ordan Peele’s debut horror film, Get Out, was released over 11 months ago and people are still talking about it. Perhaps it’s the film’s four Oscar nominations, or its re-watchability due to new discoveries with each viewing — but in actuality, horror films in general are made to linger within you. When you walk out of the movie theater following a horror movie, it’s a struggle to pivot your thoughts. It’s all you can think about. This is for a reason.
Horror films are created using a number of film techniques ranging from the way the camera moves, to the sounds you hear, and the style the film is edited; all paired along with a deep understanding of human psychology and physiology that work together in manipulating the viewer’s psyche.
So what does that all mean? Horror filmmakers know exactly how and when to make you jump out of your seat, whether it was something scary or oftentimes, absolutely nothing.
Horror Movie Tropes
Many consider horror to be the most trope-laden genre in all of film. Watching a horror movie at times feels like a checklist of events guaranteed to occur.
Some common tropes throughout horror films include the dark scary house, or the lack of cell phone service, the ghost/spirit seeking its revenge, the black guy dies first, the monster is behind them when they look in the mirror, someone always dies while having sex, countless amounts of jump scares, and of course in the end, there’s always one survivor (normally a pretty white girl).
Subverting the Classics
A new trend within modern horror filmmaking is taking those classic tropes and subverting them. So in Get Out the film subverts both the black guy dies first and the only survivor is a pretty girl tropes by making the black guy survive in the end. Another example of subverting classic tropes is by removing the monster from the mirror. So when the character checks the mirror and the suspense builds, the reveal shows no bad guy, now leaving the viewer even more on edge, fearing if not now, when this antagonist will finally reveal itself.
Camera Trickery: Negative Space
Negative space is everything within the frame that’s not subject of the viewer’s focus. Traditionally, negative space is used to give viewer’s eyes an area to rest. Whether it’s a wall, out-of-focus background, or underexposed darkness, traditional filmmakers try to use it as a balance because too much negative space often leaves the viewer feeling uncomfortable. Which is exactly why horror filmmakers take advantage of negative space so regularly. Not knowing what’s about to jump into the frame leaves you on edge and full of tension. What will happen next?! This is exactly how the filmmaker wants you to feel while watching their movie in a giant dark room consisting entirely of negative space.
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