Recently there’s been a trend in horror films to use jump-scares. For those of you who don’t know, jump-scares are loud noises in order to make the audience jump. It does not necessarily, however, make them scared. I recently watched Oculus, which tried to use jump-scares but honestly was a little half-hearted. This got me thinking, though, as to why horror films feel the need to use these so much.
I think it is a case of complacency; a cheap get-out. If you slap a huge bang in the middle of a quiet scene, no matter who or what is making that bang, of course the audience will jump in their seats! To use this method is lazy, it is a guaranteed way to get an instant, short-term scare from an audience. Film franchises like Paranormal Activity, for instance, use this so much that it has become an annoyingly frequent trope in their films. They’ve even taken it a step further and incorporated fake jumps to precede the ‘real’ ones, with the first being pranks by characters and the latter being the entity that wants to kill them all.
I prefer when a horror film uses tone, atmosphere and, you know, actual FEAR for their horror. A film that uses that properly will make people afraid of going to sleep at night and dread walking home in the dark. All I see jump-scares as is an opportunity to have a laugh when people jump at them. Laughing at something a horror film does, though, just shows what it is doing wrong. In my opinion The Blair Witch Project uses actual horror without need for jump-scares. In fact, I don’t think it had one genuine jump-scare. Instead the character tension, growing peril and atmosphere all worked to make it a genuinely effective horror.
In short, put a loud noise in a quiet place and obviously people are going to jump, but that doesn’t mean you have talent for horror if you do. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its place, but you can’t do horror if that is all you rely on.