When the first trailer for John Krasinski/Emily Blunt horror movie, A Quiet Place, came out, I pondered whether or not the film would avoid using LOUD NOISES to scare people. In a partial answer, it turns out the ads can’t avoid it—the Super Bowl spot uses a LOUD NOISE for a jump scare. This is a problem in contemporary horror. I really hope it’s just a trailer thing and not reflective of the actual movie, because I am WAY into how A Quiet Place looks. It really reminds me of The Others, one of the best modern horror movies, which did not use sound in stupid cheating ways.
It’s one thing to have diegetic sound like the kid’s spaceship in this ad—or the Babadook’s call—that cues action in a scene, but those loud punches on the soundtrack drive me nuts. Like in It (movie not mini-series), when Ben is at the library and he goes into the basement and the headless burned kid ghost appears, that’s f*cking scary enough on its own, but the soundtrack punches through with LOUD STRINGS just to make sure the dummies in the back know they’re supposed to be scared. If your movie is working right, we’re already scared, and we don’t need the loud sound.
A great example of how to use sound in horror is The Shining, but I also wonder if that isn’t the movie that poisoned this particular well. Take the bath tub scene. The score is ominous tones and sounds pitched at frequencies that are inherently unsettling (which is pretty standard in horror movies at large). In that scene, the score builds up in layers, but one, it’s never so loud it wipes out diegetic sound—you can still hear the shower curtain rustle—and two, it isn’t fighting the scare, which is Jack realizing he’s making out with a corpse. The image is the scare, the sound is just punctuation. If you put that clip on mute, that scene is still f*cking scary.
The problem with contemporary horror, which is in this Quiet ad, too, is a loud noise taking the place of an in-scene scare. In that bit at the end of the ad, the scare is the girl getting grabbed, we don’t need a loud-ass noise to scare us. But it’s like The Shining made everyone sh*t their pants and now we have a generation of filmmakers who associate loud noise with fright, without remembering that before he ever laid in a soundtrack, Stanley Kubrick composed a flawless, frightening IMAGE. So if you’ve got an image that is working—and again, A Quiet Place LOOKS GREAT—you don’t need all those bangs and clangs. Just get some sound design that fits the tone and tension of your film and leave it alone.