Since this is a very different kind of review I will offer some tidbits in the interest of full disclosure. I think it’s fairly safe to say that we all look at our phones too much and it’s part of why the film App is allowed a chance to succeed. I still have a bit of perspective since I find myself in the middle-ground between the technologically illiterate who just don’t get it and the kids growing up with computerized telephony as second nature. I still remember the randomness of sending my first text message and how I followed its evolution from novelty to near-necessity.
At the movies I do not silence my phone I TURN IT OFF. It’s not just out of respect but out of necessity. On rare occasion I felt compelled to silence only my restless shifting has inadvertently switched the ringer on. Thankfully it’s usually only been an email bing that alerted me to the fact. So a concept like App, a film with a second screen experience, is not something I’d disavow as a notion on principal, but it’s not something I’d personally engage in on first viewing.
This is a concept that’s not unheard of. Some television shows have used apps to offer additional second screen content as the show airs. Basically how these work is the app accesses your microphone to pick up where you are in the course of the show so it can synchronize pop-ups.
From a marketing perspective it’s great for branding of your film. It also, if you keep the app, creates a keepsake of the film for the viewer. Anyone who looks at my Instagram knows that’s something I’m fond of.
So with the basics and background out of the way how does Iris operate and interact with the film? You text the word “Iris” to 97000 on your Android or iPhone and receive a link to download the app. This also subscribes you to RAM Releasing’s text-blast list, which is smart of them and easy enough for you to opt out of.
A few tips that will make it better for you as a viewer:
First, if you turn off your ringer the phone will vibrate when there’s something to be seen on the second screen. This is helpful. It being a second viewing I spent too much time glancing at my phone when I didn’t have to. Also, activate the do not disturb function on your phone as push notifications from other iPhone apps will appear on your second screen if you don’t.
When you open the app you hit start when the film tells you to do so. If your microphone is obstructed start-up will take longer and you’ll see more scrolling code than needed. The app’s icon and the words “IRIS ACTIVATED” will appear when it’s working.
Also, if you have to take a bathroom break, either at home or at the theater, you can restart the app. It will say “Ah, so there you are…” when it’s synced and get you right back on track.
What are the things you can hope to see, without putting too fine a point on it? There are alternate cuts of scenes. For example My favorite shot in the film was cut down for pacing reasons. With second screen you can watch that shot continue as the film goes through transitional shots. In essence, what this creates is a new-age split-screen. The important thing here is to reduced the level of gimmickry and make the technological component feel intrinsic to the story, which based on the synopsis of this film it does. It really was designed to include this element. If it does that and draws in more viewers it can’t be all that bad.
What you get in the approximately 35 instances when Iris warrants your attention during the film are only occasionally extraneous bits of information. There are purposeful filling in of chronological gaps, all interactions are tonally appropriate for the moment. One item even underscored what I perceived one subtext to be based on what was implied in the monologuing of the antagonist. It also provides nice moments where you’re in the action seeing the same thing on your phone the characters are, and it re-highlights certain facts.
I can go on a philosophical jag, asking “What is cinema?” as if I fancied myself to be Andre Bazin, but I won’t. It’s not a treatment that would fly at an Alamo Drafthouse. I do know that the cleverness of this film is that it connects the experience to the film. This film doesn’t concern itself with if the tide of cellphones in movie theaters can be stemmed. And the film also doesn’t concern itself with if second screen technology in cinema will be a blip or a trend. Whether 50 years from now this ends up being the beginning of a trend like the shift in aspect ratio or just a wise ploy of its time that can’t be replicated like those in William Castle’s repertoire remains to be seen. What I do know is that the app works really well and it would’ve been a seamless experience if I personally wasn’t in uncharted waters and distracted. Having the aforementioned guidance ahead of time would’ve made it quite perfect.
My rating scale isn’t calibrated for second screen. Take all my points into consideration, and more importantly, read what I said of the film before making your own decision about how and if to watch it.