What's Making French Teens Riot During Screenings of 'Annabelle'?
I went to see the new horror movie in London to work out the answer.
Annabelle, the doll, from Annabelle (Screen shot via)
Last week, French teens did what teens do best: went wild in a handful of cinemas around the country, dismantling seating, punching each other and generally losing their merde. The cause? A horror film called Annabelle that has now had screenings cancelled in Marseille, Strasbourg and Montpellier.
The ruckus has prompted much head shaking in France, with one cinema manager saying, in typically elegant Gallic fashion, that the kids “didn’t have the most elementary notion of how to behave”. I was curious how a film about a doll could be so incendiary, and wondered what trouble it might cause on this side of the Channel. To find out, I called my mum to tell her I loved her, then bravely entered Westfield Stratford to watch a blockbuster horror film.
Much to my disappointment, all 99 minutes of the movie passed without a single uprooted chair or gangway drubbing. The most violent thing I noticed was what looked like some highly spirited, pretty unenjoyable fingering a few rows in front. In fact, that seemed to be the reason most people were there. Not specifically for doing awkward hand stuff in public, but as an excuse to cosy up to partners in the dark.
All this hormonal romance made me acutely aware of how seedy I looked sitting alone on the back row, hunched over a notepad and surreptitiously sipping a water bottle filled with white wine. But I couldn’t let my discomfort hamper my investigation into why the film had driven our French friends to mild rioting, while the behaviour in East London was typical of any film screening populated by horny teenagers.
The most likely cause, I realised, can be deduced from looking at reports of the incidents. The owner of one of the affected cinemas said: “They were throwing popcorn and talking at the top of their voices or walking round.” Which doesn’t sound like the actions of people gone mad with terror. Really, it sounds more like the actions of bored people. Which makes sense: Annabelle is very boring.
The film is impressive only for the sheer amount of clichés it manages to pack into an hour and a half. A comically wholesome mother is terrorised by a demon spirit that has attached itself to a doll via a cult murder. For whatever reason, the summoned entity wants the mother’s newborn baby, but – despite its supernatural powers – is completely inept, managing only to interfere with the TV signal and briefly render a lift out of order. Eventually, a priest who looks like George Carlin figures out the problem and a black woman sacrifices herself to save the precious white baby.
I realise that horror, like the Western, is a genre in which the interest comes from rehashing tropes and introducing new elements into familiar scenarios. The Blair Witch Project had found footage and snot. The Ring had the weird Japanese heritage. The Mist had lots of mist. But Annabelle, like most mainstream modern horror, has nothing even remotely interesting to offer. Yet the film is being lapped up; it's had the most successful horror movie opening of the year.
When I spoke to people after the film no one had any strong feelings about the premise, the plot or the characters. All I heard was the same phrase repeated by the attendants; they all said the film had “done the job”. When I asked them to elaborate, most said that, basically, it had made them jump.
The trailer for Annabelle
It seemed to me that the people watching the film had set the bar very low. After all, the tickets cost £13. It’s 2014 – can’t we ask a bit more of Hollywood horror than some loud noises and flashing images? You could get all that by putting firecrackers in a pot and sitting in the dark, and you'd save enough cash to buy yourself a bottle of own brand vodka.
How many times are directors going to show us a radio spontaneously switching on and expect us to shit our pants? Or pair some plinky plonky notes with a spinning mobile and think they’ve tapped into our collective fear of chopstick piano and baby toys? Even the evil spirit in Annabelle, when it eventually appears, has the same Mr Tumnus-on-a-bender look as most other cookie-cutter horror flick demons.
Maybe this dull film was the last straw for a French audience who demand more from their horror than us placid Brits. Their rebellious behaviour may have been a symbolic rejection of complacent filmmakers and a rallying cry for all film fans to rise up against the tyranny of lazy Hollywood. Or maybe it just so happened that their horseplay escalated to a nearly dangerous level in front of Annabelle rather than Gone Girl or Dracula Untold.
If there's even a minuscule chance the former is true, we cannot risk another lacklustre film causing a mini riot. Innocent cinema seats and buckets of popcorn are in danger. The horror genre desperately needs some new ideas to revitalise itself. Luckily, after finishing my wine, I came up with some pitches.
1) A dachshund is bagged up and thrown into a river because it has a gammy leg. When it miraculously survives it gains the ability to see into future, but it doesn’t like what it sees…
2. An office Christmas party takes a sinister turn when an inappropriate song choice resurrects the ghost of Elliott Smith. Starring holographic Elliott Smith (in 3D).
3. All the chairs in the world suddenly go missing.
Your move, Hollywood.
More films on VICE: