Omar Shehata

Why I dislike movie previews

From Omar's notebook.

I've never liked watching movie trailers. Somehow it felt like the trailer spoiled the movie for me, so I always avoided it. I pick my movies based on premise, poster, and possibly the actors.

This always felt like a bit of a ridiculous opinion to have, which I've only voiced rarely. Surely the people making the official trailer will try NOT to spoil the movie for you. And trailers are just such a popular thing, surely I'm just the weird one?

But I recently had an epiphany about exactly in what way trailers "ruin the movie" for me, when I was accidentally exposed to a few scenes of The Invitation and watched the movie later that night.

Trailers break immersion by associating scenes with past experiences

I saw a few scenes of this movie while walking around the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, where an interview with the director was playing.

When the same scenes later played out as I watched the movie, I was instantly transported back to that moment earlier in the day. It's very much like listening to a song and experiencing all the feelings you had the first time you listened to it.

This was very jarring because the feeling of being on this cozy couch conflicted with the feeling of standing at the museum, feet hurting, a little sweaty. The suspense of being trapped inside this surreal dinner party that the movie had so carefully been crafting for a good 40 minutes was replaced by memories of a very sober meta-analysis of the psychological horror elements of the film the director had been discussing.

Hearing the exact same words, in the same tone, and background music, and lighting, and expressions, instantly snapped me out of it. Like a very clear reminder that this is all fiction. I had done such a good job putting myself in the shoes of the protagonist - who was reacting in the same way I would react, which made it all the more thrilling, and real. I was on the edge of my seat.

But no more.

Screenshot from a scene in The Invitation. Image from Drafthouse Films

Trailers give you faulty personas of characters

When I first saw the scene above, one of the characters was saying something innocent like "Hey, we're all just trying to have a good time here, just hear him out".

I subconsciously created a persona for the people on screen. He seemed like a reasonable, pretty friendly guy!

But this was a scene from pretty late in the movie. From the very beginning, this particular character is introduced as kind of a mystery. He gives off pretty creepy vibes. Like he's hiding something terrible.

The character development was great BUT as soon as I heard that line, I immediately associated him with the original persona, which couldn't be farther from the truth.

This was also very jarring because it took me more than a few seconds to go back to seeing him as what the movie wanted me, the mysterious dude I was definitely scared of, and not just this normal cordial host of the party.

It was very much like a gestalt switch. Is this a duck or a rabbit?

From Wikimedia Commons.

You might be stuck seeing it as a duck, and you need to exert some mental effort to see it as a rabbit, or vice versa. But even after you do that, you have to be wary of the switch happening again, and do some work to remind yourself of the right way to see it.

This is exactly how I felt, and it happened multiple times with multiple characters. Completely ripped out of their role. I struggled to contain them back, to dispel myself of all the faulty assumptions I had made when I first saw these scenes without context.

Do you feel these too?

Reflecting on this, I don't think I'm that weird. These are definitely real effects that I know other people would feel too. But perhaps not everyone is as bothered by it as I am? Perhaps it's a bigger issue for some movies than others?

I'm really curious to hear others' thoughts!