Psychological Thrillers – Analysis of film techniques employed Hannah Ram - 4730
SIX FILMS ANALYSED The Butterfly Effect Blue Velvet Panic Room Secret Window Misery One Hour Photo
TITLING colour, font style, over image or black, credits presentation etc The opening titles for Misery were red capital letters over an image. The letters were slightly cracked which suggests that Annie, the antagonist could both physically and mentally crack the male main character. The titles don’t appear immediately , perhaps to get the audience into the storyline instead of consciously recognising the film as being a piece of fiction. By doing this it makes the film seem more realistic and therefore more horrendous. The red font over an image is also used in the opening sequence of the Secret Window. However, the titles for the names of the contributors are in white coloured text and when the title of the film first appears it is white before quickly fading to red. The fact that it fades to red signifies that even the normal innocent appearing things can actually be dangerous. (The titles do not appear immediately, they appear in the second half of the opening). From these two opening titles it seems that a generic convention of a psychological thriller is to have white or red writing over an image. However, Panic Room and The Butterfly Effect do not follow these conventions.
TITLING CONTINUED In the opening titles of Panic Room instead of following the generic conventions they challenged it. Instead of being red over an image the font is white and the texture looks like the padding of a mental asylum cell/panic room. Therefore, instead of being red to have the connotations of danger it correlates with the idea of a film. Out of the opening of the films that I looked at The Butterfly Effect titles also slightly challenged the generic convention of using red coloured font over an image. In the opening of The Butterfly Effect there isn’t the normal opening titles such as edited by… or directed by. However, they do have the title of the film. It is on a black screen with blue font. Whilst the title comes up there is an animated series of brains flashing with a butterfly fading into it. This is similar to Panic Room, in which they both go against the generic conventions of a psychological thriller by making their titles reflect the plot of the film rather than the convention. There is also a screen at the beginning of the film with a quote from the chaos theory on it with white writing over a black screen.
TITLING CONTINUED 2 Out of all the films that I studied Blue Velvet’s titles were the strangest. The first two minutes do not show any action. Instead they just show the titles in a white font appearing over a blue velvet background that sways mysteriously. In a way the titles link back to the film, however unlike all the others the titles are not played over an image, because of this it challenges all the similarities that I found with all the other films. Although the opening titles do not show any action they create an eerie atmosphere that the rest of the film will follow. It does this specifically through the use of non-diegtic sound and because the audience cannot see what is making the velvet move. In One Hour Photo, the titles first appear white before flashing red, over a black background, and are made to look like photograph negatives. This makes the opening titles of One Hour Photo similar to Secret Window because they appear white at first before turning red. In addition, not only do they follow the generic convention of red or white writing but they also link in with the film itself. Overall, I found that for the opening titles most psychological thrillers either use red or white font. If not their opening titles directly correlate with the meaning of the films.
Camera Movement panning, tracking, crane shot and crabbing In the opening to The Butterfly Effect and One Hour Photo a panning shot is used, for the purpose of following action. Panning helps to orientate the audience and creates an air of mystery. In the opening to The Butterfly Effect the audience is unaware about who the main character is as there is low key lighting used and the camera is filming from behind glass. The audience are unable to guess who the character is behind the glass, this creates questions in the audience minds and makes them want to keep watching. There is also an element of reality and deception because of the low key lighting, as the audience are unable to ascertain what is going on. The theme of reality is often used in psychological thrillers as characters and the audience are often try to determine what is true and what is not within the narrative.
Framing of shot CU, MS, ELS etc From analyzing six psychological thrillers I found that the most commonly used shots are Close Ups (CU), Medium Close Ups (MCU) and Medium Shots (MS) For example, although a variety of shots are used in One Hour Photo the most commonly used are CU and Extreme Close Ups (ECU): Similarly, another example is Misery, the opening two minutes consist mainly of CU, ECU and MS: In the opening of The Butterfly Effect the most commonly used framing of shots is MS and CU: An exception to the rule is Panic Room as the opening two minutes consists mainly of Long Shots (LS). Another possible exception is Blue Velvet because the opening two minutes are just the titles playing over a piece of blue velvet. However, as the opening progresses and the titles are finished Blue Velvet follows the same sort of pattern as it mainly includes MS and CU. Shot list for the first two minutes: CU, ECU, CU, LS, CU, ECU, CU, ECU, MCU, CU, LS, LS, OVS, OVS Shot list for the first two minutes: CU, CU, CU, ECU, MS, CU, CU, SM, CU, CU, ECU, CU, CU, CU, CU Shot list for the first two and a half minutes: MS, CU, MLS, MS, MS, CU, ELS, LS, MS, OVS
Camera Angles high and low angles etc Where the the camera is placed in relation to the subject greatly affects the way the viewer perceives that subject. In the opening of Misery, The Butterfly Effect, Blue Velvet, the Secret Window and One Hour Photo the camera angle is at eye level. It shows subjects as we would expect to see them in real life and it is a fairly neutral shot. The use of eye level camera angle could perhaps be because most psychological thrillers are based on the abnormal happening on a normal day, which is often shown through the use of creating an equilibrium at the beginning of the film. Therefore, to successfully create the equilibrium of a normal day the best angle to use would be an eye level angle as it portrays the subject as the audience would expect to see them on a normal day. However, in the opening of Panic Room although a lot of the shots in the first two minutes are mainly shown from the eye level of someone looking out from an office block there are a few moments when the camera angle is at more of a high angle that eye level angle. This has the effect of diminishing the subject, making them appear less powerful, less significant or even submissive. As the shot is of a road in New York, it could suggest that whoever is looking out at the city views the people below them as worthless.
