Sound's Big Moment

There is no terror in the bang. Only in the anticipation of it.
— Alfred Hitchcok

Following on from last weekend at Frightfest, we’ve been deep in the zone of all things scary. And is there anything scarier than a great suspense moment? I’m definitely with Alfred on this one, that the actual blood-gore isn’t half as impacting as simply feeling the anticipation.

Very few people are aware of sound in a film. Even to Directors and Producers, we as Sound Designers are often given little credit and our input can be seen as ‘necessary’ rather than be viewed as an artistic element in it’s own right. Of course there are amazing directors such as the Cohen brothers, who hold their sound departments in high-esteem, but it’s a sad fact that they are a rarity. Rarer still is an audience that identifies sound as a reason they found something moving.

That is, until, you come across a great suspense scene. Suspense moments are sound’s ‘big money shot’. Of course a subtle sound tapestry may be just as important to a film, but a lead-up to a big boom moment is the sound man’s moment in the spotlight. It may be the only point in a movie that the audience is actually aware of your work at all.

Because of this, I always get a kick out of working on suspense and thriller movies, and I’m going to try and make it a focus of mine to study them in more detail- to try and analyse what makes some work amazingly, and others not so much.

Here are some of my favourite examples of sound putting the fright into a scene…

(Spoiler Alert - if you haven't seen these movies, get on the case!)


1. Jurassic Park (1993) is riddled with sound moments. This is probably the most famous one.

2. War of the Worlds (2005) - Alien Probing Basement

3. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) - Night Vision

4. No Country for Old Men (2007) - Eagle Hotel Scene. Another sound gem of a movie.

5. The Birds (1963) - Gas Station Explosion. Classic Hitchcock

A big reason as to why sound is so important in these scenes, is because the visuals often become static or slow down. And isn’t that how it is in real life when you panic? What you can see becomes less important, as you’re mentally running other images of possible outcomes through your mind, your other more animalistic senses kick in- namely sound and smell. Like a dog who senses danger, he becomes stationary, his ears prick up and he stands to attention ready to see if it’s fight or flight time. In the anticipation, movement becomes less important and sound is relied upon to judge what is happening. 


Do you have a favourite suspense scene? Have you been working on something with a lot of tension in it lately? We recently worked on The Quiet Hour, to which suspense and a sense of waiting is pivotal. It’ll be shown in London’s Soho next month. Congrats Stéphanie & Sean (and all the team) for the Raindance nomination also!


Hope you're having a great weekend- here's some cool Sound stuff to check out...