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Or Is App A Terrible Idea Doomed To Fail?

App movie

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out in this world that gimmicks sell. A great gimmick can be the difference between success and failure of anything. 3D, while it may irritate some people,  is here to stay and the technology continues to improve. The recent Sam Raimi film Oz: The Great and Powerful is the best example of a great use of  3D in a film that I’ve seen in some time, utilizing the format amply throughout its run time, so much so that I wonder whether the film would even be worth watching in a mere 2 dimensions. While 3D is most certainly here to stay, it’s not a particularly new invention anymore. Clearly, this calls for a change in cinema and not Robert Rodriguez‘s failed Smell O’ Vision that he tried to bring back with his 4th Spy Kids film. It failed to gain any traction, most likely because it’s a stupid idea and the 4th Spy Kids film received a less than stellar critical reception (to put it mildly).

The producers of a new horror film from Holland believe that they are poised to introduce a new and exciting innovation that will become part of the future of cinema; based on the near-omnipresence of smartphones in modern society. This has inspired them to create the first ever film to be shown “on two screens”. Yep, apparently the Wii-U’s influence reaches further than we originally envisioned. Nintendo must be stopped at all costs…Ahem. What? Oh yes. Weird Dutch horror film. Back on topic.

This new film is fittingly titled App, and plans to take audience interaction to a whole new level by including a free downloadable app with the movie that people will be encouraged to interact with to compliment what is occurring on screen. This is a nice idea in theory, but there are a lot of very obvious problems with this. More on that in a minute. First, how does it work?

The “app” of the film’s title is a sinister and malevolent presence going by the name of Iris, an overt reference to Apple’s real-life equivalent – their personal assistance program Siri – that appears on the protagonists smartphone one morning. At first, the app is useful and cool, but it quickly becomes a terrifying menace and transforms into the films’ principle antagonist.

In terms of how the real-life app will work with the film the technology acts on the same type of basis as various song-identifying programs like Soundhound and Shazam i.e. they use a system called Automatic Content Recognition that through Civolution’s SyncNow digital watermarking, can embed audio or visual watermarks that will trigger the app to enact certain parts of its programming relative to the media in question. Of course, these watermarks are undetectable to the human senses, so it will very much seem like your phone has a mind of its own, much like the protagonists phone in the film. It’s clear that there is a lot of potential for this technology, it would be easy to deliver timely creepy messages or threats to someone’s phone via the app that will align the audience more with the protagonist and perhaps enhance the dread or tension that they are feeling. At the same time this is a double edged sword, there’s no telling just how much control this app will have over your phone – what happens if you get bored and decide to check your Facebook or Twitter feeds? Encouraging people to have their phones out and in their laps seems like a bad idea due to the ODC world that we all live in. Is a horror film really going to be scary when in the darkness all around you, you see a hundred little glowing screens? What if their is some lag between apps? How are you supposed to be getting scared at both screens at the same time? Won’t turning to your phone all the time destroy any tension the film may be building up?

Regardless the producers of the film certainly seem really excited about this technology, with 2CFilm co-founder Kees Abrahams describing it as “revolutionary in cinema” and “an exciting challenge to the way audiences think about the medium,” with “the potential to transform cinema around the world.” They’re also keen to assure consumers that while the app will enhance the film experience – it’s still plenty scary without it, for the people who don’t own a smartphone. That’s all well and good, but won’t that person be distracted by all the other moviegoers gasping at things on their little screens? Talk about feeling left out!

While this all seems very negative the filmmakers here should be applauded for trying something new. This is a relatively small and isolated experiment in Holland in only 110 screens, so if it’s a misfire then it’s not really going to affect anyone. There are a lot of things that this will need to overcome. If the app could perhaps take control of your phone and “lock it” for the movies duration to prevent you from looking through your friends new uploads while you should be paying attention to the movie then that might be something worth exploring, but on the other hand you’d have to be careful about how far you’re willing to stretch the limits of invasion of privacy. More importantly, do people have the attention spans to make something like this a success?

All in all App is a brave move in an overly saturated market full of dime a dozen traditional horror films. It’s refreshing to see someone try to advance the format, but it remains to be seen whether this is the answer to enhancing the fear factor of horror movies.

App will be released on 110 screens across the Netherlands on April 4, 2013.

Is this a good idea? Does the bad outweigh the good? Would you go to a screening of App if there was one near you? Would you like to see this trend catch on?

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