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Thursday, 20 January 2011

WS - Deconstruction for the opening scene of "Scream"

Click here to go to the IMDB page for "Scream"
Directed By: Wes Craven

The opening to "Scream" is quite simple, yet absolutely brilliant. It is a very long opening scene at 12 minutes 26 seconds, but the way it builds up from creepy caller to knife-wielding maniac is gripping, memorable and genious.
The scene starts with long, continuous shots following the girl around the house while she is on the phone. This makes the setting and film seem quite peaceful, and although she appears to be on the phone to someone who, at best, is a weird stalker, you don't feel threatened and you don't think (apart from people who often watch Slashers, and understand the conventions) the blonde is in any danger (within this short part of the opening a Dutch Angle shot is used, suggesting early on that there is something strange and dangerous about to happen). However, when the caller mentions that they are looking at her, the camera shots suddenly become much quicker and more varied. This is very clever, because without actually doing much in the action this quickly gets the audiences heart rates going and builds up tension. The camera shots are also very clever. Most of the shots slowly move in on the girl, which signifies she is been trapped in and backed into a corner. The shot types vary more and more as the opening goes on. The use of a very fast POV panning shot looking out of the front door is a very good shot, it shows the tension and panic of the girl with the speed in which the shot pans, but it also shows the isolation of the house, telling the audience that there is nobody around to help, increasing the tension.

As with all Slasher films, the sound in the opening scene is absolutely vital to how the scene comes across (watching the scene with the sound off is very, very different!) and how scary the scene is. Whilst mise-en-scene plays a big part in building up tension and fear, sound is key to this. Early on, there is very little non-diegetic sound, when everything appears peaceful. In the establishing shot the film would be silent except for some insects making noises, which once again adds to the isolated feel, and of course peaceful feel. Inside the house there is only diegetic sound, for example the ringing of the phone and the sound of the popcorn. The first introduction of sound is when we first feel threatened for the girl, when the caller reveals he is looking at her. From here on in, sound is used to build the tension, often using long, drawn out notes which makes the audience hold it's breath. The music goes from quiet, to loud and back to quiet frequently building up tension and providing false scares. There is also the use of what sounds like a loud drum beat at one point, which strikes fear into the heart with every beat. All the sound is cleverly put together and works effectively to make the audience nervous, scared and yet gripped all at the same time.
 The mise-en-scene is very smart in this scene. There is the usual expected in a Slasher film: the low hanging branches on the trees, the isolated house and the brutal killing weapon. But Wes Craven takes Scream even further by been very intelligent with the objects he places in shot. One of the best examples of excellent mise-en-scene, is when Casey, played by Drew Barrymore, is leaning on the kitchen counter talking to the killer on the phone, and she is playing with a block of knives. This is a relatively simple action, and yet tells you so much about what is going to happen and seems quite ironic. The setting of the house is important; secluded and far away from any potential saviour (such as the Police as is pointed out by the Killer). There is more clever mise-en-scene in the shape of the popcorn. The popcorn starts off very steady and calm, but by the time the killer is breaking in and going after Casey, it is bubbling and popping a lot. This is very clever because Craven has used the popcorn to represent the pace of the seen and it shows the build up through his mise-en-scene.
Through all aspects, Craven has really created quite the masterpiece in his opening and combines everything very well. Each aspect compliments each other effectively, and you could argue that it would be exceptionally hard, maybe impossibly hard, to find a better constructed opening to a Slasher film.

Below is the opening scene of the film:

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