A Critical Analysis of Jonathan Yi’s “Shift”

            “Shift” (Yi 2006) uses a variety of cinematic techniques to generate tension that grips the audience from start to finish. Several editing tricks created shots that left the audience expecting a quarrel, but at the very climax of action, Yi would defuse the situation. Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954) used similar strategies to increase the audience’s anxiety, which cab mainly be seen in several specific shots.

            In “Shift”, Yi used the monotonous nature of a mailing center to highlight the underlying stress in the lives of its workers. For example, the viewers are exposed to the same sights and sounds that the workers have to experience every time they come to work. Such shots were the lengthy clips of the countless envelopes being mechanically sorted.

We heard and saw paper after paper drumming through the office, and while this may not seem like a strenuous scene, it was well-timed after some heated exchanges and pivotal plot points such as the cutting of all employees’ working hours. In “Rear Window”, Hitchcock would pan over the entire set in a relatively calm manner, but the audience possessed information that made these scenes overly suspenseful.

For example, when the audience watches one of these action-less shots, at surface level it appears to be a calm environment, but the audience knows that it is only calm because the murderer, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), is out burying his dead wife’s body. This strategy makes the film exponentially more suspenseful as it forces the audience to be involved, rather than creating a passive and one-sided engagement.

The next source of tension in “Shift” is its mis-en-scene, or the specific arrangement of the set in a scene. The quintessential example can be seen in the various pizza scenes, where the workers were greeted by free warm pizzas, but the audience knew they represented something much darker, wage cuts and eventually a mass layoff.

In this scene, the pizzas were laid out on the table and the workers gathered around them, looking down at them. By making the pizzas the center of the workers’ attention it became the center of the viewers’ attention as well, which generates a greater sense of significance. Again, similar techniques can be seen in “Rear Window”, where a neighbor’s dog becomes fixated on Lars Thorwald’s flower garden.

This tips off both the protagonist and the audience that there might be clues regarding the disappearance of Lars’ wife. These uses of mis-en-scene capitalize on the intuition and cognizance of film viewers to gather information without it being explicitly stated, and therefore it is extremely useful in a film like “Shift” where there is very little dialogue.

While these films differ in just about every category, including plot length and depth, they both use similar strategies to engage the audience by creating tension. Jonathan Yi has a long road before he can be compared to Hitchcock, but his cinematic style absolutely deserves to be recognized as a successful implementation of Hitchcock’s techniques.