Sensory Overload…Movies With Real Feeling

December 20, 2018
Some films have brilliantly used the tools of cinema to make an audience’s senses – sight, sound, touch, smell – really sing.

BIRD BOX (2018) In Susanne Bier’s dystopian thriller, Bird Box, Sandra Bullock delivers one of her grittiest and most committed performances, playing a mother who will do anything to protect her children. In the dark future of the tense thriller, Bird Box, a cruel, unforgiving – and unseen – presence has decimated the world’s population, with all who make the mistake of glimpsing it prompted into a suicidal frenzy. With all of the major characters (led by Sandra Bullock as a mother desperately trying to protect her children) blindfolded in order to survive, Bird Box beautifully plays up the concept of sound, with every broken twig underfoot and each whispered plea taking on enormous meaning.

BURIED (2010) In this nail-grinding thriller, Ryan Reynolds plays Paul, a U.S. truck driver working in Iraq. After an attack by a group of insurgents, he wakes to find that he has been buried alive inside a coffin. With only a lighter and a cell phone at his disposal, Paul must race against time – as his oxygen quickly starts to run out – to escape certain death. With the eminently watchable Ryan Reynolds pretty much the whole show here, director, Rodrigo Cortes, wonderfully plays up his plight, and the way that his predicament impacts upon all of his senses, with the sound and visuals pumped up even further by the film’s limited outside stimulus.

THE TINGLER (1959) Exploitation filmmaker, William Castle (House On Haunted Hill, Project X), was one of the great hucksters of the fifties and sixties, utilising a number of tricks and gimmicks to help sell his low budget wonders. His most famous hype job came with the creation of “Percepto”, which was – despite the grand sounding name – merely the placement of a buzzer in cinema seats, which were set off with the appearance of the film’s monster: a parasitic, worm-like creature that grows when fear grips its host. Though no masterpiece, The Tingler literally made audience members feel something…even though it might have been against their will.

EARTHQUAKE (1974) As well as its massive cast (Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, Genevieve Bujold, George Kennedy), this classic 1970s disaster movie (the title says it all) had another major ace up its sleeve: its use of revolutionary “Sensurround” technology. This was a series of large speakers powered by BGW amplifiers, that would pump in sub-audible “infra bass” sound waves at 120 decibels (equivalent to a jet aeroplane taking off), literally giving the viewer the sensation of being caught in an earthquake. And yes, it worked. At Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, the Sensurround system was so loud and booming that it cracked the plaster in the ceiling.

POLYESTER (1981) Inspired by the gimmicks of the aforementioned William Castle, provocateur supreme, John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Hairspray) employed a very sense-specific device for the release of his film, Polyester (a tribute to classic Douglas Sirk-style “women’s pictures”), starring Divine and Tab Hunter. The “Odorama” stunt saw audience members issued with special “scratch’n’sniff” cards with spots numbered 1 through to 10. When a number flashed on the screen, viewers then scratched and sniffed the appropriate spot, which would give them a whiff of flowers, pizza, glue, gas, grass, dirty shoes and, of course, a fart. Robert Rodriguez used a similar gimmick for his 2011 film, Spy Kids: All The Time In The World, though he pitched it as “Aromascope.”

A QUIET PLACE (2018) In John Krasinski’s nerve shredding third directorial effort, the world has been destroyed by alien creatures who hunt the planet’s few remaining humans by sound, and then eviscerate them without pity. Focusing on a family (led by Krasinski and real life wife, Emily Blunt) hiding out in the woods, A Quiet Place makes a stunning use of sound design. With dialogue at an absolute minimum, every single sound brings with it an enormous sense of gravity, as anything – a quickly inhaled breath, a bare whisper – could spell instant death. A truly heightened cinematic sensory experience, A Quiet Place makes the concept of noise a singularly terrifying one.

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