Selection of mise-en-scene including colour, props, lighting, costume, location, setting etc From the openings of the six films I found that generally there are two types of settings that are commonly used, remote locations and suburban towns/cities. For example: THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT: mental institute and suburban town MISERY: remote location in the mountains in Colorado PANIC ROOM: New York city SECRET WINDOW: a unspecified motel and then a remote location in the forest BLUE VELVET: a suburban town and a remote looking field ONE HOUR PHOTO: a town/city supermarket All six films use mise-en-scene effectively. In Misery when we are first introduced to the main character they are wearing a black top with a red shirt on top of it. The colour connotations of red and black are danger and death. These connotations link directly with idea of psychological thriller as the protagonist is placed in direct mental danger.
Selection of mise-en-scene continued In One Hour Photo the main character ‘s photo is shown on screen on a police record. At the top it says ‘Evans County Threat Management Unit’. From this the audience can tell that the main character is a ‘threat’ to society . This is reinforced when he is interviewed in a plain white room, that has connotations of a mental asylum cell, that has a single white desk and red chair. The red chair has connotations of danger. When you put the two connotations together they suggest that the main character has psychological difficulties and is a danger to himself or others (mainly others because he is being interviewed by a police officer) In the opening of Blue Velvet the colour red is used throughout the opening. The first shot the audience sees is a tilt shot from the sky to a bunch of red roses, the shot then fades to show a red truck and then a few seconds later there is a shot of children crossing the road with someone holding a red stop sign. All of this things are signifiers of danger and have connotations of bloodshed and the protagonist being at risk. In addition, the use of the red rose rather than any other red flower is quite interesting because roses have thorns on them and therefore can be harmful (the red rose is also associated with bloodshed). A bit further on in the opening there is a MS of an old fashioned TV screen with a gun on it, which confirms the connotations of danger shown by the colour red. The lighting when the TV is shown is quite dark in comparison to other shots, which creates a dramatic ambience and shows that the image has negative connotations.
Selection of mise-en-scene continued 2 In conclusion, I found that 3/6 films I looked at (Misery, Blue Velvet and Secret Window) used the colours red and black throughout the opening sequence. Therefore, red and black mise-en-scene can be seen as a generic convention of psychological thrillers In Misery, Secret Window (and sometimes in The Butterfly Effect and Blue Velvet) dark lighting is used when bad things happen on screen to show that what is happening has negative connotations and to invoke a dramatic ambience All six psychological thrillers are either set in a town/city or remote location Five of the six films also use mise-en-scene effectively to convey that the film is going to be a psychological thriller or that the protagonist is going to be in danger (e.g. In One Hour Photo the main character is seen as a ‘threat’, in Misery the main character is wearing red and black and similarly the main character in the Secret Window is wearing all black, which has connotations of death and therefore, danger. (The only one that doesn’t is Panic Room).
Editing Directions Match cuts, jump cuts, reverse shots etc In One Hour Photo there is a reverse shot of the police man and main character to show that they are talking to each other. Similarly, in the opening to The Butterfly Effect a reverse shot is used between the young boy, Kevin, and his mother whilst she is fixing the car. In One Hour Photo the reverse shots used are over the shoulder shots, which allows the audience to scrutinize both of the characters motivations and dialogue. In addition, in the opening of The Butterfly Effect a fade out is used to show the passing of time, which helps to confuse the audience as it makes them wonder why this period of time is of particular importance. A fade over is also used in the Secret Window for the same effect. However, for most of the films continuity editing is used to establish a logical coherence between shots.
Sound Techniques diegtic, non diegtic, silence and dialogue In One Hour Photo whilst the opening titles were playing the sound was non diegtic and sounded like a photo machine printer. In my opinion, it sounded slightly like a heat beat because it was a repetitive noise with a pulse like quality to it. This had the effect of creating tension in the audience as it was not made clear what the noise was. Similarly, in the opening two minutes of Panic Room the sound is mainly non-diegetic and is very repetitive, which creates tension and suspense. After the film title appears on screen the non-diegtic music seems to get faster and ticking beat is added to it, which gives the opening a sense of urgency as it feels as if time is running out. This also has the added effect of keeping the audience guessing as they are left unsure about what is ticking and why, which gives them motivation to carry on watching the film. A sound bridge is also used towards the end of the first two minutes to link the two shots together. Furthermore, the first sound that the audience hears when is a police siren. A police siren has connotations of criminal activity and danger, which are all indicative of the film. Most of the film openings I studied started with non diegtic music however, the Secret Window started with non diegtic dialogue as although you could hear speech the audience couldn’t see who was talking, which makes the audience think that the dialogue that they are hearing is coming from the main characters mind.
