Are young cinema audiences ruining The Woman In Black?

News Mark Harrison 16 Feb 2012 - 07:53

Did a six second cut to The Woman In Black attract an audience that simply wasn't up to the task of watching it in a cinema?


Does anyone else get the feeling that we've all been in the exact same afternoon screening of The Woman In Black this week? I don't doubt that some people were able to avoid the problems that have plagued myself and practically everyone else I know who has seen the film since it came out, simply by seeing it in the evening.

But it's half-term in the UK, so if you caught an afternoon screening, I bet that you won't have had a worse cinema experience in a long, long time. What is fascinating, to me is that people I know, whether local or not, have been, over Facebook and Twitter, making the exact same complaints about their fellow patrons. And those complaints are specifically centred on the audience that The Woman In Black appears to be attracting.

The Woman In Black is a horror film that builds tension and atmosphere in much the same way as recent, popular chillers like Insidious and the Paranormal Activity films. It's basically a ghost-train ride of a movie, that also happens to air out the niche once occupied by the rejuvenated Hammer Films studio. Those other films, however, had the benefit of a 15 certificate, a classification which Hammer and distributor Momentum chose to avoid.

The BBFC detailed the classification process for The Woman In Black, in their customarily informative report: “This work was cut. Distributor chose to reduce moments of strong violence / horror in order to achieve a '12A' classification.” The report goes on to outline how six seconds worth of shots were edited to reduce the impact of certain scares in the film, and thus scrape past at a 12A certificate, despite the fact that “a '15' classification without cuts was available.”

Now, for those who have agonised over how filmgoers, particularly parents, still don't seem to understand what 12A means, I should stress that this isn't a rant about the film being unsuitable for under-12s (12A means, in real terms, that anyone can get in to see the film, regardless of age). That goes without saying, and I've not heard any reports of parents being dunderheaded enough to take younger kids to see what is a very full-blooded, trouser-browning horror movie.

The difficulty is that the 12A certificate has been requested for commercial reasons, because it invites the lucrative 12-14 tween market in to see the film, just in time for half-term. And based on my experience of seeing the film, along with others' experiences, they're just not mature enough for it. It's not that the film is unsuitable for the 12A audience - in fact, it's completely the other way around.

It's become an increasing annoyance to me that the cinema industry bends over backwards to cater to teenagers, particularly teenage boys, because they're a lucrative market. What makes it so annoying is that this audience doesn't seem to have any manners, whatsoever, to correspond with their apparent importance to cinemas.

Once again, I'm very aware that it's not fair to generalise, or blame shitty cinema etiquette entirely on teenage boys and girls. There may well be readers aged between 12 and 14 who behaved themselves throughout The Woman In Black, and if that's the case, then kudos to you. Goodness knows there are cinema-goers far older than yourselves who still haven't got the knack of respecting the film and their fellow patrons.

I'm also all in favour of entry-level horror for a younger audience. The Harry Potter films did this brilliantly, later on in the series. I have the utmost sympathy for Daniel Radcliffe, who I believe is very good in the film, as he ran around doing press duties last week, basically telling people not to take their kids to see it just because it's rated 12A. By his own admission, he's said that about most of the Harry Potter films, so why would filmgoers heed his consumer advice now?

I don't believe for a second that this film was ever intended to be a Potter-level horror, outside of a spreadsheet. That it has swerved a 15 certificate is only by the tiniest of adjustments - it's a 12A on paper, but only briefly cut, without any thought on the studio's part towards tone or reception by an audience that is just not mature enough for it.

I'm not even pissed off about people screaming or laughing nervously at the film's scares, and indeed, that audience reaction is exactly why I usually like seeing this kind of horror film in the cinema. It's what went on between scares that irritated me. In those silent, tension-building moments, instead of palpable anticipation, I got people chattering about the film.

“This should not be a 12A”, said one young girl behind me. I happened to agree with her. I agreed with her, all 50 ba-jillion times she said it. I agreed with her, the louder she said it as the film went on. But as much as I agreed with her, I just wanted her to shut up so I could stop agreeing with her, and enjoy the film instead. Weirdly, I've also heard many claim that other viewers, in other screenings, were saying the exact same thing, to anyone who would listen.

Worse than that, elsewhere in the packed-out screening, some of the boys were making a habit of grabbing the girls during those not-so-silent and atmospheric bits, with the disproportionate effect of making them scream histrionically a couple of seconds before anything happened on screen to provoke that. But then something did happen, so they screamed again. And so, the nervous laughter was tempered by a chorus of inarticulate Beavis and Butthead sniggers.

I haven't even started on the popcorn-throwing, or the seat-kicking or the perpetual texting, but I think you're getting the picture. The behaviour at the screening I saw was nothing short of appalling. In isolated instances, you can usually rely on the staff at my local cinema to eject people like that - the great customer service is the reason why it's my soulless mega-plex of choice.

But when it's more than half the people in the screening, what would be the point of complaining? What can they feasibly do? In this case, I don't think they can do a thing. As I said, the problem isn't that parents are taking under-12s, but that 12 to 14 year olds can get in without parental supervision, and too many are lacking basic cinema manners. The girl behind me was abundantly clear about this - even they can't believe they were allowed to see the film.

The problem is that six seconds of tiny cuts don't make a difference to the fact that the film is scarier than anything that most of this audience have been allowed to see in the cinema, but the difference between a 12A and a 15 has proven to make all the difference in the world for The Woman In Black.

For those who are fortunate enough to have access to adults-only 'over-18' screenings that some cinema chains put on especially to avoid notable examples like this, I strongly recommend that you do frequent those in this case. The issue of cinema etiquette in general is a much bigger problem, but the bigger problem is that there's only one reason that so many more ill-mannered people were allowed in to see the film in the first place.

Its sheer horror value puts The Woman In Black sits at the very top end of a 12A certificate, and the film's box office success in the UK this week, beating out The Muppets and The Phantom Menace to the number one spot, would seem to have validated the decision to cut the film, financially, at least. You can see why: a 12A movie, headlined by Daniel Radcliffe, in his first major post-Potter role? That's instant wide appeal right there. The problem is that it's been, arguably, to the detriment of watching the film with an audience in a cinema.

I really hope all this doesn't set a precedent for Hammer in the future, because little good ever comes of curbing creative decisions in horror films, or any kind of film, just to make an extra buck or two.

“This shouldn't be a 12A.” If a teenager can tell you that in seconds, maybe the 15 certificate version would have been preferable for all concerned?

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