Helen Murdoch on the problem with Hereditary’s marketing…
All of the recent 5 star reviews of Ari Aster’s horror Hereditary have got me thinking about what we expect going into a film versus what we actually see. Hereditary depicts the most horrific displays of grief that I’ve ever seen committed to screen, but based on its trailer and the marketing, billing it as the next Exorcist and comparing it to The Shining, I would have been deeply disappointed by it.
I’ve seen numerous tweets about people’s experience of the film being ruined by chatty cinema audiences and open heckling. In the screening I attended there were three teenage girls (which immediately raised alarm bells in this prematurely aged writer) who basically talked the whole way through the movie and even laughed in moments that were so far from funny I couldn’t describe it without spoiling the whole film. But as important as cinema etiquette is, Hereditary was marketed as a completely different film.
The trailer bills it as a terrifying jump scare horror, more in common with The Conjuring or Insidious franchises then a cerebral slow burn horror. The end game for the distributors and the studios will always be to get bums on seats and spread as much word of mouth as possible. They’ve succeeded at this but this has unfortunately led to a score of D+ from CinemaScore and lots of criticism and angry cinemagoers. Some of the criticism of the film is understandable and warranted but I can’t help but wonder if there is so much vitriol because Hereditary was targeted at the wrong audience. This isn’t to say that some viewers won’t enjoy their expectations being subverted and will find that they do like this style of horror. However, it seems as if a majority of audiences are full of people who wanted to be terrified and jumping every 5 seconds and have been left bored by what they ended up watching.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. I remember a number of people going to see Drive thinking that it would be like the Fast & Furious franchise, I remember someone snoring their way through The Witch and I found myself baffled by the good reviews for It Comes at Night which I found to be largely dull. Marketing is all about perception and creating something that people want to see. In that definition the people behind Hereditary succeeded admirably. When I first saw the trailer I got goose bumps and when I read the initial reviews I thought that this was going to be amazing. But if other people had that same opinion and spent their hard-earned money to see a film only to find out that it’s nothing like what they imagined, is this fair?
Whilst it can be rewarding to watch a film with a clear idea of what it’s going to be and then have your expectations completely changed; this doesn’t seem to be the case with the hate for Hereditary. Ultimately I think this comes down to the genre and the complexities of horror. Horror has tended to have distinct identities, we’ve had the slasher era, the torture porn, the Japanese remakes, found footage and so on. But with the recent resurgence of horror and the different genre elements and themes that are being brought in, you can no longer classify them in the traditional sense. I think this is why marketers are misleading audiences in this way. Ultimately the film has to make money and trying to market a horror which leaves you feeling unsettled and creeped out rather than getting the audience to jump every time there’s a loud noise is not easy.
Unfortunately the mis-marketing of Hereditary has led to a rise in annoying cinemagoers ruining the experience for others. Cinema etiquette is a touchy subject and why so many of us prefer to watch films on Netflix and avoid other people. There’s the constant talking, the sound of popcorn being chomped on, phones flashing up every five seconds and so on. Hopefully some people have gone in to this film and had their expectations turned by 180°. It’s just a shame that it’s so difficult to immerse yourself in a film when someone is checking their Instagram five seats away from you.
Is it fair that people think that they’ve been lied to? No it isn’t, but how many times have you gone to see a film that’s been raved about and been left wanting? Marketing should always be taken with a pinch of salt and Hereditary has taught people about this more so than any other film. What it has made me realise is that every film deserves a chance to be watched in peace along with other paying customers.
What films have you seen that were completely different to what the trailer promised?
Helen Murdoch is a film-lover who writes about anything and everything. Follow her on Twitter.