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Time and pace: a defense of slower movies

Time and pace: a defense of slower movies

Time and pace: a defense of slower movies
December 14
12:00 2021

A plodding, drawn-out movie is usually an excruciating watch for anybody. The shots are uninteresting, the dialogue progresses at a crawl and the characters seem to be one-dimensional at best. Some of these movies may be so painful they turn their viewers off of slow films for good. However, those who avoid watching slow movies are doing themselves an injustice. There is nothing inherently wrong with slower pacing. When done right, a slow movie can even be more exciting than a Michael Bay feature.

Controlling the tension is key to creating an engaging story. A slow film is best when it can build on itself, slowly ratcheting up the suspense as the plot unfolds. The viewer should always be inching towards the edge of their seat. When you are invested in learning what will happen next, even the driest film can be gripping. The movies we shudder to remember usually failed to maintain this tension.

Slower pacing also allows for a more complete viewing experience. The deliberate narrative creates a larger space for the audience to engage with the content, giving them plenty of time to become sucked in. When watching “Die Hard,” you may not have the time to contemplate what Bruce Willis’ coy smile says about his mental state. These sorts of small questions usually get drowned out by the over-the-top plot and action sequences.

In contrast, when watching something like Yorgos Lanthimos’ psychological horror “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” viewers slowly drive themselves crazy attempting to glean the motives of the antagonist using only subtle clues. By the end, you will be absorbing as many details as you can.

It also helps to have good cinematography. If you are going to linger on a shot, it should be well-crafted and interesting. Ari Aster’s “Midsommar is an example of a slow movie that was praised for its beautiful visuals. Given the long, panning shots so common in these kinds of movies, audiences get even more time to soak up the eye candy. 

Of course, slow pacing does have drawbacks. It just is not the best for every story or genre. I doubt “Die Hard” would be any better if it were three hours long. Slow movies usually succeed when they are intended to provide a rich, theatrical experience from the outset. The story, dialogue and camera shots must all be created with this pacing in mind. Genres like suspense, mystery and horror are particularly well-suited for this formula.

The time investment may also be too much for some audiences. It can be difficult to make room in a busy schedule for lengthy movies. When we do have a spare couple of hours, we may just want to relax with a familiar TV show. Audiences do not want to risk that much time for a movie they are not guaranteed to enjoy.

Although these complaints are valid, slow movies still have more to offer than what is commonly thought. We should dispel the perception that “slow” equates to “boring.” These tense movies should be appreciated for their ability to immerse you in the plot. Watching them is like enjoying a full-course meal, but it is not as satisfying without a big appetite.

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Tanner Woods

Tanner Woods

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