Déjà vu, death drives, the art of spilling popcorn, movie masochism, film as insatiable monster, sick sad world.
Conor Bateman has sliced clips from (mainly American) horror films in which a cinema audience is slain schlockily in a theatre – an overlooked, self-reflexive trope across the genre. In each sequence, the screen is masked out to reveal the prior sequence: each audience is successively watching the killings that we, the actual audience, have just seen. The onscreen audience never leaves the theatre – there’s nowhere else in this world beyond the cinema, and the scenes of entrapment and containment play out in similarly-framed spaces of chaos (what if what we watched onscreen leaked out?). Without a scrap of ideology-addled earnestness, the tone moves from playful to inevitable. Like a game, it all loops together in an oddly fun, self-sustaining spiral of dramatic irony. I hope it never ends.
The sequences form a short, weird history of what has been considered terrifying on screen. It’s innocent at first – those jittery, jaunty, black-and-white critters – and then increasingly bloody, tornado-ing, burning and fanatical. Conor has made cinema speak back to itself, and look back at itself.
Cinema is a living thing, constantly reflecting on its own relationship between itself and violence, fiction and reality – constantly in this dynamic conversation with us. In the end, what is cinema history if not a trail of psychos and slain bodies? Cinema killing its audiences in their plush theatre seats. Cinema killing women and cornfed kids. Cinema killing itself. We all watch on. We’re probably next.
About Conor Bateman
Conor Bateman makes videos, writes film criticism and is the managing editor of the 4:3 film publication.