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Saho King
Professor Dr. Lynda Haas
Writing 39B
82 June 2014
Rhetorical Analysis Essay: Use of SuspenseBuilding Suspense in a Multimodal Medium
The mystery genre came into prominence during the late Victorian Era with the
increasing popularity of the Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle
revolutionized the genre by combining the inspiration he drew from Poe and other writers before
him with aspects of adventure, intelligence, and emotion. Literary scholars often credit Doyle for
establishing the popular conventions of the genre, including the a unique combination of action
and sentiment to form suspense. In the original stories, suspense was created by the structure of
the plot that kept the readers engaged in the investigation, wanting striving to solve the mysteries
themselves. In his scholarly book, The Reader and the Detective Story, George Dove claims that
the detective story is different because “in the reading of a detective story, the compulsion to see
how the story turns out is much stronger that in other fiction” (18). In other words, tThe suspense
within every detective story increases the degree and intensity of the desire to know the ending
and resolution. Another way that Doyle created suspense was bBy writing the story from
Watson’s point of view and withholding the thoughts of Holmes from the readers, Doyle
conceals the truth of the mystery and adds an element of surprise. In the stories, the readers only
know as much as Watson and so the feeling of suspense arises as they become aware of their
lack of knowledge about the development and outcome of the mystery and fall into a state of
mental uncertainty and anxious excitement. Since “the mystery is no ordinary problem but a
complex secret that appears impossible of solution,” (Dove 10) there is a combination of
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anticipation and uncertainty dealing with the unpredictable future as the story unfolds. In the 21

century, Sherlock Holmes continues to have immense popularity and has been adapted numerous
times in different various mediums with slight or major modifications. Even though the Sherlock
Holmes films, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, are set in
the same time period as the classic stories written by Doyle, they have been greatly adapted to
attract and please the modern audience. For example, there is much more action and fight
sequences with explosions, which is why the films are often categorized as action-adventure. In
the modern day film adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, there are more ways to create and enhance
the suspense is enhanced because they are in athrough the multimodal medium and can take
advantage of sound and visual elements, such as lighting and camera movement, proximity, and
While the classic Holmes stories written by Doyle are formulaic and predictable, there is
no shortage of suspense and tension. The media adaptations takes the same or similar plotlines,
but the creation of suspense is slightly different as it has been adapted for the modern audience
and through the directors Guy Ritchie’s use a variety of a variety of cinematic elements, such as
lighting, sound, and cinematography, various suspenseful situations have been enhanced and
editing, to enhance the suspense of the situations. The film Sherlock Holmes starts with an very
suspensefulaction-packed scene to engage the audience and pull them into the a fictional world
set in late Victorian England. The scene opens to as Sherlock Holmes and his companion John
Watson , played by Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law respectively, rushing to a mysterious
building to prevent Lord Blackwood and his associates from committing another ritual murder
ritual of a young woman. With their quick thinking and impressive fighting abilities, they are
able to stop the murder and capture the cultist serial killer just in time for Inspector Lestrade and
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the police force to arrive and arrest him. In addition to acting as the expository scene and
illustrating some of the common conventions of the detective genre modernized for the modern
contemporary audience, this scene successfully builds suspense and provides the foundation for
the mystery that becomes the focus for the rest of the film. There are many cinematic elements
that are implemented in this scene that are key to building the mix of excitement and tension.
First of all,The low-key lighting is used throughout the scene to amplifiesy the suspense. T, as
this type of lighting uses very little light and creates strong contrasts between the brightest and
darkest part of the image and creates strong shadows that obscures parts of the characters with
dark shadows. The darkness also sets an ominous mood and provides the audience with an “on-
the-edge”unsettled feeling. Furthermore, when the frequent camera pans over to the stage of the
ritualistic murder create , there is a strong bold contrast between the young women wearing a
bright white dress and the dark background. This goes on toemphasizes the mystery and hints at
the idea of evil good versus goodevil; the evil force being Lord Blackwood, who is enveloped in
the shadows of his cloak and the low-keyback lighting, portrays the evil force until Holmes
pushes the hood out of his face. The only short glimpse that the audience gets of the antagonist is
delivered through extreme close-up framing which only reveals parts of his face, such as his nose
and teeth. Withholding the identity of the villain and only revealing bits and pieces of him builds
the suspense, as the audience’s curiosity intensifies. Throughout the sceneFurthermore, a crane
shot, where the camera moves freely in the air above the action, was used to creates a feeling of
omniscience over the characters. The camera is above the ground and moving in the air,
providing the audience with a sense of all-knowing. Also, there is a part in the scene where
Holmes and Watson are captured by the camera from a low angle, suggesting power and respect
toward the two characters. During the fight sequences, a handheld camera was used to captures
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the full scale movement and emphasize the action. This type of camera movement achieves a
daunting sense of reality that induces an unbearable feeling of tension. Throughout thise scene,
the background music plays a crucial role; large role in inducing suspense. Jeffrey Michael Bays
writes on his website that films can use different sound tactics such as online article, “Sound:
Hitchcock’s Third Dimension,” that “withholding sound from the viewer to pique curiosity,
exaggerating sound as a form of narrative emphasis, and creating tension through both ambient
noises and silence.” is key to generating suspense. When the action reaches a climax in this
scene, a strong gust of wind blows out the candles and makes the scene even darker, perhaps
suggesting that the conflict is not truly over. Even as Lord Blackwood is arrested, the scene
remains dark and thereforealerting the audience is haunted by the feeling that the conflict has not
been resolved and the serial killer will be backreturn to cause further problems for the crime
solving pairHolmes and Watson.
