Fear is one of the primal emotions within each of us. Fear helps our ancestors to survive the wild and brave the nature. But in our modern world, safety is readily available. Thus we became out of touch with our ancestors. To relieve back our primal nature, some of us strayed to entertainments that can provide that feeling back.
Entertainment-induced fear tries to provide back that fight-or-flight feeling to those seeking it. Not because of the fear itself, but the adrenaline it provides, the AWAKENESS when one was jumped, and then the calmness that follows is simply, exhilarating.
When creating fear-based entertainment, one must see what will generally be considered scary. Easily enough, there are a number of research, or even websites that log the most common phobia. One of them, the one used in most movies, is the fear of death, Thanatophobia. (Goddammit why does it sound so cool).
But providing something to fear isn’t necessarily enough. This is an entertainment medium. The industry wants to provide a hundred and more. That’s when they steered to jumpscares. Said to be the “building blocks of horror,” it’s a way to startle the audience quickly and some more, depending on how it is used.
WHAT IS HORROR?
When you think about horror, the first that comes to mind is a jump that is followed by a loud jarring sound. This is the industry standard, even in games. But I think we’re all in agreement that it should not be what defines horror in the first place. Just like tropes, jumpscares are but a tool in which only a master of the craft can use magnificently.
However, the true meaning of the horror genre is simply a genre that tries to instil fear in us. It was never about jumpscares. Just good ol’ fear.
I want to ground back the tone of the video and return it to me for a bit. (Yes, I’m narcissistic). I know that by talking about horror, you’d expect me to be most familiar with the genre, when in fact, I’m not.
If it was me from 5 years ago, I wouldn’t be able to admit this, but I’m not a big horror fan. It used to be because I’m easily scared. I don’t like the fear. I still don’t like fear, but now, the reason why I’m not a big horror fan is because of how detached they are from the viewers.
My realization of horror happens only a few months back when I stumbled upon a video by Spikima Movies where he analyzes a scene from the movie, Kairo. I decided to force my friend to watch it with me. I ended up finishing it myself, and it was the first time ever I’d finished a horror movie by my own conduct.
Upon finishing it, I realized a lot about horror because… I was on my own. I started thinking about it not in a way of the scare, but the why they work. It ended up making me more curious about this stuff and think about horror in a way I always couldn’t before.
I started to notice when is the time I’m most at the edge of my seat, and analyse each and every moment from there. In a way, it makes me enjoy it more… Not the horror, but the choices that go when making one.
Before I continue, I want you to check this scary clip of Kairo. And don’t worry, it has no jumpscares.
WHEN DOES THE FEAR START?
I hope we can agree that the clip just now was scary. So why is there no jumpscare?
A scene comprised of a start, a middle, and an end. I believe that a scene can also be compared with the three-act structure of a narrative. And just like any narrative, the first and second act is just as much if not more important than the third, where jumpscare is supposed to happen.
The first act is when the set pieces were set up, where they are put together in their place. The stakes, the ‘WHY’ we should care. The anxiety was then planted. With horror, this is pretty much set up from even before the scene, sequence, or even before the movie starts because… we know it’s a horror. There’s going to be something scary. So we’ve already set our expectations from the start.
One could argue that the context could be just knowing that a scare is going to happen. That leaves the second act, where tension is actually built up. The media uses whatever technique is required to build suspense, sound design, shot composition, editing techniques, but this is the part where our fear is confirmed. This is the part where terror comes in.
The third act comes after the peak of tension, the release, either by going out with a bang or with a slow burn. So this could either be a jumpscare, or no jump at all, which is totally fine because there are other techniques to scare.
Of course, all these don’t work if you go to the comment section and say “it’s not that scary.” Well, now you just disprove all my arguments.
WHAT DO YOU FEAR?
When talking about horror, comes the discussion about fear. When talking about fear, comes terror. The gnawing feeling of the realisation that we are no longer safe. When talking about terror, comes anxiety. The constant feeling of terror.
I’ve established that the second act is what makes horror scary. I’m going to pitch an idea again that the first act is what allows it to be. If the second act is what makes you at the edge of your seat, the first is what keeps you awake at night.
Take a look at this.
This makes you feel uneasy, right? How about this?
The first act is when the set pieces were built and put in. Where filmmakers create something for us to fear. Just like the second act, this act goes through a lot of thought processes. Techniques, novel or ancient, are used to make something that can be generally considered scary.
My understanding is that, typically, the theme is familiar to us, and was turned into a more twisted version of it. In a way, familiarity makes the whole experience more grounded and genuine. It makes our brain think that it’s not so far from the truth, thus there is a possibility, no matter how small, that such an occurrence might actually happen.
This way, you’d consider more about the slight unfamiliarity in the real and familiar world, causing you to always be on your edge. Thus the constant feeling of uneasiness, anxiety, I claim.
The best horror titles out there: IT’s Pennywise, The Thing, and even games like Amnesia and Dead Space. They all have such great world buildings that ground their world into ours. The blurred line makes us think more about the media, about the fear that we experience long after we consume them.
And this is why there’s so much love in the current days for Mandela Catalogue, FnAF VHS Tapes, Junji Ito’s works, the Backrooms… I could go for days, you get my point. They managed to walk that line finely and create something truly creepy, all with little jumpscares. Context matters.