It’s conventional movie wisdom that the most exciting stuff should happen at the end. But there are some films which crescendo in a notably incredible way, going from humble beginnings to a finale which is phenomenally loud, scary, or emotional. Here are some of the best. Spoilers, obviously.
Carrie is one of the greatest exercises in sheer visceral power as it pulls on our heartstrings, presenting Carrie as the ultimate victim. It’s a slow burner, as we get an increasing sense of this girl’s miserable situation as she is bullied at home and at school alike. Then, with the end of the film in sight, Carrie snaps, and what could have been a Precious-style drama about bullying becomes a full on supernatural horror where Carrie wreaks bloody vengeance on her entire school. Not so much a crescendo as a slow burning fuse followed by a nuclear explosion, Carrie is still a great example of a major contrast between a film’s beginning and end.
The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project may not be a great film, or even very scary now we all know it’s not real, but it is a fine example of a cinematic crescendo. In its opening the three hateful idiots doomed to die in a woods wander round a supermarket and perform interviews in the street. When they enter the woods there’s a lot of plodding around looking for maps and rivers and stuff, and it’s all rather boring. Until they begin to realise they’re lost. The panic grows and grows and Josh is lost, until Heather is running through the wood by herself looking for her screaming friends, with only a trail of snot to guide her back. At this point the terror evident in the characters is clear, as a distant pained scream comes closer and closer…
Fight Club takes us from the monotony of the narrator’s life as a neutered modern man, to the full destructive force of underground terrorist organisation Project Mayhem via a series of simple, logical steps. His gradual slide from normality is first shown by his attendance at cancer support groups, then in the fight club he co-creates. But gradually the fighting turns into antisocial behaviour on an increasing scale and what once seemed like a bit of fun starts to put lives at risk. By the film’s end not only is there widespread terrorist activity, but an increasing sense that the narrator cannot escape the thing he’s created, as everyone he encounters seems to be a part of it. A masterclass in gradual crescendos, Fight Club takes us from the narrator’s mundane, domestic existence to being leader of a violent cult with surprisingly few sudden leaps.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
I won’t talk about Rise at length, having reviewed it recently here, but it deserves a mention on this list for the way it goes from quiet, lab-based beginnings, and develops into full on disaster movie fare. Most blockbusters open with an action scene to get people interested, but Rise goes for lengthy scene setting, before getting to the exciting stuff at the end, and it really pays off, resulting in a film with great characters and an engaging story to match its spectacular finale.
The War of the Worlds
For all its flaws, this classic film is a fine example of how to build up a disaster movie. From the quiet beginnings investigating an alien object, to an all-out war between the Martians of Mars and the…er bacteria of Earth, this is how to do a crescendo. The small scale of its opening shows the huge scale of the ensuing conflict, and ensures the epic disaster never overwhelms its human characters.
Easily the best cresendo movie is Aliens. It takes almost an hour for the marines to return to the planet where the murderous creatures were dicovered in Alien, and even longer before we actually see one. But by the film’s conclusion the intensity has reached to such a level that there is an explosion almost every second, as Ripley and Hicks destroy the facility overrun by the creatures. When Ripley re-enters the building with a flamethrower to rescue Newt from the clutches of the alien queen we are bombarded with fire and heat as Ripley fights for her life. From its silent beginning in space it builds slowly, gradually gaining pace to one of the biggest and loudest movie endings.