Thursday, 20 January 2011

RESEARCH: How is suspense created in The Stepfather? Analysis of 3 scenes

The Opening
At the very beginning of the film, it appears as though a father has somewhat had a change of thought and decides to change his appearance. This includes a clean shave, wearing contacts and dying his hair. The reason for this dramatic change of appearance is unknown by the audience thus creating a sense of confusion which can leave the audience immediately unsettled. This is heightened when he turns around after his "transformation" and a wide shot is shown to show this "transformation". Family pictures are then shown in a tracking shot with the tense music still playing. This brings the question to the audience, why is this being shown? The tense music is then faded out and replaced with calm holy music as he gets his breakfast, which then conveys a sense of assurance and peace. This then all appears normal due to his casual approach until the camera tilts at an angle to reveal a dead young boy slumped on the table. This shows guilt and again unsettles the audience about the situation. 

Killing the Neighbour
In this scene, the old woman hears a knock at the door. While she goes outside to see who it is, there appears to be nobody there, or is there? This creates suspense as there is a sense of curiosity and confusion, as we heard the door knock but no-one is there. Why? The camera then suddenly cuts to a point of view shot inside the house. This gives the audience the impression that someone is inside the house and the elderly woman is being watched by an anonymous person, (or perhaps thing). As the elderly woman walks back inside, the audience is suddenly shocked by a cat jumping across the camera. This is known as a false plateau because the audience is expecting something to happen, but are shocked by something which they don't expect (in this case the cat). A false plateau is effective as it does what the audience expects, which is to expect something to happen which may scare them. After this happens, the audience may feel that it was the cat the whole time which can reassure the audience into their comfort zone. This makes the audience vulnerable to another quick sudden shock as they are reassured that everything is OK and that nothing is wrong. This is the perfect time to bring on another shock, and that is the stepfather suddenly grabbing the old woman. The audience is then frightened as they did not expect this happen and this creates a higher feeling of suspense than if the false plateau was not used. This also creates a second of confusion and uncertainty as the audience believed the point of view shot looking at the woman from within the house was the cat. But then the audience suddenly realise after a quick second that it was initially the stepfather to begin with. When the woman is thrown down the stairs, a point of view/low angle camera shot is seen looking up at the David from the floor. A high angle/point of view shot of the old woman is then seen giving the audience an insight into what David is seeing and his power over the woman. The high angle shot emphasises this. We then see the stepfather suffocate the woman with a plastic bag. Here, an extreme close up of the woman's facial expressions as she tries to save herself is used where we see her final moments. This ECU was used here to get the audience involved deeply into the action and see the horror on the woman's face which shows extreme fear and suspense. This emotion can be reflected onto the audience.

Searching Through Davids Possessions
While David goes out to pick up the children from school, Micheal and his girlfriend use this opportunity to search through David's possessions to hopefully gather some information on Micheal's suspicions. As soon as David leaves, the couple go upstairs to snoop around after coming straight out of the pool which David last saw them in when he left. After getting a phone call from his fiance, David returns home after a few minutes and notices Micheal and the girlfriend are not in the pool. Music begins to build up in tempo creating an element of suspense as the audience are unsure if Micheal and his girlfriend are going to get caught. There is a point of view shot of the girlfriend looking at the door, in which changes to a point of view shot of David suddenly opening the door. This too creates suspense as the audience feel they would be caught out as a POV is shown of Micheal's girlfriend looking at the door followed directly by the door opening. This makes the audience feel (as it was directly after one-another) uncertain if they are going to get caught as the audience do not believe they had enough time to hide. Next a POV of David looking at the hanger moving creates another element of suspense as the audience feel the couple are indefinitely caught out and there is no way of evasion from David. After David suddenly checks in an abrupt manner where the music suddenly heightens, we then see that no one is there. After looking out the window in another POV camera shot, David then sees Micheal and his girlfriend back in the pool somehow. This element of suspense is different from the two above. This is because this suspense was a mere sense of uncertainty and near miss of the couple evading David's detection. The suspense here is the type a person would get if they had just had an encounter which has result in them fractionally avoiding the worst possible outcome. This sense of suspense adds fear into mixture as the audience are totally unaware if they were going to get caught or not up until the last second as there is no clue leading up to the matter. This is a heart-pounding type of suspense that can be conveyed in a film. This is because the event/issue drags on and the audience are left to wonder what the outcome would be up until the final second.
The music amplifies as this happens. This surprises the audience as it takes them out of that reassured "bubble" they were placed in thanks to the holy music and suddenly throws them into a pool of uncertainty, creating suspense in its own original way. We are then shown more dead bodies around the untidy house, confusing the audience and raising questions as to how this may have happened.
I believe that the inclusion of the stressed dog shows that this was a forced act by the stepfather as he has a relaxed approach while the dog is the opposite. We are then presented with the murder objects in the sink, and as "the stepfather" begins to walk to the door, a flash back appears to a perhaps point of view shot of him charging at the daughter.

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