "Sweeney" after a press screening anyone? Recently reviewed by your counterpart on the Beeb who thought this is the way British cinema should be heading and enjoyed the film.

    If I had missed JS's review I had kept carrying on believing the film was probably tripe and waited for it's TV premiere, as it is I may now venture to the flicks if I get a chance.

  • Comment number 4.

    I wondered recently about the effect of criticism regarding John Carter.

    By the time the film was released in the UK it was kicked around so much that it had already been stamped as a failure.

    I went in as open minded as I could so I could, however I had the voice in the back of my mind that was saying it was rubbish regardless.

    As it turns out I hated the film, however I wonder how it would have played with a less critical response.

  • Comment number 5.

    I work at a cinema, was a projectionist until the dreaded little black boxes and master images started moving in, and for love nor money we cannot get a print (well hard-drive) of Resident Evil. We want it because we know it'll bring in some money, but the distributors don't want us to have it. Not only do they not want critics to see it, but clearly they don't want the public to see it either.

  • Comment number 6.

    Of course critics are there to help raise the profile of a particular film. Many times has a review determined whether or not I should spend my hard earned cash on a cinema ticket. For example Dr. K's glowing review of Winter's Bone made me go and see it, and I absolutely loved it, a truly brilliant film.

    However the fact that scathing reviews have no effect whatsoever over a film is only half true. Sure the Saw films got bad reviews, but the franchise already has its fans. The same goes for the Resident Evil films. Reviews can damage a film, just look at Heaven's Gate, probably the most infamous box office dissaster in cinema history. The critics tore it to shreads; some reviews called the biggest disaster in Hollywood history and in turn United Artists pulled it from distribution. Look at Blade Runner, when it was first released in 1982, the film got scathing reviews and it died a mean box office death. Thankfully time has been kind to both these films and some consider Heaven's Gate to be a misunderstood classic, whilst Blade Runner has risen from the ashes to become one of the greatest, if not the greatest, science fiction films of all time.

  • Comment number 7.

    Bit perplexed by Dr K's love of Hush - it was full of plot holes, takes itself way too seriously for a film with such a ridiculously contrived plot and is laughably bad in places (although it's impossible to totally hate a film where the lead character is called Zakes) - so I have no interest in seeing its director's latest. But if everywhere I looked critics and film writers were proclaiming The House at the End of the Street as an unmissable masterpiece, would I go and watch it? Yes, I think I would.

    So while the Good Doctor's point about Resident Evil and Saw fans going to see the films regardless of what he and his colleagues say is true, I do think the critics have some sway. Perhaps they can't make people not watch films, but they can certainly get people to watch films they otherwise wouldn't e.g. I wouldn't have gone to see Berberian Sound Studio in the cinema if several critics I like hadn't been raving about it so enthusiastically.

  • Comment number 8.

    But surely there are films that are more review-driven than House at the End of the Street that would suffer from poor critical support? That film can rely on the regular horror audience that continuously turn out for these films - same for Saw and Resident Evil which are both established franchises - but a film like The Imposter for instance, which is apparently doing really well at the moment, surely wouldn't reach the same level of success without all the 5-stars its been getting?

  • Comment number 9.

    I have to say, the negative reviews of the Hangover 2 are what made me go and see it. I'd enjoyed the first one but wasn't too bothered about the second one because it seemed to be pretty much the same thing, but I couldn't believe the film could possibly be as bad as critics were saying. So I went to see it. Without negative reviews, I wouldn't have bothered. And kind of wish I hadn't.

  • Comment number 10.

    It seems to me that distributors are more cautious when it comes to press screening horror films, this going back to Peeping Tom. Clearly no one anticipated the tidal wave of vitriolic bile which the critics unleashed upon Michael Powell and his film back in 1960. When it comes to horror you just can't predict how the critics will react. I recently watched a video on Youtube of Siskel & Ebert reviewing The Evil Dead seemingly oblivious to the fact that the film was played tongue in cheek. On Rotten Tomatoes the underrated Wolf Creek gets trashed whereas the loathesome and hateful Eden Lake shockingly gets widely positive reviews from Philip French, Derek Malcolm et al.

  • Comment number 11.

    @ Harry Limes Shadow: ditto re Wolf Creek/Eden Lake. How about the former for a future Film Club Dr K?

  • Comment number 12.

    prometheus is out on the 10th of october and im really looking forward to it. i didnt go to the cinema to watch it because i waited to see it with my girlfriend after she saw the trailer and wanted to see it. her friends went to watch it and said it was rubbish so then i got told "nah its not my cuppa tea"...that wasnt annoying at all! alot of people i know have said its..."ok". it got pretty much slammed by the critics. i dont care what you all say im getting it on blu ray and thats it!

