Why do we love a bad movie?
So, I just watched Netflix’s bunny boiler thriller Fatal Affair the other night with my partner. And despite its serious tone, we were laughing at the film from start to finish. Making quips about the way characters were reacting so casually to murder and danger. Predicting all of the behaviour: every plot twist, every line of dialogue. But while it seems like a recipe for an insufferable experience, we had an absolute blast. Moreover, we knew it was going to be that bad going in and still went ahead with it anyway.
Why? That’s the question I’m asking in this article: from bad classics like The Room to films like Fatal Affair and the Fifty Shades movies, why do we spend our hard-earned money or waste our precious time on a film that we’re often warned away from by critics and audience responses? I think it comes down to a simple point: it’s how we interact with movies that get us to invest our time into them. Before we explore that further, let’s track back to when this craze started.
The origins of the so bad it’s good experience
The B movie. Might not be something you’re too familiar with nowadays, but in the Golden Age of Hollywood between the 30s and 50s, it was a significant thing. It was effectively a secondary movie, making up a double feature, a side dish to your A movie: if you bought a ticket to see The Godfather, you might get Green Street as your B movie. These B movies included the likes of The Blob or Them!, two sci-fi’s that are as daft as can be. Yet, they had real entertainment value and gained a cult following for years following their release.
While the idea of the B movie – which could easily stand for bad, let’s be honest – died out as the Hollywood studio system started to fall apart in the 60s thanks to the arrival of television, the B movie is an idea that continued to exist and still does, just without the label. Look at the slasher/grindhouse films of the 70s and 80s, films like Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. These films were made on small budgets or directed from a basic outline of creature/stalker hunts vulnerable, idiotic people. So, the B movie template was there.
But slasher films were an early sign of just how much we’d grow to love films like these. Now, the films I’ve referenced are not the best examples as they’re revered by the industry for how they changed the game. And yet, there’s no denying that there’s something funny about watching them, especially with an audience: watching Jamie Lee Curtis crying while Michael Myers, thought dead, rises from the floor behind her certainly had audience members from a screening that I attended screaming “Turn around you idiot!”.
So, I think it’s in our cinematic DNA to love or laugh at a movie that doesn't always make sense, as we have done for decades. But I think it’s taken a special place in our hearts nowadays because of the interactivity that I’ve referenced with that Halloween quote. While the bad movies of today lack the directorial flair of Halloween’s John Carpenter or Chainsaw’s Tobe Hooper, we love to get involved with what happens in them.
Fatal Affair and today’s guilty pleasure
Fatal Affair is an example of a film that lacks any directorial originality. It’s a by-the-numbers thriller where a woman gets entangled in an affair (sorry Jada) with a man from her past, who turns out to have a murderous streak in him. People die in ridiculous ways, the woman cries and screams a lot, there’s at least one scene involving a kitchen knife: you’ve seen it all before. But as I said earlier, my partner and I were laughing the whole way through, commentating, getting involved. And that’s the key I think: we love the chance to get vocal and express our views about a movie, even if it’s an unintentional laugh.
The experience of watching a film can be quite an intense one. I think about seeing The Revenant for the first time, one of the best trips to the cinema I’ve had in a while. But it was a bruising, exhausting watch and not something I could easily stick on.
Now, there are blockbusters that ease the intensity. Many love to watch Michael Bay orchestrate a symphony of explosions for one of his Transformers movies. And yet, you tend to view it similarly: you’re strapped in, with the constant action keeping you on the edge of your seat.
But a guilty pleasure, something like Fatal Affair or Fifty Shades of Grey, they’re so appealing to us because they feature dialogue and performances that practically beg for us to scream at or laugh at. Their pop-heavy soundtracks and forced intimacy make us cackle like we’re watching cheap porn, but for the story. The direction is dry: there’s none of that creative spark so we don’t have to respect the film in that sense. But while it might be a mess, it takes on a new comedic meaning that makes it so enjoyable.
I think that’s the pleasure of cinema. When you talk of cinema as art, you think of those high-brow, meaningful movies that make you reflect. But I think films like Fatal Affair prove that cinema is still art because of that relationship. You might laugh at a bad painting or a poor piece of music. But a song is only a couple of minutes long, a painting you can easily turn away from. A film demands attention from the viewer. And to have a bad film still elicit joy from that attention, that’s special.
So check out Fatal Affair. It’s awful, in the best way possible.
What's your favourite guilty pleasure? Do you find joy in bad movies? Let me know by dropping some feedback!
If you liked this, why not check out my recent retrospective on Inception? Click here for the article!
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