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Monday, 3 January 2011

What Lies Beneath - How is suspense created?

In class one of the clips we studied was from the film What Lies Beneath (see bottom of post). In this particular scene suspense is created primarily through sound. Slow string instruments run in the background throughout, steadily increasing in volume, combined with subtle ringing sounds. The use of this type of soundtrack is what makes the audience instinctively unsettled, because they know something will inevitably happen.

Not amused.
This anticipation of course reaches its climax with the employment of the ‘scare chord’ technique, that is, the sudden jumpy sound that is a common occurrence in horror films. The abrupt sound, coupled with the camera moving to the reflection of the ghastly face in the bath tub, perhaps raises even more momentary anticipation as the scene cuts away from Pfeiffer screaming, leaving the audience wanting to know what is next. Suspense is also created through the camerawork and mise-en-scène. The beginning starts with Pfeiffer walking up the stairs and then coming to a standstill. Her body language, together with the start of the atmospheric music track and slow low-level tracking across the corridor creates an uneasy feeling for the audience. The darkly lit domestic setting is also powerful in it suggesting that this could happen in anyone’s home, playing on the audience’s own fear.

Never before have taps been this scary.
As we gradually enter the bathroom, the camera cuts to and fro from Pfeiffer's perspective to medium close ups of herself. This alone almost makes us expect something to suddenly jump out at us, but in the creepy haze of the bathroom we see that the camera is deliberately concentrating on the bath tub, finalized by an emphasizing over-the-shoulder shot of the tub. A low angle shot of Pfeiffer further creates suspense, as she elaborately raises the sleeve of her robe and pulls the plug. Despite the low angle shot usually being used to symbolize power and dominance, everything else about the scene suggests otherwise; we know that in actual fact she is vulnerable, as if something sinister is looking up at her (or it might just be that sinister looking tap in the foreground).

The combination of sound and camera is what, for the most part, creates the eerie and suspenseful mood of this scene. It provides atmosphere and anticipation, ultimately hooking the audience in.

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