In Denis Villeneuve’s excellent new film, Arrival, suspense is handled more eloquently than is the norm. I won’t spoil the plot for those who still plan on catching this in the cinema, but it isn’t revealing much to say that this is a film with contact with extraterrestrial beings and spaceships. That much you can even figure out from the poster.
We’ve all seen films where this is handled bluntly with brute force: masses of computer-generated effects, amp up the soundtrack and throw in a few explosions for good measure. (Exhibit A: Independence Day).
Arrival chooses to reveal its cards not through directly witnessing the spectacle itself, but rather by focusing on the faces of those who bear witness to what is going on. To be more specific, for much of the significant moments in the film, the camera focuses on Amy Adams’ face. It probably only works because she’s a great actor, but it just goes to show that sometimes subtlety and doing the opposite of what convention dictates can go a long way in making an impression, even in a big-budget Hollywood film.
(An unrelated note: if you enjoy learning or thinking about language(s), you'll probably want to check this film out, and/or possibly the short story on which it is based, Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang.)