The Pleasures of a Talkative Audience

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Just got back from seeing The Grudge. On a Friday night, close to Halloween, at the big mall here in Providence (what can I say? I’m a sucker for digital sound and stadium-style seating.), the place was, of course, packed with teenagers.

We all know what teenagers do during movies – talk, laugh, make too much noise.

But having all those teenagers there tonight was terrific.

Now, normally I can probably be a bit of a curmudgeon about going to the movies. I don’t mind going alone and, whenever there’s a movie I really want to see, I try to go to a matinee where I’ll have the fewest possible audience members to talk, have cell phone conversations, and otherwise distract me.

So I’m the last guy who would normally like a giant audience of screaming kids. But tonight, I loved it.

First, let me say, The Grudge is a seriously scary movie. But tonight it was much, much scarier thanks to the audience I watched it with.

These kids, these noisy, rowdy kids, screamed, literally, actually screamed during the movie. They shouted, they gasped. And none of it was macho posturing, none of it was ironic defensiveness – these kids were scared. And their fear heightened my fear and my response to the movie.

Tonight’s movie was one of the three scariest films I’ve seen in the theater. But the experience of watching the movie ties as the scariest with the night I saw The Ring on Halloween, alone in Boise, Idaho, on my last night of driving cross-country, moving to Oregon. The kids that night screamed the same way, gasped the same way, made the whole thing better for me in the same way.

So, it strikes me that sometimes an audience so engaged with the movie that they must talk during the less-tense scenes in order to be able to cope with the shocks is a great boon to the horror movie maker and fan.

Not just any movie can elicit this kind of reaction, of course. You’ve got to be working with something pretty good to begin with. And The Grudge is plenty good. Sarah Michelle Gellar doesn’t get as much to work with here as in the best episodes of Buffy, and the influence of Ringu looms large, but it doesn’t matter – this is a first-rate film.

One sequence was so tense, so lovely, so well-wrought that I was nearly brought to tears.


And yes, I know that’s a little weird, but the scene was that good. That’s never happened before in a horror movie because I was so caught up in it (Session 9 made me tear up, but not because of the horror).

I left the theater with the biggest, most persistent smile I’ve had for months, maybe longer.

And that wouldn’t have happened without that talkative audience.

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