The Evolution Of Suspense
I consider myself a bit of an expert in scaring people. I spent my whole childhood in a state of irrational fear, and started writing horror stories as a way of exploring my own worst-case scenarios, and by doing so curing them. There are a couple of hundred short stories of mine knocking around, although I never wrote one with which I was entirely happy.
I’ve put those days behind me now (although I don’t rule out the possibility that somebody will lure me out of retirement for a one-off) but I still look for the perfect scary story. So many have brilliant beginnings and bad endings. Horror literature has been absorbed into the mainstream, so now I turn to movies, which have the same problem. I felt that the otherwise excellent ‘Get Out’ suffered from having a silly ending. So I’m thrilled about ‘A Quiet Place’ because it’s just about perfect.
Much has already been written about the husband-and-wide team of Emily Blunt and John Krasinski (she stars, he directed and co-wrote) but their real-life dynamic gives you characters you care deeply about. By now you know the scenario; blind aliens who have exceptional hearing abilities listen for prey, and one family of survivors with a deaf child must stay alive. They walk barefoot on paths of sand (although why don’t they wear trainers?) and speak using the sign language they learned for their daughter.
And there’s another problem; Evelyn, the mother, is pregnant; when the baby comes, how will they keep it quiet? The film is a chain of nail-biting set pieces and emotional hits that build on the characters, and the sound design takes you inside the different audio worlds of the family. This is crucial, because Evelyn’s deaf daughter doesn’t hear when she’s made a noise, and has to be watched all the time.
Film seems able to create suspense in this more senses-involving manner than novels can now. I think certain types of book are here to stay, but one wonders for the fate of the suspense tale. Recently, the TV series ‘Big Little Lies’ – effectively a murderous soap opera – proved itself to be richer and more enjoyable that its base novel. TV has mastered the art of the music montage, a new technique unavailable to novels.
Perhaps the only way to involve the next generation will be by invading multiple senses simultaneously. Think of the last book that moved and involved you – can it be filmed? Would it be better as a film?