Everyone is a critic, but there is a small subset who, when consuming something they consider sub-par, believe they could do it better. Their relationship with artists is tense, as their ultimate verdict is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but ‘here’s what I would have done differently’. This feedback, thankfully, rarely finds its way to the artists themselves and is usually reserved for post-show drinks at the pub or a late-night Letterboxd review.

But Yannick, considering himself lucky to have a rare night off work, is fed up with the performers in front of him and decides to do something about it. A sparsely populated theatre is politely enjoying a three-hander called Le Cocu (The Cuckold) when he stands up and declares his disappointment with the evening. The show is bad, he says, and his precious free time deserves better than this. Hecklers are par for the course in some areas of stand-up comedy but not drama, so Yannick comes across as a bit of an oddball who fails to observe the unspoken social rules of attending the theatre. The performers are annoyed but amused, belittling him until he leaves. When retrieving his coat from the box office, he overhears the actors mocking him further and so returns to the auditorium. This time, he pulls out a gun and suddenly everyone in attendance is his captive audience.

He then borrows an audience member’s laptop to write his own play, one he insists will be better than Le Cocu. Waving his gun around, he effectively forces his way into the director’s seat. If the show he paid to see won’t entertain him, he will create one that does.

Director Quentin Dupieux has been churning out little critical gems at pace over the last few years, with DEERSKIN and SMOKING CAUSES COUGHING, in particular, benefiting from strong word of mouth. Shot in just six days and running at a lean 67 minutes, YANNICK is an especially compact and intimate feature. With so few moving parts, the film itself unfolds like a play, using the language of cinema to consider what happens when those in the audience and those performing for them enter into a hostile dialogue. The very act of breaking the fourth wall introduces a sense of unease, but this typically happens the other way around. Yannick’s interjection creates real tension when, moments before, the only conflict in the room was between three fictional characters caught up in an act of infidelity.

In the lead role, Raphaël Quenard plays the film’s black comedy perfectly. Yannick is unknowable, at first amusing, then bothersome. Reappearing with a revolver, he goes from threatening to schmoozing with the audience, who are oddly blasé about being held hostage by a gun-wielding would-be playwright. Rather than show fear, they appear mildly irked by the whole situation. Everything is absurd, from the deconstruction of the theatre-going experience to Yannick asking two young women if he could crash at theirs because this could take a while.

The shifting perceptions of Yannick change where our sympathies lie during the film. Despite the central act of aggression, one of the actors on stage, Paul, is still more loathsome. He is smug and feisty, pushing Yannick’s buttons while everyone else appeals for calm. Where there ought to be an obvious hero and villain, the characters’ attitudes, rather than their actions, decide whose side we are on. The arrogant actor is insufferable, while the troubled Yannick is pitiful. Besides, haven’t we all wished we could talk back to an underwhelming piece of art?

Unsurprisingly, Yannick’s script is terrible, perhaps giving artists the last laugh over their expectant, unpredictable, scary audience. As the news reports on rowdy theatre and cinemagoers ever more frequently, YANNICK playfully imagines a complete breakdown of the relationship between artist and paying punter. It offers no solutions and barely contains an ending, but maybe in all of its madness, there is a quiet plea for any critical displeasure to be saved for our social media feeds.