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.

    @ #1. Phud: Who needs to be a son/daughter when your well-oiled PR machine turns up and promotes you, instead. ;) Not a fan of Jennifer Connelly, who bangs on about hollywood exploiting women's looks only and then next thing is talking about her latest greasing up for a photo-shoot or running around in a skimpy vest in a horror movie: Quelle Surprise!

    Definitely there's some feedback systems going on here: Between producers, critics, punters. Sure a good film is going to be a good film. But playing the market the right way definitely is going to make a difference also with critics being a great example to put a film at the front of the shop/store window. Eg I wonder if the films that win a Film Award actually turns into more profits? Or if there are so many damn film awards that they devalue each other? Who's judging at these things? Then metacritic probably is going to have an effect of cumulative critic reviews also when it stacks up the top rated movies as most visible.

    But overall I think the most effective campaign is to get a BIG-WIG with "followers" who TALKS about the film = more guaranteed to translate into more movie tickets sold. IE if you're talking about it, it has something of interest to someone compared to what is not chosen. Eg the time Chavez offered a book to Obama, it rocketed up in Amazon's chart list. Reviewers are not el presidente but they're somewhere on that chain of recognition!

  • Comment number 15.

    Find it interesting that the UK critics weren't shown That's My Boy and Resident Evil: Retribution Mark, as I was at a screening for both of these films in Ireland.

    Seems strange that they would be shown to the Irish critics and not the UK critics. Sure, there wasn't a major gap between the screening and the release of the film (for instance, Resident Evil was released on Friday and was screened on Thursday morning), but they were shown nonetheless, even though they must have known there was a good chance that those in attendance wouldn't like it.

  • Comment number 16.

    I don't totally agree with what Dr K is saying because there are lots of cases where the prospects of a film have been hamstrung by bad reviews. You only have to see what happened to the masterpiece that is Night of the Hunter. It is well known that the critic Bosley Crowther gave the film a bad review, it then tanked at the box office, Charles Laughten never directed another film and it took years for it to be re-evaluated for what the films was. A similar situation happened with Blade Runner.

    No matter what a critic says about a film, it's down to the viewer to make up their own mind about whether they will see a film and enjoy it. Heaven's Gate lost a load of money not just because the critics didn't like it (or the fact that it cost so much to make) but because the audience were ambivalent to it (and having seen the 4 hour version of it myself I found slow, drab, ponderous and self indulgent twaddle). On the flip side of that I watched Gone with the Wind last years for the first time ever and found it to be a load of over rated drivel!

    If I just went with what critics have said, I would never have seen films that I really like and shout from the roof tops such as 300, Watchmen, Dark City, Alien 3, Event Horizon, Death Race (the remake) etc.

  • Comment number 17.

    Personally i gather film reviews from a number of different sources,from broadsheets,red tops,podcasts,blogs etc before i give the picture my hard earned if a film gets a sweeping fail i wont go,if its mixed then its a gut reaction decision.So in my opinion Critics DO have a say in SOME of the box office if not all.

  • Comment number 18.

    Another little point...As this was filmed before Jennifer Laurences successful films, maybe the profile of this Movie was kept low key on purpose so not to damage her rise by the film industry?

  • Comment number 19.

    re: Bladerunner's failure at the box office - my understanding was that the failure was less about the critical reaction and more about bad timing. If it'd been released earlier (or much later) in the year, it might have stood more of a chance...

  • Comment number 20.

    12: by all means, see Prometheus but don't be too surprised when you realise quite how poor a job "Sir" Ridley did with it.

  • Comment number 21.

    @ Harry Limes Shadow... you may have inadvertantly hit the nail on the head there. I'll tell anyone that will stand still long enough how powerful and jarring Eden Lake is. I loathed Wolf Creek. horror, of all film genres, is the most subjective. what gets my juices flowing in that regard is a turn-off for you and vice versa. surely then with the release of a horror film, a studio is, quite rightly, concerned that one person's (the trusted critic) opinion will colour those who listen to him, against a film they may enjoy?

  • Comment number 22.

    I have to disagree with you Dr K. The House At The End of the Street is pretty terrible.

  • Comment number 23.

