Usually when someone says they “need” to find a person to be with and love it’s a bit of an overstatement, an exaggeration to make a point. They may be lonely and really desiring someone to be with but there’s no actual physical danger that being alone puts us in. We will be alright tomorrow if we’re alone just like we will be if we’re with someone. More importantly, there’s a good chunk of people who decide to be alone as a lifestyle choice, opting for solitude over companionship and they suffer no ill effects.
In the new movie The Lobster the stakes are quite a bit higher. Citizens of a dystopian society are shuttled off to The Hotel, where they must find romantic love within 45 days or be turned into animals. The movie follows David (Colin Farrell) as he embarks on his time at The Hotel, where he’s accompanied by his brother, who’s been turned into a dog previously. With all sorts of pressures and situations to navigate in this forced situation David comes into contact with characters like Limping Man (John C. Reilly), Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) and others as everyone stares down the deadline that’s looming over all of them.
There were two main posters for the movie, one featuring Farrell and one with Weisz. Both show the actor alone on the one-sheet against a blank background, in an embrace with a figure that’s been removed from the picture.
That’s it. There’s no copy point or tagline on them to explain what the movie is about or what the story is. It’s just that image, the title treatment, a Cannes competition logo and the credits. It’s pretty bold to try and sell the movie with no explanation as to what’s happening, but with a movie and a story like this, how could you come up with a <15 word bit of copy anyway?
More than that, it’s in keeping with the tone of the rest of the campaign to go the extreme minimalist route here. It’s selling a movie based on a tone and attitude more than laying out the story for the audience. That’s bold, but again this isn’t going to bring in the masses, it’s going to reinforce to a select audience what the movie is all about.
The movie’s first trailer sets up the premise rather well. We meet David as he’s checking in to a facility where the rules are laid out, that he needs to fall in love with someone or he’s going to turn into an animal. About halfway through though he goes off into the woods and meets another group of people that are living out there and whose rules are very different. The last third of the trailer is a montage of activity as David and the others engage in activities and so on.
It’s a pretty great trailer but the whole tone is sure to turn a lot of people off. It’s so dark and dry but with a hint of whimsy that I can easily see people being confused by. For those who are intrigued, though, it sells a movie that looks to be unique and interesting, though there’s always the possibility it falls apart in long-form execution.
A second trailer, released after A24 picked it up and put it on the release schedule again (more on that below), wasn’t too terribly different from the first. And just days before release a “mini trailer” was given to the A.V. Club that offers a bit more from the dance scene we’ve seen in other trailer.
Online and Social
The official website starts off with a nice tie to the movie by promising it is “The website that determines your second chance animal” and offers a test to determine what your animal should be. So you’re given a series of questions about your personality that range from innocuous to downright dark before you’re presented with a few options as to your animal. You can download or share the results on Twitter or Facebook.
With the exception of options to watch the trailer or buy tickets, that’s it for the official site. That may seem like kind of a waste but considering how strongly this movie has relied and continues to rely on word of mouth it’s not that surprising. It’s better, the studio decided, to do something original that has a thematic tie to the movie’s story than to just do the same cast list and gallery that’s on every other site.
The movie did have a Facebook page and Twitter profile where the studio shared countdown promotional images, teases for the quiz that’s on the website, short video clips and more. Twitter also featured plenty of RTs of fans who were talking about how excited they were for the upcoming movie and more.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
No TV spots that I’m aware of. I think I saw some online and social ads run that used key art and trailers to sell the movie but can’t nail down anything specific. Nothing in terms of cross-promotional partners.
Media and Publicity
Before any formal marketing had started the movie did the festival circuit, including and most prominently Fantastic Fest, where it garnered positive reviews for being quirky and unusual in the best possible way. It did likewise at New York Film Festival later on. Unfortunately after that it was spiked by Alchemy because of that distributor’s financial problems. A24 eventually came to the rescue and put it on the release schedule with just a couple months of a cushion.
Just before release there were a few interviews with the major stars talking about the movie and the unique story it has to tell. But nothing that said to me there was any sort of concerted press push, which I understand to an extent. The movie got plenty of press from its festival screenings and its appearance on many “Must Watch This Summer” type of lists so it didn’t lack for press coverage, all of which fed into a major word-of-mouth effort that focused on how it was such a unique movie that you really had to see to believe.
I don’t think I can overstate how much this campaign relies on word of mouth. It’s really counting on people talking about the movie to others to stoke not only enthusiasm but also just awareness of the film. There’s so much of that happening here that I need to state overtly that I’m giving a pass to whatever might be missing from the campaign. Not that there’s a lot that is actually missing – I would have liked to have seen a theatrical poster and the website, while clever, does nothing to sell the movie to anyone who’s not familiar with its festival circuit reputation – but I get that the studio is putting all its chips on that particular spot.
Despite those minor qualms, there’s so much to like here. True to the reputation it has worked up, the campaign sells a complex, darkly funny movie with some quirky performances. Seriously, everyone here is putting on some sort of caricature to heighten the the manner in which we’re told that this is a strange, foreign society. All those performances look fun, especially Farrell’s, and the movie looks like the kind of offbeat story we need in a sea of remakes and largely unoriginal stories being told.