So I thought about making a reaction video to reaction videos. I have the technology but then so does almost everyone else which is why there are millions of reaction videos on YouTube. And let me clarify that, since there are a lot of videos in the genre of [blank] reacts to [blank] I’m talking, here, anyway, about the specific subset of people watching and reacting to movies—mostly popular movies that they’re seeing for the first time. Anyway I was afraid that making a reaction video to a reaction video would cause a pop culture singularity, so I thought, why not write about ‘em instead?
I get that watching someone watch a movie instead of actually watching a movie sounds ridiculous, but I’ve kind of gotten hooked on reaction videos, although with a couple of qualifications.
First, they have to be watching a movie I’ve already seen and know pretty well. Most reaction videos are edited down, maxing out at around thirty minutes, which means a lot’s been cut if they’re watching a full-length movie. So obviously there’s a lot of context I’d miss, plus all those spoilers.
The benefit, though, is that it’s like watching a favorite movie with a friend who’s never seen it before. Even though I’ve never met any of the people whose reaction videos I’m watching they’ve decided to watch a movie I like, so at least we have that in common, and a lot of friendships have been built on less.
That brings me around to the other quality I look for: people who comment on the movies they’re watching. Normally I prefer it when people don’t talk through a movie—except for the time I saw Pulp Fiction in the theater and, in the opening minutes, the couple behind me got into a whispered argument about whether they’d seen John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson together in a TV show and it was so weird it almost seemed like it was part of the onscreen action.
I’ve found a few reaction videos where people just…watch…the movie. They might laugh or gasp but other than that, well, it’s as boring as it sounds. When I was in school I took a film class and one of the movies we watched was Psycho. I’d already seen it but most of the other students hadn’t, and, while no one spoke, you could feel the tension in the room, and I got a thrill out of knowing what they were feeling. That emotion doesn’t come across through a computer screen so it helps to have some interaction, something that provides insight into what they’re thinking. Maybe that’s why some of my favorite videos are made by couples or small groups where one person is introducing the others to a movie he or she already knows. And I can relate to both. I know what it’s like to share a favorite film with a friend, but also—and this is the real appeal of reaction videos—experiencing someone else’s response to seeing a great film the first time takes me back to how I felt when I first saw it. It’s also great when people who’ve worked in film can take in a scene, relate it to their own experience, or share insight into how it might have been constructed. Reaction videos can make the familiar unfamiliar, and there’s a special joy in that.
It’s been two years since I last saw a movie in a theater—my favorite place to see a movie, any movie. And in that time it’s been really hard for me to sit down and watch a movie, even ones I’ve seen, never mind new ones, without distractions creeping in. It’s not been a great feeling, but reaction videos remind me why I still love movies.