Monday, November 6, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Red Dragon (2002) - Action, Tension; Creepiness

[Quick Summary: To stop a serial killer, FBI agent Graham, who was injured while bringing in Hannibal Lecter, must once again ask Lecter for help.]

How does this thriller/horror/adaption stay on track with SO MUCH going on, i.e., multiple story lines, twists and turns, a ticking clock, etc.?

I thought Roger Ebert had two great thoughts on this:
1) "Lecter is a character who commands contemplation and unease, and too much action just releases the tension." (emphasis mine)
ex. I noticed that both Graham and Lecter themselves are often very still, despite the constant movement around them.  Less is more here.
2) "But this movie, based on Harris' first novel, has studied "Silence of the Lambs" and knows that the action comes second to general creepiness. There are stabbings, shootings, fires, explosions, tortures, mutilations, and a flaming corpse in a wheelchair, but within reason." (emphasis mine)
In other words, "story before spectacle." Action serves story, not the other way.

In the scene below, note:
- A little bit of action, a lot of tension
- Creepiness comes first, then action


...Graham drops into a chair. Lecter, who's been waiting politely, sits behind his desk. Graham leans forward urgently. Despite his weariness, his face is alive with fierce excitement.

GRAHAM: We've been on the wrong track this whole time, Doctor. you and I. Our whole profile is wrong.

Lecter is very still; there is not a flicker of emotion; he just watches Graham, like someone studying an insect.

GRAHAM (cont'd): We've been looking for somebody with a cray grudge. Some kind of anatomical knowledge, decertified doctors, med school dropouts, laid-off mortuary workers -

LECTER: From the precision of the cuts, yes. And his choice of - souvenirs.

GRAHAM: But that's where we're off target. He's not collecting body parts.

LECTER: Then why keep them?

GRAHAM: He's not keeping them. He's eating them.

Lecter just watches and listens."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I need to set my characters up better with flaws and clashing desires from the start. 

Tension flows a lot more easily from character this way.

Red Dragon (2002)
by Ted Tally
Based on the novel by Thomas Harris

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