Experiential Cinema

Immersive theatre is all the rage with the kids these days.

Thanks to such trendy companies as Punchdrunk (Sleep No More) overseas and Third Rail Projects (Then She Fell) stateside — not to mention a procession of facile imitations, far from facsimiles — audiences have become rather taken with theatrical experiences that breach the traditional distance between the observer and the observed, commonly separated by the proscenium arch. Largely doing away with solitary stages altogether —and the fourth walls that come with them — these expansively-roving spectacles quite literally surround the crowd, immersing us in the world of the show. As with all lucrative fads, more conventional fare, produced in customary theaters, have attempted to channel this ingenuity, merging it with the tastes of ticket buyers who may not want to leave the comfort of their seats.

And in a string of recent releases, this takeover seems to be extending to multiplexes as well. Though most movies try to create a mise-en-scène that reflects their depicted fictional worlds somehow, four flicks currently in theaters run the gamut of how far filmmakers can stretch this aim; they all strive to bring the audience into the mind of an adolescent, and adolescence itself, in different ways and to various degrees.

Eighth Grade and Night Comes On take more standard approaches, at least stylistically. Both plumb the grounded emotional depths of their characters through precise writing and performing, but the camera remains merely observational, a fly on the walls of their lives. We always stay by their respective sides, reinforcing the intimacy between us and them, but the camera clearly demarcates their perspective from our own; we’re on the outside looking in.

We the Animals and Madeline’s Madeline, on the other hand, delve into the deeper recesses of their leads’ psyches. Since kids perceive the world more radically than their adult counterparts, both movies — like immersive theatre — drastically deconstruct the assumed relationship between the viewer and the viewed, blurring the line between the two by plunging the former into the wonderful chaos of the latter. We’re not just watching a movie; thanks to their dynamic cinematography, editing, and sound design, we’re experiencing the children’s worlds through their eyes, impressionistically and expressionistically. It’s a classic, yet new-age, example of content dictating form, which in turn transforms how we conceive content.

They’re experiential cinema at its finest.

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