    I thought of the same example as HarryLimesShadow, that the critics did for Michael Powell when they reviewed "Peeping Tom".
    But I wonder if the changing access via the internet is changing the role of the reviewer. Yes, the main papers and TV websites have their reviews of films (and other art/culture reviews are available!). But there are a lot of independent voices as well as the films own websites etc. I wonder where the majority of the cinema going public now head to encourage them to choose their film to view as well as which format? Do the good folk who respond to your blog posts, Dr. K, just use your reviews or do they use a broad spectrum of reviews? Or just go with past knowledge and/or gut instinct?
    By the way, "Berberian Sound Studio" will be screened at the Edinburgh Filmhouse from Friday 19th October to Wednesday 24th October. This slipped under my radar at the EIFF so thanks for the recommendation - I hope to catch it this time around!! So maybe the mainstream movies with lots of money thrown at them don't need the reviews but the more unusual probably do!

  • Comment number 24.

    It's dependent moviegoers that damage a film's takings; those that treat as gospel what is ultimately mere opinion, however popular.

  • Comment number 25.

    I do remember seeing HUSH; while not perfect I did enjoy it. I haven't seen THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET, but from some reviews including Mark's, perhaps Tonderai was trying a little too hard in his latest horror attempt. Dare I say he's trying to go mainstream, and I think that would be a shame.

  • Comment number 26.

    Hang on...a film about incest and statutory rape, as a COMEDY? Am I seeing things? For crying out loud, if that does not show once and for all just how vile, putrid, nasty, vindictive and morally bankrupt a lot of American 'comedy' really is, nothing else will. The fact it was cancelled doesn't change that; they should have aborted this horror from the start. Have they got a brain cell between them? Oh and Mark, it also shows what a vile piece of mucus your pal Adam Sandler really is. He's about as funny as a miscarriage. One film - PUNCH DRUNK LOVE - does not make him a good actor; nor does it justify his wretched 'comedies', most of which were made in the depths of Hades and directed by Old Scratch himself. Don't agree? Watch LITTLE NICKY, if you dare.

  • Comment number 27.

    Shoulda put it out in 3D - hahahaha!

  • Comment number 28.

    i think you underestimate the influence of critics a little. Whilst i am perfectly capable of choosing the films i want to see, i can think of instances where your reviews have swayed me one way or another. - of Gods and Men was a film that i wouldnt have seen but for your glowing review and when i saw the trailer for Dark Shadows i was keen to watch it but after hearing what a mess it was, i decided to leave the good memory of the trailer intact and not bother with the film. However, leaving aside the technical and professional aspects of filmmaking, there is a large subjective element and so while i appreciated the quality and depth of the afore mentioned of Gods and Men, it didnt touch me in the way it did you, and i wouldnt have put it in my top ten of the year. In the same way i am sure there are films out there that you panned that i have enjoyed greatly. In the end i guess we have to see the movies that spark our interest regardless of reviews and make our own judgements, and then enjoy debating them afterwards!!

  • Comment number 29.

    @Heather Martin - Good point, that with the Internet there are many more sources now for film reviews and opinions. In addition to hearing/reading what Dr. Kermode has to say, I generally look at film trailers on YouTube and read comments there from viewers who seem knowledgeable. On the question -- "Can critics sink a film?" A really bad film will fail on its own accord, no matter what the critics say. Audiences will stay away if their friends warn them that a film is a stinker. But no career worries Dr. K -- we will always need good film critics!

  • Comment number 30.

    @ no.9 Leglet: your comment is proof that a fool and his money are, indeed, easily parted.

  • Comment number 31.

    There are many kinds of critics who offer differing opinions on what constitutes a good film. The BBC Film Show now plumbs the depths of mediocrity as far as film reviewing goes but it plays to younger, hipper, less film-history-savvy audience. Even Mr Kermode attracts a specific kind of audience with his reviews (more aware of the wider cultural and historical aspects of the movie industry maybe!).

    So often the critic is playing to the stalls, an already converted audience. Also films are constructed in such a way these days to appeal to its chosen demographic. "Good or bad" is rarely the reason for seeing the movie - these days, if you're watching it with an audience of quietly ruminating grey hairs, or scores of noisy, eating, facebooking teens, the movie has often been made for that kind of audience in mind.

    Its just good that mavericks such as Jim Jarmusch, Leos Carax, David Cronenberg and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, can make movies and get them distributed, all of whom would have received decidedly mixed reviews for their recent works, but most probably due to the new technology small cinemas are introducing (many thanks to the old Film Council who funded a lot of the digital projector installations in small cinemas) we get to see these film makers work.

    A case in point would be Berberian Sound Studio. A film that received mixed reviews and was not widely distributed, but as word got round that it was a great little film small cinema chains bought it in at short notice, in our case for a couple of screenings.

