On Thursday night, the Princess Twin Cinemas in Uptown Waterloo hosted a "Scary Movie Challenge," which promised visitors the scariest film ever created. What people got when they arrived was "Earthlings," a documentary about animal exploitation, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix.
The animal rights publicity stunt was organized by two activist groups: the Kitchener Ontario Animal Liberation Alliance (KOALA) and KW Animal Save.
Hundreds lined up for the mystery film, encouraged by the promise of free admission and a chance to win a prize — if they could stay until the end of the movie.
Many chose not to.
"We were very disappointed," said Christine McMillan, a student at the University of Waterloo.
"It's not that I disagree with their message at all. I totally understand what they're saying and why they feel so desperate to portray that message, I just think they should do it in a less radical manner."
She and her roommate waited over an hour in line outside before learning the truth about the film.
"It just kind of ruined the night," she said.
Not false advertising, organizers claim
Despite the chilly reception by some, organizers say the stunt was a success. Earthlings includes graphic footage of animals being slaughtered, a side of the food industry they say people don't often see.
"The film exposes people to things that otherwise they choose to ignore, they choose to pretend isn't going on," said Ben King, an activist with KW Animal Save. "There's a reason you can tour an apple orchard, but they won't let you walk through a slaughterhouse."
He denies that the groups used false advertising to draw a bigger crowd.
"We told people that it was likely the scariest movie they had ever seen, and we had 63 people to the end and most of them said that they'd never seen anything so horrific," he said. "You can see some slash-and-gash but you go home at the end of the day knowing that it was fake, where this movie, everything you saw was real life and what can be more terrifying?"
King says, most of the feedback he's received has been positive, and the attention the cause is getting was worth a few disgruntled moviegoers.
"I have actually had people from around the world message me about doing this," he said. "Someone has actually offered to fly me out to their area, and I won't tell you where because I don't want to give it away."
He said he's not planning to repeat the performance in Kitchener-Waterloo.