A new day has dawned in interactive cinema, and its name is App.
Released this April, the Dutch horror film by Bobby Boermans is being touted as “the first film with 2nd screen”: a movie where viewers are encouraged to use smartphones in the theater to enhance the film-going experience.
This development is exciting on many levels, but its primary implications will concern two elements. The first is how we interact with film content. The second involves how we interact with each other as audience members.
App's plot seems to revolve around a smartphone application called "Iris" that assumes a life of its own and wreaks havoc in the lives of users. Its name is a thinly veiled reference to "Siri," that lady who lives in your iPhone and never understands what you're saying.
The technology at play here is intriguing. Viewers are encouraged to download the corresponding app before the film, which then gets cued by an audio watermark and provides provides real-time content, facts, and other enhancing features. These will allegedly include receiving "sinister messages" at the same time as the film's protagonist.
According to Variety, the watermark is inaudible to the human ear, and will function whether the film is being viewed in a theater, on DVD, or even in a different language. App will also "work" as a stand-alone piece for viewers who have not downloaded the corresponding application.
Since filmmakers and distributors are always looking for new ways to involve young viewers, this seems like the perfect solution. The logic seems to be that people are on their phone all the time anyway, why not make it an integral part of the film-going experience?
In addition, it creates a broader platform for brand expansion and product placement. The App app is free now, for example, but if the same technology becomes an essential aspect of future movies, charging a dollar per download is a solid way to increase revenue. It also provides more avenues to inundate consumers with ads.
Potential criticisms of this film-app combination might include that the app distracts from the experience more than enhances it. After all, isn't a horror film scarier if you're completely immersed?
At the same time, these "distractions" could add another way to frighten audiences, if used strategically. Much like surround sound creates fear by sonically tying moments to certain spaces, an app could draw attention to one area then hit viewers with a scare from another.
We obviously won't know until we see it.
But perhaps most importantly, this film could fundamentally change how movie audiences interact with each other. In many circles, talking and using phones during a movie is considered rude. In others, it's a vital part of film-going culture. Some of my most enjoyable movie experiences have been at inner city theatres where talk amongst viewers and at characters on the screen was not only accepted, but expected.
A film like App could make significant strides toward bridging these disparate film-going cultures. For that alone, it's definitely worth a look.