3 Brilliant Moments of Horror

published on July 2, 2020

If Follows is one of our favorite
horror films in recent memory, and

as much praise as has been heaped upon it,
we think it's do some more

We're diving into how it uses its camera
to create a constant sense of terror

These are three brilliant moments
of horror, in It Follows


Let's get straight into our first moment

It's the opening shot of the movie

So we're giving you all
the context you need, none


>> Hey, are you okay?

>> Yeah

>> You need some help?

>> No

>> We're going to speed through
a little bit here for Brevity sake but

this spin just keeps going

>> Annie?

>> Right off the bat you know you're in
for a treat from its very first moments,

the film subscribes to one of our favorite
horror film philosophies that the monster

you can't see is often scarier
than the monster you can

We don't know what she's running from

We don't know why she's running

We don't even know if there's
anything actually there at all

And it is feels almost like our view
is also running from whatever it is off

screen that she keeps looking at

There's so little given to us that
it's tempting to conclude that this

shot is doing nothing but withholding

But we don't think that's quite true

We think this spectacular
360 degree camera move

does actually tell us something

It's letting us know exactly the kind
of movie we're going to watch

Where we can expect our
terror to come from

And how the camera is going to
figure into that relationship

And I know that sounds kind of vague and

but it's actually super important
especially in a horror film

When we watch a film, we construct a model
of the physical space in our head

We put together the pieces shown to us by
each shot to build a crude mental map

In horror, this mental map is
very important because we use

it to predict where danger might
come from, and many horror films and

establishing shot often shows
us the whole relevant space

So that we can see the arena
the scarers will be working with in

And a lot of times, this means that
the screen space your shown and

then end up mentally constructing is
only a portion of the actual world

For example check out one of
the more terrifying scenes in Jaws

Early on we're showing the entire
relevant space before we move in and

examine it closer and then, (Noise)
There's a whole open ocean behind this,

but we never see it or think about
it either because it's clear that

as the audience, the whole relevant
arena is placed in front of us

As if there's a sphere of action
where the scary stuff can happen and

a neutral spectatorship space set
back from it where we can look on

This space is relevant

This space is not

This is the sphere of horror

These are just the bleachers

But it follows doesn't do that

This very first shot let's us know that
Mitchell space is 360 degrees around

And its arena for
potential horror is everywhere

We don't get to sit back and

watch from any bleachers, we are only
ever inside of the sphere of action

And when you're inside
the sphere of action,

you with your limited field of vision
can only ever see part of the danger

There will always be scary
areas you can't keep an eye on,

which leads us to the second
thing this shot tells you

The danger is going to come at you from
the off screen space, that the frame lines

pose a dramatic danger of concealing
the very thing that terrifies us

Let's look at our next moment to see
these camera principles in action in

a more conventional scene

But first, some brief context

There is a monster,
it's sexually transmitted

It walks towards you unceasingly
forever unless you pass it on

Only the infected can see it,
it can take on many forms

Also, the girl from
the opening shot is very dead

Our protagonist is actually this girl,
Jay, who is the new target of the curse

We've also learned some new stylistic
language even though we may not have

realized it

Take a look at our next scene so
we can start to unpack what that is

>> Mom?


>> Laura,
>> Don't open the door


>> See, everything's okay


>> First of all, catch your breath

We promise it's over

No more to worry about

Let's take that first scene
one more time and slower and

pay attention to what the camera is and
more importantly isn't doing

While the beginning of the scene explores
the room with some mobile hand held shots

and when Jay first sits down, we look at
her in three quarters view like this

When we finally begin to entertain
the idea of opening the door,

our perspective shifts to a straight
on center punch medium shot like this

This cuts against a couple different
shots of the other side of the room,

here, here, and here

And if we were to diagram the camera
placement in this part of the scene,

it would start to look very familiar

Mitchel has placed his camera here
entirely in the middle of the action

It's almost like the first shot with the
camera spinning all the way around, except

instead of panting between one side of the
space and the other, it does it in cuts

In fact, it does it with almost
perfectly 180 degree cuts every time

There are no over the shoulders

He never gives us a wide shot or a 50-50
that connects the two halves of the space

