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Monsters in the Shadows

There are many reasons why Jaws (1975) is the very best film about a man-eating shark.

Famously, the mechanical shark used on set (nicknamed Bruce) kept braking down. Left with no other choice, director Steven Spielberg had to come up with other ingenious ways to ‘show’ his shark on screen: underwater shots from the shark’s perspective; attacks where we see the victims, hear their screams, but don’t see the monster below. The result was a slow build of unrelenting tension until Bruce finally showed his face near the film’s climax.

Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes.

Ridley Scott used much the same approach on Alien (1979). The titular alien was an incredible piece of design work by surrealist artist H.R. Giger, with its elongated, eyeless head and protruding set of razor sharp jaws within jaws. It’s a design that has endured for decades. In more recent sequels the alien has been created with CGI, but originally it was just a man in a latex suit.

To hide the suit’s shortcomings, Scott kept his creature lurking in the shadows for most of the film.

Nowadays, with CGI allowing directors to bring anything they can imagine to life, the monsters don’t need to be hidden away. A shame I think, since the imagination is often more powerful than anything roaming around on screen.

Earlier this year the science fiction horror A Quiet Place kept its monsters out of sight for the first hour, doing a brilliant job of ratcheting up the suspense through the reactions of its human cast. I sat on the edge of my seat, wondering what these unholy terrors were. When finally they were revealed in full view, I think some of that nail biting tension was lost.

A Quiet Place is a very fine piece of film making, but may have been even better without the luxury of modern film making technology.

Not revealing your monster too soon lets your audience imagine far worse than you can probably show.

By Tom Brookes

From our weekly column in the Oswestry Advertizer

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