The Suspense Is Killing Me

“The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.”

—Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

I’m very honored to announce that I will be hosting #MTOS (Movie Talk on Sundays) for the first time this Sunday, December 2nd.

For my topic, I’ve chosen suspense. I made this selection because good suspenseful situations force the cinematic medium to fire on all cylinders. Compelling characters, dramatic stakes, careful unfolding and witholding of plot information, atmospheric mise-en-scène, rhythmically on-target editing—suspense demands a harmony of all these elements. The challenges of gripping and holding the audience in suspense have often spurred filmmakers to new heights of creativity.

I also think that the anxiety, tension, and perplexity rooted in suspense represent some of the most powerful responses audiences can have while watching a movie. There’s a definite and palpable “payoff” when suspense is well-executed. However, I’d argue that many innovative suspense films get comparatively little critical respect in their own times.

In any case, I won’t leave you hanging—let the puns begin!—so, here are my questions:

1. How do you define suspense in the cinema? As a viewer, do you consider suspense a desirable trait in a film?

2A. What is the greatest “suspense film” you’ve ever seen? Why?

2B. What’s the best, most suspenseful movie scene or sequence you can think of?

3. Who are some of the most adept suspense directors? What would you say is their approach to or method of suspense?

4. Which actors convey and cultivate suspense best? Which performances in particular?

5. What do you think of movies that end on cliffhangers with no resolution? Which movies have done this well? Which have done it badly?

6. Suspenseful films—especially, though not exclusively, low budget films—often take advantage of constrained locations to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. Which movie has done this most successfully?

7. Which horror film creates suspense most effectively?

8. Suspense isn’t limited only to serious or scary movies. What’s your favorite comedy film (or comedy scene) that builds suspense for a humorous payoff?

9. How does suspense function differently in television? What television show (past or present) handles suspense best?

10. Danny Boyle has said in the U.K. Guardian that, “suspense [and] twists are almost impossible these days. People are blogging your endings from their cinema seats.” Do you agree? Have we reached the end of suspense? Discuss.

I hope to see you all on Sunday on the #MTOS hashtag at 20:00 GMT. In the meantime, I’ll be biting my nails, on the edge of my seat, white-knuckling it.

Until we tweet again, dear friends!

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