A movie shot in a single take used to be a big trend that was always cool. It was fascinating to figure out how this could be done and what it meant for the story.
But now, audiences are so used to seeing this filmmaking style that it can feel cheap, gimmicky, and obvious. Moviegoers can figure out how the scenes fit together and the plot twists and big swings can be seen from a mile away. Unfortunately, single takes just aren’t that impressive anymore, except in very rare cases.
The trend of single shot movies has been going on for a long time. According to The New York Times, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 release Rope had several takes that lasted for ten minutes each. This was a huge deal at the time and people were interested in figuring out how this was possible. Hitchcock’s Psycho still holds up and this is the film that people know him for, but Rope made a splash as well. Orson Welles created an opening scene in 1958’s Touch of Evil that was more than three minutes long, and there were many long takes in Goodfellas which came out in 1990. But now, audiences have seen single shot movies so many times that it feels anything but fascinating.
It’s worth noting that even when movie fans assume that a movie has been filmed in one take, it might not even be true. This was the case with the beloved war film 1917. Directed by Sam Mendes and released in 2019, the action movie has emotional scenes and seemed to be just one take. But, according to Vox, the movie wasn’t actually shot in one take, it just seems like it. Mendes shared in his interview with the publication that he wanted the film to feel realistic. The director said, “I don’t really want people to think about the camera. If you’re aware of it for the first 10 minutes, then hopefully thereafter you forget about it, and you just watch the story.”
One of the most famous single take horror movies is Silent House. Elizabeth Olsen became famous after taking on the main character role of Sarah, a woman who goes back home to help clean it out with her uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) and John, her dad (Adam Trese). The camera doesn’t cut for even a second, and this 2011 film can definitely be seen as an underappreciated haunted house horror movie as it keeps the scares coming.
The movie, a remake of La Casa Muda (2010), was released in 2011 and its single take storytelling style felt fun and cool, not gimmicky. If the movie was released today, the opposite would likely be true, as audiences would be able to guess the big plot twist at the movie’s conclusion.
While a single take movie isn’t going to impress many fans at this point, this technique can still be used well, and the FX comedy The Bear proved this to be true with episode 7 of season 1 called “Review.” It’s great news that there will be a season 2 of The Bear as the series is incredibly thoughtful, smart and well-crafted with real characters who make mistakes and struggle but, deep down, have a passion for cooking and want to work as a team.
“Review” sees Jeremy Allen White’s main character, Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, his cousin Richie Jerimovich (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), and young, intelligent employee Sydney Adamu (Ayo Edebiri) having a terrible day in the kitchen. Too many orders are coming in, there isn’t enough beef, and everyone is stressed out to the max. The episode is done in one take in the restaurant kitchen and it’s definitely impressive.
Jeremy Allen White told Indiewire.com that single takes aren’t always the way to go but in this episode, it works: “oftentimes, I don’t know how much a single shot actually lends itself to the story… But I think in our case, it really lends itself to the story and where the characters are at because the tension is building so quickly we don’t give the audience a break from it. There’s no reprieve — it’s consistent.”
If any upcoming horror movies or films of other genres are going to employ the single take technique, they should take note of how well The Bear does it, and use them to create an oppressive environment that feels terrifying. Otherwise, like jump scares or other elements of movies that are often debated, a single shot film might not be as exciting as it’s meant to be. It’s best to focus on other things like great characters and surprising plotlines that will make more of an impact.
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