Study Explains Why Some Movies Are So Freakin’ Scary

It may not’ve been your favorite movie to release last year, but chances are, if you went to see David Fincher’s film adaptation of “Gone Girl,” you have vivid memories of the building, hostile tension between protagonists Amy and Nick. And it’s not just Rosamund Pike’s pitch-perfect, icy performance that makes the movie unforgettable — it’s the drawn-out, edge-of-your-seat suspense sequences.

According to a new study conducted by Matt Bezdek at the Georgia Institute of Technology, we are more likely to remember suspenseful stories better than we remember those from other genres, such as comedy. This is because, Bezdek asserts, during suspenseful moments — when the beloved hero or heroine’s safety teeters precariously — we tend to tune out our surroundings, honing in on the story, and immersing ourselves in it fully.

For the study, Bezdek hooked participants up to an MRI machine and instructed them to watch ten scenes from suspenseful movies, including classics such as “Alien,” and a selection of works by the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. During the most chilling plot lines, viewers remained focused on the movies, which played at the center of their screens, surrounded by a checkerboard flashing as a potential distraction. Their eyes remained fixed on the movies when things got tense, but during calmer moments, they took the bait.

A write-up of the study notes that Cary Grant’s near-death-by-airplane experience in “North by Northwest” narrowed viewers’ visual focus, while his escape into a nearby cornfield broadened their focus, allowing outside distractions to seep in. So, while “Gone Girl” wasn’t a film considered in the study, we can assume that Nick’s pursuit of her clever clues would capture viewers’ attention, while scenes following her reappearance might be less engrossing. And, films without these elements of suspense are likely to fade from viewer’s —> Read More