Whilst 2017 continues to churn out endless sequels and big-budget franchise films, there hasn’t been a shortage of smaller, original works. Two particularly prominent films are Darren Aronofsky’s mother! and Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes At Night. Both films were sadly notable for their unfavourable audience ratings, with mother! famously receiving an F on CinemaScore. I believe the marketing campaign played a crucial part in their critical kicking. Both campaigns were highly unconventional and arguably misleading as the trailers marketed the films as horrors rather than the thoughtful and atmospheric works they really are. Audiences didn’t get what they expected and they let their opinion known. But why should this be the case?
Effective marketing is arguably what the film industry lacks nowadays. We’re accustomed to practically seeing the entirety of the film in the trailer: many mainstream film trailers constantly ruin plot points and key sequences. Take Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice for example: the first teaser trailer was released in July 2014 when the actual film was released in March 2016. That’s a year and a half in advance! Of course, this was to establish to audiences that the film was in the pipeline for those that didn’t know. Four subsequent trailers followed and increasingly with each trailer, meaty spoilers were revealed. Whilst I regard the film to be a crazy invention only director Zack Snyder could have created, I did feel the sense of fatigue of having seen the film in the trailer.
When you go the cinema or watch a film at home for the first time, it should be a new experience. When the lights fade out and the opening titles begin to appear on-screen, audiences should be on edge and freshly experiencing the narrative as it unfolds. You’ve got to respect both mother! and It Comes At Night for attempting to preserve this film-going experience. mother!’s campaign was vastly different (a very strong one, in my opinion) with Aronofsky trying to withhold as much information as possible, including having an extended review embargo. Furthermore, one must consider that both films are difficult to digest and require multiple viewings – an initial response to a film is very different from a genuine one. So what can we learn from this? Don’t take trailers for gospel and be open to the thought that a film might try and surprise you. We should be praising originality, not condemning it.