It might be said that the time is ripe for a new movie theater gimmick, since it's been almost two years since Robert Rodriguez tried to revive Smell-o-Vision in Sky Kids 4. The scratch 'n' sniff cards failed to gain any traction, perhaps due to Spy Kids 4's less-than-stellar critical reception, but the producers of a new horror film from Holland believe that the near-omnipresence of smartphones in modern society could become part of the future of cinema, and have developed the first film ever to be shown "on two screens."
App was brought together by the creative team of director Bobby Boermans and screenwriter Robert Arthur Jansen, who have previously collaborated on the 2011 serial killer horror Claustrofobia. The "app" of the film's title is a sinister and malevolent presence called Iris - an overt reference to Apple's real-life personal assistant program, Siri - that appears one morning on protagonist Anna's (Hannah Hoekstra) smartphone and rapidly makes the transition from a useful tool to a terrorizing antagonist.
Check out the trailer above. For a subtitled version, head over to Boermans' website.
Variety has revealed the details as to how App and its accompanying app will play off each other. The technology works on the same basis as song-identifying programs like Soundhound and Shazam, using a system called Automatic Content Recognition. Specifically, it utilizes Civolution's SyncNow digital watermarking, a technique that can embed audio or visual watermarks into media that are hidden from human senses, but can be interpreted by the film's app to trigger creepy messages and additional material on audience members' smartphones.
The producers of the film certainly seem 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." However, they also assure audience members who don't possess smartphones that the film stands well on its own - even without the free downloadable app.
Regular readers of ScreenRant will know that using mobile phones during a film is one of the capital crimes against movie etiquette, since few things are more distracting in a darkened theater than dozens of lit-up phone screens. There are numerous issues with this concept, the most obvious of which is that audience members cannot simultaneously look at both their phone screen and the big screen, so checking out the latest bonus material on the former will inevitably mean missing the action on the latter. Another problem is the inevitability of human failings and modern attention spans - given free rein to keep cell phones up and running, many audience members will probably be unable to resist the temptation of checking Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and any number of other social media applications. It might be difficult to pay attention to the horror on the movie screen when your cousin has just tagged you in fifty wedding photos.
That said, 2CFilm is trying something new - and there's no doubt that the two-screen project could add extra horror to the overall experience. After all, there's no shortage of traditional horror films on the market right now, so an isolated experiment in the interaction between smartphone and theater screen isn't going to do any harm. At worst the technique will fail and a few audiences will have to sit through a distracting moviegoing mis-adventure, but if App and its associated app work in the way they were intended then there's potential for quite an unnerving interplay between the two screens.
App will be released on 110 screens across the Netherlands on April 4, 2012.