Let’s be real: when was the last time you were terrified to see where a film was going? Seriously, I mean when was the last time you were so into a suspense thriller that you were on the edge of your seat, scared to death to go any further?
For me, it has been a good decade since I've had that experience.
Today’s filmmakers just don’t have it anymore. They’re all cheap tricks and no substance. But more than anything else, I blame it on the low attention span of today’s audiences.
A critical ingredient to successfully drawing the audience in to any genuinely suspenseful thriller is allowing the mood to soak in at its own speed. You must establish the setting before you can even jump into the story.
Nobody does that anymore. Now everything’s fast moving, loud music, constantly going full speed, cut to-cut to-cut to, boom boom boom. The mood never even gets a chance to be established. Nothing is slowed down anymore and pretty soon, you lose interest.
Think about it, what would grab your attention more than anything today but pure silence?
I guess somewhere along the way filmmakers decided today’s audiences have the attention spans of lightening rods and the memory spans of goldfish, so why bother?
But it’s killing the suspense thriller genre.
Suspense thrillers were never limited to one type of film. Dramas, sci-fi, and horror all used to carry elements of suspense thrillers. A classic example for me was James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). Listen to the opening theme to understand what I’m talking about:
All the great thrillers knew how to do that: Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991), M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999).
Even the original Planet of the Apes (1968):
Where is this element in today’s films? All filmmakers care about now are weird images, special effects and a non-stop 100 mph pace that leaves you no time to even think.
I’m really trying to think of that last scary film I was genuinely into. Robert Zemeckis’ What Lies Beneath (2000) did the genre some decent justice:
Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002) was also an exceptional piece, and many people still haven’t even seen Steve Soderbergh’s Solaris (2002) — a gem lost in history and Clooney’s best acting work if you ask me.
Ever since then, it’s been hopeless. So hopeless that during college (which was 2002-2006 for me), I had to seek my suspense thrills in video games. By far the scariest survival horror series I remember was Silent Hill. Installments one through two were the scariest things I ever saw in my life — especially Part 2: Restless Dreams. The amount of thought put into the stories was just as good as any novel. The quality of the voice acting was superb, coupled with the time it takes to establish the setting followed by the challenging gameplay made for one frightening ride. I’m telling you, the Silent Hill series truly raised the bar.
If you’re ever looking for something truly terrifying these days — and have a lot of time on your hands — I would recommend playing the Silent Hill series (don’t even bother watching the film adaptions).
But as far as films go, I yearn for the elements that classical directors once implemented which made the genre so rich. Any modern day recommendations?