    Increasingly film criticism is done by the audience and small web-based "journalists" and posted on sites like IMDB ans Rotten Tomatoes, Professional critics increasingly have to bring something different to the game, which is why your own particulalr brand of movie infotainment is enjoyed by so many. We may not agree with your views on films but we enjoy the banter, conjured up by your forthright, but often misguided views on particular films!

  • Comment number 32.

    I see Phud's point about nepotism running rife in the movie industry. If Lily Collins hadn't been Phil Collins's daughter, she wouldn't have got a chance to play the part of Snow White in 'Mirror Mirror' and maybe one of the other 199 auditionees for the part might have got a chance!

  • Comment number 33.

    I have never really considered it before but when you think about it, you critics are a god send to promoters. All the studios have to do is present a film to a room full of journalists and afterwards they get their film written about in a wide range of media for free virtually. It is a ridiculously cost effective ploy in comparison to other forms of promotion usually employed by studios.

    It would be very brave for any promoter to pass up the easy coverage that press screenings offer. In this case, the only plausible reason I can suggest for the snub is that maybe the suits believed poor reviews were inevitable and surmised they could endanger their extensive advertising campaign.

  • Comment number 34.

    On another point, I don't necessarily agree with your view that all publicity is good publicity for films.

    To an extent, I understand how your hypothesis could be applied to big money blockbusters or heavily advertised films. A bad review, whilst not ideal obviously, could attract more pure publicity and add to the debate/hype surroundings films which have already penetrated the public consciousness.

    Surely for smaller film releases however, reliance on favourable reviews is far greater? On your show you review and discuss numerous films that are outside the mainstream. If you are enthused and offer positive reviews of a film I had never heard of there is chance I would investigate it further. If you gave it a negative review on the other hand, in the absence of any notable advertising or other forms of enticement I would just ignore it entirely.

  • Comment number 35.

    I can't think of any movies that I have NOT watched due to Mark's derision. Often if a movie is derided I will watch it on DVD just to see whether it's as bad as people claim. Recently watched MIB3 and thought it wasn't actually as bad as Mark had lead me to expect.

    However I can think of many movies that I HAVE watched because Mark recommended them that I would not have otherwise watched without that recommendation (e.g. Moon, Of Gods and Men, Winter's Bone, Monsters, Let the Right one in, Four Lions, Disappearance of Alice Creed - looking forward to watching Trollhunter, Kill List, Tyrannosaur). Each of these films blew me away, one way or another.

    That, for me, is the absolute value of the critic - to sort the wheat from the chaff and alert me to the wheat they've found. I don't think critics can hurt a blockbusting stinker but they can certainly help an unknown indie.

  • Comment number 36.

    As someone who loves the games Dr. Kermode, I'll let you in on a little secret - I loathe the Resident Evil movies with a passion that borders on the indecent. It isn't because they're badly made, because they are not. But it is jarring when we've had nearly two decades of a "story", only to see Paul W.S. Anderson peddle what can only be described as fetishistic fan-fiction. I think most people agree the movies aren't much cop, but despite the falling viewing numbers and the growing criticism (and the dwindling copies being pushed around), the movie franchise appears to be taking more and more at the box office. Try putting that to a bunch of Economics students!

    On the whole though I think there's a difference between paying for something and getting something for free. I've gotten many movies and games for free over the years as part of bundle deals, and generally I accept them as they are - free additions. Even if they're not so hot, I surmise that hey, I got a few hours of joy from them and I paid no extra money so therefore it's not much of a loss if I don't particularly enjoy them. I'd imagine movie criticism is much the same as reviewing games - you may be getting it for free, but you have to be conscious to the fact that these people want this product to make money. People will be paying £12 to £30 for it. Most of us if we see something for free would probably find something to like - or be at the worst rather indifferent. It's a different tale when money has to exchange hands.

    The problem with Resident Evil is that with the new game out, the movie will be even more prominent. And the game has hardly met with much critical approval, so the movie I expect will see a critical tongue-lashing that would make the Lickers blush with embarrassment. You can't really do much with that though - it's a blockbuster that we can all go to those who pay to see it "We told you so!".

    But it is smaller gems that need critics to praise them. To shine a light on them as they would otherwise be engulfed by the likes of Resident Evil. They need the attention in a world that is unkind to their ilk, and that's the greatest gift a Critic can have. We can all see and smell a stinker coming a mile off. It's the delicate blooms left in its wake that need the most care, as we'd otherwise not be looking their way at the time.

  • Comment number 37.

    This is very informative on game reviews - backed up by data:

    I'd imagine games are somewhat different from movies, but atst, I suspect some of the findings/trappings of reviews are likely very similar in both of these 2 different media.


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