Recently I noticed that if I’m thinking of going to the movies, I no longer check movie reviews — I check reviews by non-critics at critical websites like Rotten Tomatoes and others. It’s not that the comments there deliver any particular insight into a film, but people generally know what they like and if I read enough of them I can pretty much tell if I’ll like it too.
Movie critics, on the other hand, do not seem to have the faintest idea what they’re talking about. Oh, they know if some small off-beat snooze-fest is “stunning” or “shocking” or “changes the face of movie-making forever” even though no one goes to it and it’s soon completely forgotten. But they have no idea what a good movie looks like.
This seems to be especially true in the case of children’s movies and ghost stories.
When I was the father of little kids (before they passed a law against that), I would read movie reviews of kids’ movies and realize that most critics either didn’t have children or didn’t pay much attention to them. They would pan something because they didn’t like it without ever stopping to think: ”Why should I like it? It’s for kids.” The 5- to 8-year-old audience was clearly going to think it was great. Barring any egregious lapses, that made it a good kids’ movie.
The same problem seems to apply in one of my favorite genres — ghost stories. I see for instance that a lot of critics gave very solid reviews to the third installment in the Paranormal Activity series. Which really was pretty bad. The critics could not tell the difference between the first PA — subtle, original and wildly frightening in the quietest possible way — the second one — a still-fairly-subtle and clever sandwich of a sequel that dealt with events both before and after the first film and thus explained away some of the openers’ storytelling lapses — and the third one — which resorted to all the crappy fake startle scares that the first two eschewed and had an idiotic plot out of one of the lesser Hammer films.
Likewise, when the Woman in Black came out a couple of weeks ago a lot of critics worried that it would be too subtle for teenagers enamored with blood and gore. Subtle? Just because people dress in Victorian clothing and speak with English accents doesn’t mean they’re subtle. The film is one screaming boo after another — and if teenagers are so in love with gore why did they show up for the first, almost utterly gore-less, Paranormal Activity? Possibly these critics don’t know any teenagers, who, for different reasons, will show up for a cheap thrill or for quality storytelling, whichever happens to be on offer.
But the real problem is that critics seem mostly to be fuddy-duddies who look down their noses on excitement, thrills, chills and all the other things that make movies worthwhile. They don’t like spooky stories so they don’t trouble to educate themselves on what makes a good one.
Critics too good for the audience. It’s just one more reason the movies are on the ropes while TV and video games are thriving.