This post is by Jason Hellerman from No Film School

Ever noticed how a character’s fleeting glance can speak volumes? Or how a subtle smirk can reveal a hidden agenda? That’s the magic of the reaction shot—a cinematic technique that unveils unspoken emotions and adds depth to storytelling.

Today, I want to dive into these shots in film and TV.

We’ll go over the definition, uses, and even a few examples.

Let’s dive in.


Reaction Shot Definition

In film and television, a reaction shot is a cutaway shot that shows a character’s response to the preceding action or dialogue. It’s a fundamental tool in visual storytelling, often conveying emotions and unspoken thoughts that deepen the audience’s engagement with the narrative.

Why Use a Reaction Shot?

  • Non-Verbal Communication: Reactions can reveal a character’s true feelings, even if their words suggest otherwise. A slight smirk, a furrowed brow, or a gasp can speak volumes about their hidden intentions or internal conflict.
  • Emotional Emphasis: Reaction shots can amplify the impact of a scene. A character’s fear, joy, or surprise reflected in a close-up can intensify the audience’s experience.
  • Pacing and Rhythm: By breaking up dialogue or action sequences, reaction shots create a dynamic flow. They provide pauses for the audience to absorb information and anticipate what might happen next.
  • Character Development: Repeated use of reaction shots can create a visual motif associated with a particular character, highlighting their personality traits or emotional arc.
  • Creating Suspense: A reaction shot of a character noticing something the audience hasn’t seen yet can create suspense and anticipation.
  • Reaction Shot Examples in Film and TV

  • The Office (US): Jim Halpert’s subtle glances at the camera have become iconic. They provide humorous commentary on the absurdity of office life and invite the audience to share in the joke.
  • Jaws: Chief Brody’s horrified expression as he witnesses the shark attack for the first time is a classic example of a reaction shot that amplifies the scene’s terror.
  • The Silence of the Lambs: Clarice Starling’s reactions to Hannibal Lecter’s disturbing insights create an unsettling atmosphere and heighten the suspense.
  • Fleabag: The protagonist’s frequent looks directly at the camera break the fourth wall, allowing her to share her inner thoughts and feelings directly with the audience.
  • The Good Place: The show utilizes reaction shots of the characters to comedic effect, often exaggerating their responses to highlight the absurdity of the afterlife’s situations.
  • While reaction shots are valuable tools, overuse can become distracting or predictable. However, when used judiciously, they offer a powerful way to enhance storytelling, reveal character depths, and create a more immersive viewing experience

    Let me know what you think in the comments.