A modern and mainstream horror film is guaranteed to attempt the execution of at least one jump scare. Like any other creative endeavor, it’s more or less impossible to come up with an original way of doing this, especially considering the sheer quantity of horror films available today. Some jump scares are so engraved in the genre that even harsh critics can’t rightfully call for their retirement. Horror fanatics know that every time a protagonist goes looking for danger, that danger won’t be behind the curtain, but behind the protagonist waiting for them to finishing checking behind the curtain, and this is cool. Sometimes someone thinks up a clever jump scare that isn’t part of the genre fabric, and as horror is a cannibalistic genre, that same scare will likely find its way into a half dozen other films within the next decade.
But there are some largely modern and admittedly clever jump scares that are being drastically overused, and not in the charming manner of trope or cliché. Recently I noticed three very similar jump scares in three very different horror films.
In Neil Marshall’s The Descent there is a particularly nerve jangling scare (which was ruined in the US trailer) where the heroines can hear the sounds of something around them, but in the pitch black of the cave they can’t see anything. One of the lovely lady spelunkers takes a look through the eyepiece of her video camera and turns on the night vision option just in time to see a man-monster standing right behind her friends.
In Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s) a protagonist finds himself trapped in a libertine mess of underground storage after escaping a redneck cannibal attack that claimed his buddy. The poor fellah finds a door, but hears terrible noise in the dark. Unable to see where the sounds are coming from, he flips on the night vision option of his trusty camcorder just in time to see creepy crawly cannibal mutants creeping towards him.
In Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield, which is of course shot entirely from the point of view of a personal video camera, the protagonists are forced to walk through the filthy subways of New York by a giant monster. In the darkness they notice hundreds of rats scurrying away from them. Curious as to what could be scaring the rodents they switch the camera to night vision mode, only to realize a dozen kaiju lice are right on their tail.
Now, calling for the retirement of a set piece scare isn’t the same as calling for the head of the director or directors that permitted or created the scare. The Descent was released in 2005, Frontier(s) was released in 2007, and Cloverfield in early 2008. By this ‘logic’ The Descent ‘wins’, but knowing Neil Marshall’s modus operandi I’m hesitant to credit him with creating the scare simply because I can’t recall another version of it. These three scares could’ve been conceived at the same time for all we know, and getting into a dispute over who made it up is moot. I’m nearly positive that I saw a similar scare in Takashi Shimizu’s Marebito, and possibly in any number of other Asiatic horror films. That’s just too much research for a blog.
I’m calling for this retirement of this scare because in three years it’s already become old hat, and it’s unfortunate. If we officially hang this quickly clichéd scare in the rafters, we can save dozens of other young filmmakers from possible embarrassment. Think of the filmmakers.