Stoker, the new movie from Oldboy director Park Chan-wook, arrives in a handful of US theaters today, on the heels of an elaborate, GIF-heavy marketing campaign. Since debuting the film at this year's Sundance Film Festival, distributor Fox Searchlight has been promoting it with a beautifully designed microsite called Letters to India, named after Mia Wasikowska's lead character.
On Letters to India, users are invited to explore Chan-wook's psychological thriller through an endless scroll layout. As you travel down the page, different graphics fly in and out of view, including postcards with quotes from the film, and Cinemagram-like GIFs. Some remain static and on constant loop, while others shift direction and composition as you scroll up and down. The experience isn't set to the kind of haunting score you'd expect from a film of this genre, though its animated rustles and darting glances evoke an undeniably chilling effect, even in silence. Fox Searchlight has been updating the site with a new GIF each week since launching it in November, in an attempt to build momentum through clicks and Facebook shares ahead of its wider US release later this month.
This week, the studio took its GIF bonanza one step further, by releasing a TV ad comprised entirely of animations from its microsite. The commercial, which debuted Thursday on Adult Swim, is unusually brief compared to most trailer or even teasers, but it speaks to a nascent trend unfurling across Hollywood, where studios have begun appropriating GIFs not as mere web window dressing, but standalone and sometimes mainstream marketing tools.
Recent years have seen the GIF format become a central part of the web's visual vocabulary, pervading everything from the presidential debates to the front page of the New York Times. Hollywood, however, has only begun warming up to the trend.
Last year, Lionsgate released an animated GIF poster for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, following an extensive social media campaign for its first Hunger Games film. The poster wasn't widely disseminated through traditional avenues, relegated instead to a teaser screened before Twilight: Breaking Dawn, but other studios have been more aggressive in their GIF deployment. In September, Sony Pictures released an official poster for Looper that many regarded as the first to be composed of animated GIFs.
Neither, however, were quite as extensive as what Fox Searchlight has done for its Stoker promotion. In freeing the GIF from the confines of the internet, the studio has made a blatant run at the vaunted 18-35 year old demographic — the slice of web savvy film fanatics who already spend their free time spreading homespun movie GIFs and alternate poster designs across Tumblr. It's an approach that goes one step beyond Facebook likes and promoted tweets, though it remains driven by a similar ethos: identify your consumer base, and cater exclusively to its aesthetic.