I had an interesting opportunity to compare approaches to suspense this week.
Early in the week, I listed to an interview with Michaelbrent Collings, one of Amazon's top selling horror writers. His perspectives on writing and the community it creates were so appealing that I thought I'd give one of his books a try. I downloaded a sample of Strangers: "You wake up in the morning to discover that you have been sealed into your home. The doors are locked, the windows are barred. THERE'S NO WAY OUT. A madman is playing a deadly game with you and your family. So what do you do? Do you run? Do you hide? OR DO YOU DIE?" Based on the first chapter, evidently you die. Once I got a taste of exactly how you die, I decided Strangers was not for me.
Later in the week, I watched the movie Peacock, starting Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, and Susan Sarandon: "A train accident in rural Nebraska gradually unveils a mystery involving the town's bank clerk." Certainly one of the most boring movie tag lines ever. Even the movie's producers must have been bored, because, as far as I can tell, it bypassed movie theaters completely and went right to DVD.
I loved it. The performances were wonderful (especially Murphy and Page) but what I most appreciated, especially after my experience with Strangers, was the subtlety of the story. Okay, there was a train car derailment (just the caboose) and a fire (contained to a motel room) but the true suspense of the movie was conveyed in quiet and beautifully presented moments where the focus was on exploring the inner life of the characters, not on exploiting over-the-top action in the plot. Certainly a story I would have been thrilled to have conceived myself.
Give Peacock a watch (or, if you're in the mood, give Strangers a read) and let me know what you think!