Jump scares – you know, when filmmakers throw something scary in your face to make you jump – are a pretty vilified technique. They’re considered cheap, hackneyed, cliché, and manipulative, and are generally thought of as an effective but shoddy substitute for more intelligent means of eliciting fright. And while to a certain extent this is very true, especially in the modern, direct-to-DVD horror industry, it’s also a case of a couple bad apples spoiling the barrel.
Because jump scares, when done correctly, when handled intelligently and sparingly rather than being doled out like candy on Halloween, can still be useful devices for scaring an audience and strengthening and furthering plot.
This conflict between effective and overused jump scares is the subject of the new video from Now You See It, “Why Jump Scares Suck,” which isn’t as judgmental as it sounds, and in fact spends as much time talking about the potential of the jump scare as it does the technique’s more detrimental qualities.
Things become cliché for a reason, I always say, either because they’re true or because they work. But then they become over-said or overworked and the meaning is ground out of them and replaced with trite emptiness at best, or at worst, a sarcastic rejection of the original intention. But that doesn’t erase the power at the root of the cliché, the original kernel of veracity that started it on its journey to cliché, nor does it erase the potential for the right person to come along and reinvigorate that potential, breathe new life into something that’s become old hat. This essay is the perfect reflection of that idea, and repositions the jump scare not as a beleaguered cinematic tool, but one in need of rediscovery and reinvention.