How the director builds suspense and scares the audience in the film Jaws

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How the director builds suspense and scares the audience in the film Jaws?

        The film “Jaws” has been directed and produced in 1975 by Steven Spielberg. It is about a police chief that has been assigned to a hot resort on one of New England Coast’s beaches. His job is to make sure that the killer shark, which has already eaten a person in this area, does not have a chance to attack again.

        The film is set on the 4th of July because it is a national holiday in America – The Independence Day. Lots of people organise picnics, go for holidays etc. The New England Coast is an attraction to tourists and many people visit it during their holidays. In the film the protagonist is chief Brody (Roy Scheider). The secondary characters are Quint (Robert Shaw), Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton).

        Tension in the audience is immediately built in the opening sequence. This is achieved by the non-diagetic music playing in the background. The audience can see the sea weeds from the shark’s point of view. It is assumed that the creature is a shark because the majority of moviegoers have seen the shark in the “Jaws” trailer and on the “Jaws” poster on the way to the cinema. At this point the audience is “programmed” that when the theme tune starts to play in the background, it means that the shark is present.


        In the film both music and silence are used to scare the audience. An example of how silence is used for this effect could be the quietness after the shark’s first attack. As the woman was trying to pull away from the beast’s jaws, the non-diagetic music was extremely loud and chaotic. When the attack was finished, the shark was gone as was the non-diagetic tune. Spielberg made this in the film to help build more suspense in the future attacks - reinforcing the music will give the shark idea. After the attack and the disturbing music the ‘dead’ silence came. This is to highlight the fact that the girl has been killed in a very brutal and painful way and that nobody could help her, even if they wanted to. It also tells the audience that the shark is creepy, awful and unstoppable. This shark characterisation helped the director to build tension more effectively before the future attacks.

        Just like silence, music can also be used to scare the audience. An example of this is the loudness of the theme tune increasing as the shark is getting closer to its prey. It tells us that the attack is about to begin and lets us know that the person attacked will die, we know that he or she could not survive as previous victims had not survived.

        In the second attack a lot of camera techniques have been used to help build tension and scare the audience. The scene began with a straight, long shot of a 10 year old boy, Alex, going to his mother to ask for more time in the water. The straight shot was used to show equality, to make the audience feel as they are in the same place with all tourists on the beach. This did not build any tension because nothing was going to happen at that point. The audience might wonder why so much time is spent with Alex, why we are continously focused on him, not on any of the other boys - this starts to build minimal suspence and gives the audience an idea. Alex took a bright yellow lilo and went to the water. In the meantime, a young man in a yellow t-shirt played with his black dog, throwing a stick for him and taking it back. From this point the camera concentrated on three characters – Alex, the man in the yellow t-shirt and sheriff Brody. Also here a long shot has been used but the camera was in a slightly higher position, showing the scene from a higher angle. This was used to build suspense – to make the audience feel that something has changed, something is going to happen, however, there is still no tension being built. Every time somebody walked across the camera, zooming was used on Brody. This was to show that he is getting worried about something. The tension started to build at this point. It gives the audience a feeling that the offence that was meant to happen is getting closer. It keeps audience interested because they want to find out what will be next.

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        The predicted attack began; the shark came and ate the dog first. The owner was confused because a second ago he had the dog in front of his eyes. He called the dog’s name few times but the dog did not come. The audience knows that the shark has eaten this dog because before showing the man, the camera shown a close up of the stick that the dog was playing with.

        The camera was getting closer and closer to Alex on the yellow lilo. The camera angle was high but suddenly it shown Alex from below. This was ...

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