Last week my husband and I watched Unstoppable for our weekly movie night. Have you seen it? If you haven't, the main idea is that a runaway train carrying hazardous cargo is heading full-speed for a major city. If it is not stopped before it reaches the city, a sharp turn in the track at the city limits will cause it to derail and release said hazardous cargo and kill lots of people. Big stakes.
Now I'm not going to say that it was the very best movie I've ever seen, but this movie did one thing really really well:
It created tension.
For example, in the very beginning of the movie we see a crowd of little children visiting the train yard on a field trip. These children have one obvious purpose—to be put in danger so that we're on the edge of our seats waiting to see if they'll be okay. Looking ahead I thought, “Well, there you have it! The final showdown will be train vs. tots, and the main characters will have to come in and save the kids. Ho hum.”
Ten minutes later that very showdown happened (minus the main characters), and I realized maybe my prediction had been a bit premature. That dangerous scenario I'd been envisioning was only the first tense moment in a string of ever-increasing conflicts. I'd have only a moment of relief after each near-disaster before being presented with the next impending catastrophe.
This movie kept me hooked.
And that tension came down to a few major components:
-characters who had been given enough history for me to care whether they lived or died
-build-up to higher and higher stakes with increasing difficulty of resolution
As far as action movies go, this is a great one for studying how to keep an audience riveted.
If you've seen it, what did you think? Do you agree? And if you haven't seen it, what movies keep you on the edge of your seat?