The unseen can be an incredibly powerful thing – the idea that no matter what the filmmaker puts onscreen, the audience can always be relied upon to think of something worse. When used effectively, it can heighten suspense, make for effective boogeymen and make off-screen acts seem somehow bigger, bolder and more heroic.
Films have been exploiting this trick for years – though everybody wasn’t exactly enamoured with the Blair Witch Project, its innovative use of the truism is something to be respected and studied. In a similar vein, the Cloverfield monster was approximately 16-times more terrifying when we only saw flash-shots of its limbs and shadow, and the menace (along with all logic) is spoiled when the thing sneaks up on Hud in Central Park.
Yet still, though we appreciate this storytelling crutch, occasionally the audience can’t help but wonder. Curiosity is deeply ingrained in our nature, so we can’t help but paint a mind-picture when we’re denied the chance to see something. I’m talking fights off-screen, narrative changing events off-camera and on rare occasions, being robbed of an expected scene completely. To many film fans, there’s nothing worse than coming into a screening with imaginations aflame with expected conflicts, only to be denied actual, tangible scenes, and to others, the off-shot event is something of a cop out.
I don’t necessarily agree with this view, as oftentimes the use of this dramatic device can yield huge reward. Yet we can’t deny that we’re occasionally crestfallen when such a thing happens, so I’ve written this article in honour of those moments. Again, for a lot of these scenes, the cutaways were necessary – but still, it’s not half galling when it occurs.
Be warned, SPOILERS abound in this article.
This article was first posted on September 25, 2013