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What’s In a Trailer?

Taken by Philip S Gear

Can wine be scary? Anything can be scary with the right angle.

I love watching trailers for movies. They’re a thing unto themselves. They can be just a tease of greatness that relies on simple honesty or piece of deceitful art somehow created out of the clusterfuck that is the movie. There is a trend over the last 15 years to pack a trailer with the best jokes and explosions, creating more of a mini movie than an actual teaser. More often than not, there’s almost no need to see the movie after watching its trailer.

Thankfully, there are exceptions, and two trailers came out this week that are a class unto themselves for making a trailer work. They somehow avoid the prevailing assumption that the trailers were cut together by an ADHD high schooler who lost the notes about tone and pacing. What do these trailers get right? Everything. I mean that literally.

First, there’s The Witch, which tells the story of 17th century religious settlers of the New England frontier. Watch the trailer. Seriously, watch it. Okay? Good. (I’m taking your word on this.) What works in this? Tone, first and foremost. The music is otherworldly, using lots of discordant melody and percussion to set us on edge. The washed out browns and dark greens, everything about this paints a story about old world terror. Immediately we’re drawn into a world that’s frightening – no technology and an apparent, angry god. And goats are evil incarnate.

Second, there’s Goodnight Mommy. Watched it? Excellent. (You’re playing very well with others right now.) This trailer, in comparison, is light, featuring whites and metals of modern construction and the lush greens of the Austrian countryside. It feels like we’re watching a super-cut of the first 10 minutes, which sells the simplicity of the story. Ambient sound is preeminent here, relying only on sound for cues that define the escalating tension. Again, we’re sucked into a world we’re immediately frightened of – what if mom came home and wasn’t mom? And ate bugs?

The trailers aren’t just good individually; they’re good together because of what they have in common: story reveal, evocative music, and rapid fire imagery. First, the stories are simple enough that their telling encompasses all of 10 seconds. Second, the music is haunting with cues to understanding we should be anxious but nothing more. The music, and this is important, replaces the jump scare. And third, once the tone and story are addressed, both trailers throw us into a tailspin of chaotic imagery that hint at the rest of the movie but never give the goods away. We’re left slightly breathless with a true tease of what’s to come.

While we’ll have to wait until 2016 for 2015 Sundance darling The Witch, Goodnight Mommy opens on September 11. I personally can’t wait for intelligent, exciting horror. How about you?


Musical accompaniment: Junip

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p.s.w. gear
p.s.w. gear is a former economist who has run away from home in Baltimore to try his hand at full time writing in Heumaden, Germany. His Welsh father gave him his sarcasm, his Californian mother gave him his passion, and his Michigan fiancé gives him his grounding. He doesn't really know why he seems to write so many horror shorts stories, but it's likely because he uses up all his hopeful idealism on the feisty heroines of his unwritten novels. He spends way too much time wondering if he could get away with publishing YA fiction and erotic fiction under the same pen name.
p.s.w. gear

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