Jump scares are an effective way to startle the audience, but are they useful in establishing a more terrifying atmosphere? The technique of suddenly scaring viewers with a quick glance or a sharp sting of music can be a great way of goosing that audience to expect the unexpected, but usually it’s just a lazy or uninspired way to give the appearance of danger without establishing a real tone of uncertainty or dread. YouTube user Now You See It (a.k.a. Jack Nugent) examines jump scares and how they are overused by low-tier horror films as a way to falsely inject horror into a scenario, without actually relying on atmosphere or tone to build up to that scary moment.
But Nugent does more than just tear down jump scares as a whole, pointing to several instances where filmmakers use them cleverly. By using examples from films like Poltergeist and The Sixth Sense, Nugent argues that the jump scare is still an effective tool in the horror filmmaker’s arsenal. But, and this is the important part, they have to be part of an established tone or further an uneasy tension that already exists within the film.
Too often filmmakers just throw in something coming at the screen, or appearing out of nowhere, and are content with the cheap thrill that arises from that startled sensation. What Nugent implores more filmmakers to do is take a lesson from The Prestige and realize that the jump scare is just a part of the overall movie, a trick that can help make the film a more unpredictable ride without being uninspired or cheap.