Scenes that create suspense and mystery are necessary elements of an action movie and
there are many in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. This film follows Holmes and Dr.
Watson as they come head to head with the mastermind criminal, Professor Jim Moriarty.
Providing the main characters with a strong opposition creates conflict and tension which does
not resolve until the enemy is beaten. Towards the end of the second installment in the Sherlock
Holmes film series featuring Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock, Watson, Mycroft, and Simza attend a
peace summit in Switzerland to prevent Moriarty from creating an international incident. In this
part, Holmes faces off against Moriarty while Watson and Simza try to find her brother who is
disguised as an ambassador and stop his assassination attempt. The viewers are faced with
excitement and anxiety as the uncertainty of the situation becomes apparent. The director uses
numerous cinematic elements to create the feeling of suspense in this movie. The scenes of
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Holmes and Moriarty playing chess outside is darker and has considerably more shadows, which
is a major contrast to the scenes inside the building. In the scenes where Watson and Simza
trying to find her brother, camera proximity is greatly utilized. There is also a great amount of
quick shot-reverse-shot between the ambassadors and the two characters, which emphasize
urgency and the intensity of the situation. Also when the brother is about to commit the
assassination, the action slows down and there is a slow pan to build suspense and tension. And
the scene quickly speeds back up as Watson tackles the brother to the ground after he pulls out a
gun. Throughout this part of the film, the camera is kept fairly close to each of the characters’
faces so the audience can pick up on the slightest changes in their facial expressions.
Furthermore, there is little to no background music so that the viewers can focus on the dialogue
and feel the suspense building up. When there is music, it is dramatic, creates a sense of urgency,
and reaches a climax when something major and surprising happens. It complements the action
well. Lastly, the voice over scene where Holmes and Moriarty are both imagining and predicting
the outcome of their imminent fight adds great mystery and tension because the audience get to
see their thought processes and realize that they are a match both intellectually and physically.
For the first time, the viewers are forced to question whether or not Sherlock will win the fight
with Moriarty. According to a feature article on Film Slate Magazine website titled “Building
Suspense: How to Keep the Audience on the Edge of Their Seat,” dramatic suspense in a film
depends on the screenwriter’s ability to evoke emotion, create conflict, provide opposition,
increase tension, and use surprise among a few others; these basic foundations are clearly
implemented in the movie. According to the article, “establishing a finite time for your
protagonist to reach his or her goal increases the suspense.” The screenplay writers implemented
this element and it is obvious throughout the scene that time is of the essence for the characters
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to prevent the international incident. This point is further illustrated when Holmes and Moriarty
are playing a timed game of chess and they reference the fact that they have a limited time to
make a “move.” Also, the sound of a clock ticking can be heard with close listening, which
amplifies a sense of urgency and creates immediacy. In addition, the screen writers use surprise
to create the final moment of suspense when Holmes and Moriarty fall off the balcony together
into the waterfall and Watson believes that the detective has died. For a second it seems like
Holmes has the upper-hand on Moriarty and has solved the mystery, but the rug is pulled out
from under the audience as Holmes falls over the railing with his archenemy. The death of a
main character is something that the audience does not expect and makes for a great surprise and
The two Sherlock Holmes films directed by Guy Ritchie follows many conventions of the
detective genre developed by Arthur Conan Doyle in the Late Victorian Era. While sometimes
they are followed very strictly and accurately, most conventions have been adapted to satisfy the
modern audience. For example, the core characteristics of Holmes and Watson, such as the
detective’s genius and social awkwardness and the doctor’s loyalty have not been altered in any
of the adaptations. As Lynette Porter states in the introduction of Sherlock Holmes for the 21st
Century, “the impact of the Victorian era on recent adaptations reflects modern interest in the
original stories as well as the demand to make old stories relevant to 21
century audiences”
(10). Suspense is one of the conventions of the detective genre which was used in the classic
Doyle stories, but one that has been further developed in the modern interpretations. In
multimodal adaptations, like the BBC Sherlock and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock
Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the feeling of suspense is intensified through multiple cinematic
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elements. The audience is able to experience tension, anxiety, and excitement both visually and

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Works Cited
Dove, George N. The Reader and the Detective Story. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State
University Popular Press, 1997. Print.
"Film Industry and Filmmaker Resource for Film News, Reviews, Film Festivals, Interviews and
the Art of Filmmaking." Building Suspense: How to Keep the Audience on the Edge of
Their Seat. Web. 18 May 2014.
Porter, Lynette. "Introduction: In Search of the Real Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes for the
21st Century. ed. Lynette Porter. Jefferson, NC: Macfarland & Company, 2012, 1-12.
Bays, Jeffrey M. "Hitchcock's Sound Style (film Directing, Criticism, Film Sound)." Film
Techniques of Alfred Hitchcock. Borgus Productions, June 2011. Web. 21 May 2014.