It is just us stuck in the middle
only ever seen half of anything

And you see this cutting
pattern all over the film,

shots from outside the sphere of
action are the exception not the rule

More often than not, it follows puts
us in the middle and makes us spin

And this shooting style opens
us up to another form of terror

If it always walks towards its victim and
the camera is generally placed between Jay

and it, then you wind up with the camera
style that almost always shoots so

that it is walking directly towards us

So not only can we almost always
extrapolate where it might

be even when we can't see it, but

that extrapolation puts our view in
the two most terrifying places by design

We are always either staring
directly towards the danger or

it's literally right behind us

So, when the door opens and

everything seems fine our conscious
brain shrugs like these two goobers

But our subconscious brain says there's
a long dark hallway right there and

that's exactly the direction this (Bleep)
is going to come from because that's how

this camera works

So, when we turn our back to
the hallway one last time,

full on dread,
the nagging suspicion has been planted and

all that's left is to cut back one
more time and pull the trigger

>> As time goes on,

it follows develops its
camera language further,

we continue to submit the association of
it with walking directly towards camera

It never moves circularly
around us anymore

Once we're with Jay, it's pretty
much directly at us every time

After a while, Jane her gang try to track
down the source of this SEC, discovering

the school her infector went to,
which brings us to our third moment here

>> Attention all girls, interested in
playing club lacrosse this spring, there

will be an informational meeting held in
the LT431 room right after school today

Final reminder for all wrestlers, please
hand in your permission forms to Mr

Dwigs today

Also your banquet is this Sunday
at 3 PM here at the high school

It's time again for
the High School Musical

This year's the (Inaudible) starting
at 7PM to 9:30 in the show and

another performance tomorrow at 2PM

Tickets will be five dollars per student
and seven dollars for adults (Inaudible)

>> Let's process this scene literally for

a second

This is a shot where a camera slowly spins
around while a bunch of students walk to

class while our protagonists lean on
a desk, and it is unbelievably terrifying

We've been taught since the first shot
that a moving frame line can conceal or

reveal dangers

So before we see anything else

Already that's scaring us, and

we've learn from the second shot that it
is almost certainly walking toward us

So that's got us rattled

And because we know it's probably walking
straight into our lens and our lens is

spinning to point every single direction,
we know it could be coming from anywhere

So, when we see a maybe monster maybe
not figure who is walking toward us

The film has set up non-monster walkers
too, so we can never be too sure, and

then turns our back to it,
we kind of want to cry

And then when we've got our backs to it
the short reveals our heroes also aren't

looking in its direction and this is
just torture, but the shot goes on

After our heroes settle at the desk,
the camera doesn't stop spinning

When the camera keeps turning,
we know that it means it probably has

something relevant to show us, which means
that there's probably new information

And new information can
mean only one thing and

that's even worse danger in the form
of a still approaching form

And when we finish the shot with our
back to the approaching figure and

settle on our heroes were
already pretty much dead

Until the shot ends with a zoom which is
another piece of visual language we've

been conditioned to associate
with the monsters approach

The walls are closing in on our heroes
metaphorically and literally because we

know the camera likes to hide the monster
outside the borders of the frame, and

the borders of the frame
are cutting off more and more

It feels exactly like the monster
is getting closer even though we

can't see it

Combine that with the fact that the now
still camera feels like it searches over,

like its direction of approach has been
decided and that's it, we're out of here

We'd like our moms to come and
takes us home now,

all of these emotions we're feeling
here and there's a whole lot of them

Come from us making terrifying predictions
based on camera patterns the film has been

familiarizing us with,
since its beginning

By attaching camera rules to scary events
such that we are only ever shown them in

a certain way

We associate those kinds of
shots with a fearful stimulus

And once we've done that, we're like
Pavlov's dogs and all the movie has to do

is frame up a shot just right and we
automatically experience that same fear

This shot has no dialogue,
no real narrative information

No way to tell if the walking
student is actually it or

just an innocuous bystanders

But thanks to some clever setup and
a lot of dedication to a formal style,

we can make conclusions and feel fear
from the naked camera movement itself

Which is why we think these three
terrifying moments are totally brilliant

So what do you think?

You have a different
take on these moments?

Any other horror films that use their
camera to perfects terrifying effects?

Let us know in the comments below and
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