You do not have to be a film studies graduate to know that certain settings in a film automatically heighten the tension and create a sense of drama. Whether it is a frenetic club in Atlanta, a saloon in the Wild West, or an empty, quiet hallway, the right setting can send shivers down your spine and prepare you for the drama of the next scene.
You will have noticed that in many films, the setting seems to take on a life of its own and, with the proper lighting, will become a character in the film itself. In Masaki Kobayashi’s “The Woman of the Snow” chapter of Kwaidan, the sky and clouds change colour and shift to reflect the innermost thoughts and feelings of the characters.
Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba takes place in a marsh and characters run for their lives through ten foot tall reeds, perpetually unsure of where they are and what could be lurking near them. The dense uncertainty created by the marshy landscape means that anything could appear at any moment and reflects the chaos, uncertainty, and danger which the characters themselves experience and embody.
Below are some of the most common – and best – settings used in cinema to create a heightened level of dramatic tension.
Dive bars and dancehalls
Regardless of the country or century in which the drama takes place, dive bars, establishments of ill repute, and dancehalls always provide an ideal setting for scenes of dramatic force. Whether the tension is created by the shady characters who act as patrons, the stoic bartender, or the strange interiors, bars are classic settings for moments of actions, decisiveness, and tension.
The strip club in Tarantino’s True Romance, the clapboard bars in Stray Dog, or the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks, bars and establishments of ill repute carry an added weight of intensity and uncertainty. Most of us who occasionally frequent bars understand that sometimes the atmosphere of the room can change very quickly, and that the behaviour of the patrons might change fairly quickly depending on what has occurred. Anyone who has seen a fight break out on a dancefloor, watched as a patron was removed from the premises, or walked into a bar and quickly realised that this bar is only for locals, will understand this feeling perfectly.
Casino floors and gambling halls
Casinos and gambling floors are often used as a way to increase the excitement and tension of a film. Anyone who has stepped onto a casino floor understands the rush of exhilaration, tension, and fun that permeates the atmosphere. The sense that anything could be possible and fortunes can be won and lost and won again in a single night, automatically creates a sense of excitement. Casino Royale is a classic of the genre because of how seamlessly the drama of the casino floor melds with the excitement of James Bond’s exploits.
One area which Hollywood has yet to crack into is the growing world of online gambling. The online casino sector has grown considerably over the course of the last five years and it shows no signs of slowing anytime soon. There are now hundreds of different mobile online casinos for gamblers to choose from and it can be difficult to find the best online casino. Novice gamblers who want to try something new are now spoilt for choice and there’s always plenty of competitive bonuses and seasonal promotions to take advantage of too. The industry has grown so much that you can be sure Hollywood will create a film about the unique excitement and challenges of online gambling soon.
Industrial areas and car parks
If you have ever been in an empty warehouse or car park late at night when no one is around – and you may or may not have just heard a sound coming from right over there – then you will understand just how much tension and excitement these settings can bring to a film. When used to heighten dramatic tension, warehouses and industrial areas in films are nearly always deserted, quiet, and dark.
Most people do not spend much time in industrial areas and the loneliness, isolation, and sense of expansiveness which they embody is enough to add tension to a film. We all find comfort from being near other people and the isolation of these spaces alone is enough to heighten the drama.