Actor’s Positioning and Movement (blocking) In the Secret Window the protagonist is in the centre shot and therefore, dominates it. The fact that he dominates the shot shows that he is going to be the main character. Also because he is at the centre of the shot it will be assumed that he is central to the film’s plot. In the opening of Misery the main character is on the right hand side of the shot. He is also in the foreground of the shot, which implies that he is going to be an important character in the film.
Who is the hero and who is the villain? In most of the films that I analysed there is no clear hero and villain because psychological thrillers are more to do with mental danger rather than physical danger. Therefore, in most cases the protagonists brain could be seen as the villain. However, in The Butterfly Effect and Misery the hero and villain is made more clear. For example, in The Butterfly Effect, Kevin (the main character) is portrayed as being a hero because he believes that he has to ‘save her’. Contrastingly, in Misery the main character is being held captive by Annie and so she is therefore seen as being the villain.
Where is the story set? What does this tell you about the genre of the film? As mentioned previously all six of the psychological thrillers that I studied were either set in suburban towns/cities or remote locations Remote locations are quite typical settings for psychological thrillers because the protagonist is placed in mental danger but they have no way of escaping or getting help because they are in the middle of nowhere. The use of remote locations in psychological thrillers could also be seen as a metaphor as the main character tends to be in a different mental state to everyone else (e.g. the main character in the Secret Window), which means that they are alone in their way of thinking and therefore they are isolated in the remote location. Similarly, cities and suburban towns are often used in psychological thrillers because a lot of psychological thrillers are based on the idea of the abnormal happening on a normal day. As most people live in towns/cities the idea of someone being in danger in a city, which is reminiscent of their own, will psychologically create more fear in the audience’s mind as people don’t like to think of bad things happening where they live, whereas if it is set in a remote location they can detach themselves from it.
How many principle characters?
In all six of the films that I analysed the audience were introduced to one or two main characters in the opening, so as not to confuse the audience and distract them from focusing on what is going on onscreen.
How is the story told? Chronologically? What is the effect? Within the first ten minutes or less of the openings of the psychological thrillers that I analysed 4/6 (Misery, The Butterfly Effect, Secret Window and One Hour Photo) all had flashbacks (also known as analepsis) and were told in reverse chronological order. The flashbacks consisted of the main character going back to previous time in their lives that explained why they are where they are now. The effect of not telling the story chronologically is to keep the audience guessing so that they have a reason to carry on watching the film. They also fill in crucial parts of characters life that will help the audience understand the film as it progresses.
What questions are you left with? All six of the psychological thrillers leave the audience with questions in the opening 2-3 minutes: THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT:
Who is the girl he wants to ‘save’?
Why does he need to go back in time to ‘save’ her?
What is the significance of ‘thirteen years earlier’?
Where is he at the beginning of the film?
What is the significance of the quote from the chaos theory at the beginning?
When he is in the office who is he hiding/running from?
Why it is ‘too dangerous’ for his dad to ‘come out for one day’?
What is the significance of the blue velvet?
What happened to the man to make him collapse? Why?
What is the significance of New York city?
What is ticking? Why?
Who is the main character?
What is the significance of the panic room?
ONE HOUR PHOTO:
Who is he?
Why is he being interviewed by the police?
Why is he considered a ‘threat?
What are the photographs of?
Where is he?Why?
Why is he book untitled?
What is the significance of the briefcase?
Why can we hear someone talking?
Was it his wife that was having the affair?
Where is he? Why is he there?
Is he a writer?
What is the secret window?
Which narrative theories apply? For most of the psychological thrillers I analysed Claude Levi-Strauss’s narrative theory about binary opposites seemed to apply. For example, in The Butterfly Effect and Misery the binary opposition of night/day were part of the structure of the opening. Furthermore, in One Hour Photo and Secret Window the binary opposition of good/bad is used. This is shown in the Secret Window because the protagonist is depicted as being good in contrast to what the audience assume is his wife and her lover who are depicted as being bad. Furthermore, in One Hour Photo the main character is depicted as being bad because he is considered a ‘threat’ and the police officer is seen as good because he is stopping him from hurting others. Also most of psychological thrillers fitted with Todorovs narrative theory about the stages of narrative, as most of the openings start with equilibrium and then progress to the disruption of this equilibrium by an event (e.g. in Misery. The equilibrium would be the main character writing his book and the disruption of the equilibrium would be the car crash).