Industrial Media – Analysis and Reflection 2 – Q 2 Clown Train review

Clown Train

This six minute film creates tension from the opening frame and continues to build the tension throughout with the creative use of sound, colour, framing and shot construction. The sound contributes to this in a number of ways using both diegetic and non-diegetic sound.

The film opens on a black screen accompanied by a range of sounds that could all be associated with a train coming to a halt: metal on metal, thuds, engine sounds, wheels on tracks. However these sounds are entwined and overlaid in a way that has an ominous feel. The black screen and sounds continue for around twenty seconds and really sets up the tone of the film. Is this an ordinary train ride? Or is there something far more sinister going on?

Sound is used really well to build tension and to mark key shifts in the story. As the story becomes more unnerving and unreal the sounds shift from the sounds of a train journey (wheels on track, air-conditioning hum) to sounds that reflect the young man’s fear and confusion. These are still mechanical to a degree, metal on metal screeching, but also sounds that suggest biological fear such as the whoosh of blood through the heart in a surge of panic.

At key turning points in the plot “do I know you” and “you can’t remember how you got there” sounds are used to emhasise the increasing confusion of the young man. The final punch line “I’ll tell you on Friday” is delivered to the empty carriage where the only sound is the inane and everyday hum of the air-conditioning. The horror and threat have left the carriage with the young man. But as an electrical wire zaps and the screen shuts to black we are left with a very disconcerting feeling that something in the universe has shifted.

The swimming pool sequence from the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In has a similar shift in tone and the sound design is a key element in this.

The scene starts with the diegetic sound of a public swimming pool: water, a pop song on the radio. The mood shifts when the challenge is set for Oskar to hold his breath under water for three minutes or lose an eye to the young man’s knife. At this point one of the kids kicks the sound source, the radio, into the water. Now we just have the sound of water as Oskar is plunged under water. Sound is everything from this point.

As we shift from the worried boys to Oskar under water the sound is at first water, the bubbles from Oskar’s closed mouth and the whimpers as he tries not to breathe in. Then as Oskar blacks out a new sound comes in, loud, odd, distorted, possibly human sounds slowed down and otherworld-like. As the shot stays under water on Oskar the sounds are accompanied by increasingly horrible images of blood and body parts and then, finally, a severed arm in the water. Oskar is dragged back to the world by his rescuer, Eli, who has used her vampire powers to slaughter her new friend’s tormentors. Back in the world, the sounds are of water and Oskar breathing, but beneath this is a low ominous hum, indicating the power of Eli which Oskar has just been part of.

In the Clown Train the lighting is mute and low. There are shadows and darkness threatening from the black windows. The light source appears to be only the neon lights of the train which are cool and harsh. The characters are probably additionally lit as indicated in the shot below where the shadow suggests a stronger light source than the overhead neons. But this combination works well providing enough light on the protagonists and at the same time suggesting an eerie space.

Clown Train, Directed by Jaime Donnelly, 2009
Clown Train, Directed by Jaime Donnelly, 2009

Like the lighting, the colour is very muted except for the shocking primary colours of the clown’s wig, the red slash of his mouth and his cherry nose. The young man has dark hair and dark clothes. When he jumps off the train into the blackness it is like he is swallowed up by darkness. The framing and shot compositions work in a classic progression during the six minutes from wide shots to two shots to one shots. When we move from the black screen 28 seconds into the film, the first shot is a wide shot from outside the train of the young man sleeping. This shot sets up that he’s alone but also seems reasonably mundane. A young man alone on a train late at night.


Clown Train, directed by Jaime Donnelly, 2009
Clown Train, directed by Jaime Donnelly, 2009

As the young man is drawn closer to the clown and ends up sitting beside him the weirdness and fear increases we are also drawn in even closer. The two shot below shows this contrast as the young man looks away and the clown looks at him as he reveals he knows the young man has no idea how he got here.The power balance has shifted.

Clown Train, directed by Jaime Donnelly, 2009
Clown Train, directed by Jaime Donnelly, 2009

The editing also effectively increases the tension. At each reveal in the story, the screen shuts quickly to black, accompanied by the zap of electrical wires and abstract mechanical noises. The black screen is used to cover the jump cut as the young man is moved (almost against his will) closer and closer to the clown.

The film uses many techniques of the horror genre in lighting, framing, sound and shot construction to create an atmosphere that moves from the ordinary to the extraordinary and then back to what may seem ordinary but somehow is not.



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