It’s always scary when there’s a clear villain right in front of the main character’s eyes. In the X prequel Pearl, audiences learn how Mia Goth’s protagonist decides to begin killing people, and she’s the obvious kill here. In Scream (2022), fans might not know who the two Ghostfaces are until the end of the film, but they see the familiar mask and costume throughout the story. But sometimes, typically in a supernatural film but sometimes in a slasher as well, audiences don’t see the actual danger at all.

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When this happens, it’s called the “Nothing Is Scarier” trope, and it works well to create a tense atmosphere. What is this trope and what are some movies that use it well?

RELATED: The ‘Creepy Doll’ Trope In Horror, Explained

According to TV Tropes, the “Nothing Is Scarier” trope means that there is no “physical threat” or “visual element” and yet the scene is still really scary. Audiences can tell that the character is freaked out and that something is wrong, but since nothing is on screen, that makes it easy for fans to picture what could be going on.

TV Tropes notes that this works because the horror movie setting is so creepy and horrifying. There are a few ways that this trope is used. It might be that there is no actual danger there and the character sighs in relief, which is still scary since fans can tell that something is off about this situation. Or there is a jump scare where the character walks around searching for a weird noise that is freaking them out. It’s also possible that sometimes, the “Nothing Is Scarier” trope is used where there has been a strange ghost or creature in the background the whole time.

TV Tropes notes that there are a few films that use this trope well. One of them is The Invisible Man (2020) where Cecilia Kass (Elizabeth Moss) often hears a clicking noise and she can tell that her abusive husband is stalking her but no one can see him. The Invisible Man is a great modern monster film and the “Nothing Is Scarier” trope works here since Cecilia knows that even if she can’t see the threat, it’s definitely there, and she might not make it out alive.

The opening scene of The Invisible Man is one of the greatest, which is what makes it a compelling Blumhouse sci-fci horror movie. Cecilia runs away from her abusive husband Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) in the middle of the night. She moves through their creepy, cold house without making a sound, knowing that if she wakes him up, things will get worse. She runs outside to where her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) is waiting in a car. Of course, Adrian doesn’t miss a beat and knows exactly what she’s up to. This scene uses the “Nothing Is Scarier” trope since no one sees the threat or danger, but it’s clear that Cecilia is being chased by bad memories and the nightmare that she been living.

Another example is The Haunting as the characters are terrorized but they never see the supernatural presence. This is true of the original film from 1963 and the 1999 remake, which can be considered one of the best horror movie remakes. In The Haunting, a horror movie that relies on pacing and tension to create a scary environment, audiences know that there must be spirits in the mansion and it isn’t necessary to actually see them. It’s clear that the family has been tormented by ghosts for a long time.

TV Tropes notes that there can be music with this trope, but often there is no sound. There are other horror movie tropes that can be part of these types of movies. One example is “Quieter Than Silence,” where there isn’t any noise, or “Kill the Lights,” when a room is dark. There is also the trope called “Leave The Camera Running” when the shot seems to go on forever.

There are many horror movies that use the “Nothing Is Scarier” trope and also include creepy music, an atmosphere that feels off, and a main character who can tell that something is wrong. The 2021 film The Night House is about grief and loss as Beth (Rebecca Hall) mourns her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit). There are many scenes in the film where Beth wanders through her lake house in the middle of the night. It’s dark and she feels a presence. Later in the movie, she finds a house that is identical to hers and sees brunette women in there who look like her, getting closer to the truth about this mystery.

While seeing a killer in plain sight will always be scary, and this is why so many slasher franchises are popular, the “Nothing Is Scarier” trope is always a fun one.

NEXT: The Hungry Jungle Trope In Horror, Explained



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