As any of you who have been following my budding movie reviewing career know, I recently saw Joss Whedon’s newest film, the Cabin in the Woods. It was amazing. You can read my review of it over on Flickboom. Seriously, go see that movie right now. Unless you are weak of constitution and/or regularly faint at the sight of blood. Then maybe you should pass.
But as I was fastidiously adding this gem of a film to my list of favorite movies of all time, I noticed that there was one thing my top three picks have in common. Can you guess what it is? I bet you can, because it’s in the title of the post: horrifically misleading trailers. Take a look:
3. The Horror Flick: The Cabin in the Woods
Well. That looks exactly like every other excessively gorey horror film with entirely too much screaming. Let me guess–they get picked off one by one while the madman watches, cackling with evil delight? And maybe there’s an underlying legend about zombies or wolf people or something, whom they accidentally awoke from the dead? And at the end there’s only one girl left standing, and she has to give up her humanity to fight back against the horrors that assail her from every side? Boring. Seen it. Next.
Yes, all of those things happen, but it’s not the point of the movie. The film itself is actually an intelligent deconstruction of all of those tropes, and it starts right at the beginning: the cackling madman is actually a collection of sane, well-motivated people with really good reasons for what they’re doing. For most of the film, the audience is left unable to decide who to root for–something that just doesn’t happen in horror movies, where the general viewing public is almost always on the side of good while horror movie buffs fall squarely on the side of evil. Moral ambiguity for the win!
2. The Action Movie: Fight Club
This trailer was so misleading that when I saw it, I thought “not another stupid fighting movie,” and consciously decided to skip seeing the film in theaters. It wasn’t until years later when someone convinced me to watch it that I realized my mistake, and I’m still mad about it.
While Fight Club is actually a nihilistic critique of our passive, consumerist society, this trailer makes it look like a generic dude movie where a bunch of guys swagger around trying to impress one another with their sweet moves, bro, and also there’s a hot chick who has sex all the time. Basically, it looks like a film only a drunk frat boy could enjoy. In fact, I bet a lot of drunk frat boys walked out of this film demanding their money back. “This movie challenged my sense of self-worth and the value that I place on commodities!” They whined to many a bored cinema employee. “I want my ignorance back!”
1. The Family Comedy: American Beauty
“Gosh, what a lovely, uplifting little film about the challenges of keeping a family together! I bet the kids will like this one. Let’s pick up grandma and head over to the theater together,” said someone unfamiliar with the rest of Kevin Spacey’s body of work. The fact that he’s in this movie ought to have been enough to warn people that it wasn’t what the trailer implies, but unfortunately I kind of doubt it worked like that. Instead, I’m sure parents scratched their heads over the R rating, then took their kids anyway–and promptly ran out of the theater in outrage when they caught sight of Spacey masturbating in the shower. No. This is not a happy family comedy.
What really gets me about this trailer is the music in the second half. Up until that point it was only kind of terrible, but after that it’s just plain wrong. Never should a film that features (among the lighter charges) stalking, adultery and rampant drug use be set to a feel-good 80s rock ballad. I can’t even. What. No.
So how did these three amazing movies get billed so very, very wrongly? The answer is simple: genre. All three of them are movies that defy classification (unless the classification is “awesome”). They don’t fit into the normal boxes, instead choosing to sort of wander through several different categories. But they still require trailers, which exist solely to sell a movie to the widest possible audience, thereby drawing the largest possible crowd to the box office. And the best way to attract lots of viewers is to appeal to a popular genre, so what do the trailers do to these genre-less movies? Make it fit in the box!
Of course, this immediately comes into conflict with the other purpose trailers are suppose to fulfill, which is to give people an idea of what the movie is actually about. As a result, you get some people going to see movies that are wildly unsuited to their tastes, while others skip over what might have been their new favorite film. Unfortunately, the number of people who will wrongly see the movie generally far outweighs the people who opt to skip it, so economics says we can expect more shitty trailers in the future.
How can you avoid falling into the trap of the trailer travesty, you ask? It’s easy: do your research. Read ratings and reviews online instead of relying on a marketing team to tell you what’s up. That’s what the internet is for. May I suggest starting with Flickboom? :P
“You can fool a person into going to see a movie with a good trailer.” ~Nile Rodgers