I came across another foreign film this week full of suspense—really well paced suspense. Even my children were engaged in this film, which often doesn’t happen when we’re talking foreign films. As I’m sitting there reading subtitles and taking mental notes on the cinematic elements of the film, I start to realize why it’s working so well. It wasn’t the monster chasing them, for that was the constant almost throughout the entire film. It was even more than the scenery—though being isolated on a tiny island with a monster lurking in the surrounding lake helped with the creep factor. What kept my heart pumping were the nuance of sights and sounds; droplets falling from the cave into the water below, a metal gearwheel clicking slowly over rusted teeth; the lights in the bunker of the final scene flickering on and off. Such simple things, but they ramped up the suspense to almost painful levels at times.
It’s something I want to remember as I finish the book I’m working on at the moment. To keep my readers on the edge of their seats, drawing on the elements surrounding those scenes is a powerful way to go about it. I seriously had to stand up several times during the film to work the heebie-jeebies out and there wasn’t even one gory scene.