What on earth is the marketing strategy for 'The Beguiled'?

What on earth is the marketing strategy for 'The Beguiled'?
'The Beguiled' stars Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst with director Sofia Coppola, 'Top Chef' contestant Casey Thompson and a pie
Source: Steve Cohn/AP
'The Beguiled' stars Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst with director Sofia Coppola, 'Top Chef' contestant Casey Thompson and a pie
Source: Steve Cohn/AP
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Judging by its marketing, you might imagine that The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola's latest film that opens in select cities Friday and gets a wider release on June 30, was some kind of Civil War-era Mean Girls. The cast of characters have been given monikers like "the quiet type" for Kirsten Dunst's Edwina and "the HBIC" for Nicole Kidman's Martha. A BuzzFeed branded-content article offers up reasons why The Beguiled "proves that you don't fuck with women."

Then there's the Twitter video encouraging Elle Fanning's teen character to kiss Colin Farrell's wounded Union soldier while he's unconscious. "Get it girl" flashes across the screen in all-caps pink font.

The marketing recalls the promotion for Coppola's previous feature-length film, 2013's The Bling Ring, in its irreverent tone. But that movie was about a group of teens robbing celebrities. The Beguiled is a Gothic horror piece about how a man's presence violently upends a Confederate South girls' finishing school.

Having seen the film, one question remains for the Beguiled marketing team: Why?

(Editor's note: Story spoilers for The Beguiled below.)

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The marketing has seized on one particular quote from the film, when Farrell's character calls the women of Miss Martha Farnsworth's finishing school "vengeful bitches." In the film, he hurls it at Martha and Edwina after they amputate his leg in order to save his life. His accusation is that, because he chose to sleep with Fanning's Alicia instead of either of them, they chose to butcher him.

You might assume that, at some point, the term "vengeful bitches" gets reclaimed by the female characters. Why else would Focus Features' marketing team be sending out "vengeful bitches" tank tops to Instagram celebrities and Real Housewives of New York stars? Why else would the film's Twitter account consistently use and promote that hashtag?

Your assumption, though based in sound, logical reasoning, would be incorrect. Farrell's delivery of the line is the only mention of it, and it's entirely derogatory and misogynistic. So while it's already odd to see a woman wearing a shirt emblazoned with the phrase, it's even more questionable to see gay men advertising the tagline.

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The aim of all this seems to be camp value. As Coppola herself has explained, she made The Beguiled for women and gay men. (Previously, The Beguiled was a 1971 Clint Eastwood film; Coppola's is a remake.) But camp requires wit and understanding of the material that this marketing doesn't possess. There's no wink behind the use of the term — it's just fixating on a buzzy phrase. And the would-be "vengeful" violence in the film is not fun — it's just what must be done to keep Farrell's soldier alive.

Beyond the "vengeful bitches" hashtag, there are oddities like having Top Chef's Casey Thompson pose with the stars while holding a pie. Why a pie? Maybe because, in one scene, the characters serve apple pie? Who knows!

In the comments on and replies to some of the movie's Twitter posts, you can see some dissenting remarks about the marketing — not a ton, but enough that it should've caused concern for the team behind the campaign. Nevertheless, "#VengefulBitches" persisted.

Perhaps the marketing strategy will pay off in spades, and The Beguiled will enjoy a huge opening weekend in limited release. Anything is possible. But as seen with movies like 2011's Drive, which was sold as an action movie that it simply wasn't, misguided marketing can often result in displeased audiences. If that's the case, no amount of #VengefulBitches tank tops will be able to save the film.

The Beguiled is now open in limited release, and will open wide June 30.

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