Culture

The One Time It's (Almost) OK to Talk at the Movies

As a veteran film critic, I’m the last person to advocate talking during a movie screening.

And yet when I watched the new horror film “Lights Out” recently I silently wished my fellow audience members would pipe up.

Let me explain.

Talking is a certified no-no while watching movies. I rarely say a peep in the theater — even during the trailers. If I simply can’t help myself, I’ll whisper into my friend’s ear and then feel hopelessly guilty for the next 20 minutes.

And, as the father of two young sons, I’m constantly instructing them to be stand-up movie patrons. “We’ll talk after the end credits, boys. For now, shush.”

They do as told. Bless their hearts.

The horror movie experience is a bit different, though. Some of my fondest movie memories happened while watching films like the original “Fright Night.” I forget the precise exchanges, but some of my fellow patrons cracked wise at precisely the right moment.

Timing is everything, in the movies as well as life.

I can remember laughing hard for days about a story my brother told me. He had just seen a great new horror film, and he shared word for word some of the audience members’ reactions to it. No screenwriter could concoct those spontaneous lines.

That was second-hand funny, mind you.

The best horror movies invite a communal response. An entire theater shrieking all at once. People laughing in unison during a tension-shattering moment or slowly gripping the armrests. Consider how 1982’s “Poltergeist” served up so many solid laughs betwixt the scares.

Which brings us to “Lights Out.” The new film is a lean, 81-minute affair with forgettable dialogue and rudimentary characters. But it knows just how to jolt us in our seats.

The air quickly became electric in the theater I saw it in. That is the true theatrical experience, and no flat screen can duplicate it at home. Three-D glasses can’t improve upon it. Nor can an IMAX screen.

Visceral scares are the very best reason to overpay for a movie ticket today.

We watched “Lights Out” as one, each movie goer silently assessing how our fellow patrons were processing the shocks.

What was missing? Some wiseacre who could add just the perfect response to one of the film’s big scares.

And there’s your 21st century movie conundrum. Ninety-nine percent of time talking in movies is 100 percent wrong. Yet in the near-perfect circumstances, this movie lover wishes someone savvy would pipe up.