Conventions of Thriller films and Tables of Analysis


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Movies analysed: Memento (2001) and The Illusionist (2006)

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Conventions of Thriller films and Tables of Analysis

  1. 1. Plot: Generally, thrillers show justice and injustice (or good and evil) fighting against each other, with an overall feel of suspense. Most often, the identity of the antagonist is known and the protagonist must intervene with their plans; a thriller movie usually has a growing sense of threat and/or danger and there is a clear sense of pursuit, although they sometimes begin with a sense of equilibrium and show the overall degeneration of events. Narrative: (points of view; events) The story of a typical thriller film will usually be shown from the protagonist’s point of view, following events that the heroes must overcome. This point of view allows the audience to become more involved in the events themselves and therefore closer to the characters, as they see how the characters interact with each other in different situations. However, other points of view are sometimes included in the telling of the plot: often they will be short clips from the villain’s point of view, allowing the audience to see how the antagonist acts while by themselves, or how they used to act (i.e. in a flashback), which creates empathy for the villain and possibly allows the audience to understand why they have become the evil party. Depending on the character that plays the villain or how much is revealed to the audience, a sense of guilt can also be created. Most typically, events covered by the film are important to the film’s progression and lead directly on from a previous scene. There are usually lots of action scenes between characters, which keeps the audience guessing (often wrongly!) what will happen next and how the characters will interact with each other. If the characters actions are erratic and keep changing then the film’s suspense grows, as we do not know what will happen next. During scenes where the characters are simply talking with each other, the audience generally understands what is happening but never gets the full explanation of the plot or events taken place, which allows the film to retain its mystery and suspense until later. Usually the motive of the villain and their relation to the hero will be revealed at the end or near the end of the film, and the audience is then able to understand why the characters have acted the way they have. If the motive is left unrevealed, the film will end of a note of suspense and confusion, allowing the audience to continue to imagine what would happen after the film has finished. Characters: (dress; typical roles) The two main characters (antagonist and protagonist) in a thriller
  2. 2. are set apart from each other in the way the audience views them. The heroes in thrillers are often men that are accustomed to danger in their jobs or lifestyles (i.e. policemen, spies, etc) or are ordinary citizens that have been pulled into danger by accident. The male hero usually has an aim to defeat the evil of the situation and will persevere even if nothing is going according to plan. The villains in thrillers are also typically men, usually tall and/ or well-built, and with a shady sense around them that gives the impression that they shouldn’t be trusted. This character may have some physical deformity (if their identity is secret for the majority of the film), or a traumatic experience that has changed their outlook on life or humanity. Usually they will work alone. Other supporting characters are usually on the protagonist’s side and will attempt to help them (although sometimes these characters will betray the hero and leave to support the villain or another third party); female roles are often innocent and helpless until her help is needed, when she will become the ‘saviour’ of the hero(es) and support them. The types of clothing that different characters wear are very typical and generic. In general, most characters will appear smartly dressed or at least well-dressed (different types of thrillers and settings will cause the dress to change, for example in James Bond movies characters usually appear in suits, whereas in Memento the main character mainly wears a shirt with the top button undone with smart pants, achieving a casual look). Often the villain will wear form-fitting clothing that emphasize their build and therefore power (i.e. leather trousers or jacket) and creates a contrast with the hero, who will usually wear baggy clothes or appear scruffy or dirty after their journey/fights. Depending on the sub-genre of thriller, female characters will either wear clothing that covers them or reveals a lot: for example in slasher-thrillers, females often wear short skirts or low-cut shirts; while in drama or period –thrillers, women will usually wear full-length skirts or trousers with a shirt that covers their arms. One prominent feature of the character’s dress are the colours used. Typically, colours of the characters’ clothes will draw parallels with their personality: villains appear in dark colours (usually black), while innocent and young characters wear pastel colours or white to emphasize certain aspects of themselves. Occasionally a bright or shocking colour will be used – most often red – to draw attention to a particular character and show their differences to the main party. Red is also usually worn by alluring female characters to show that they are sexy or attractive. Iconography: (setting; mise-en-scene; props; colours)
  3. 3. The typical setting of a thriller is in an urban city. Usually the main colours used will be grey, black and white to emphasise the helplessness of the first character we see. Thrillers can also be set in quiet country villages, where everyone leads poor and simple lives; often the villain will come from a small village. Usually only a small range of colours will be used, the main being black or grey if it is set in a city environment, to show how normal and mundane life is. However other strong colours are often used at particular plot points; for example if there is a lot of blue we can assume that someone has or is going to die, and if there is a recurring theme of red (i.e. alarms) then we understand the characters are in danger. The camera shots are usually either very steady or move around a lot. If there is a scene with a lot of dialogue, or a character is being shown as having a quiet or intimate moment, the camera will be still and focus on the characters more than the background. If there is more than one character in the shot, the cameraman will use a medium (or close up)- two shot to show how they relate to each other, i.e. if they are standing close and being intimate or not. If the camera is moving around a lot then an action scene is typically taking place; the increased cut rate allows the audience to feel more involved in the action and keeps them on the edge of their seat as they do not know what is going to happen next. More camera movements are also used when there is a sense of vulnerability or something has gone wrong, which increases the suspense. More often than not, the lighting is dim and hides parts of either the characters or the environment, which makes the audience think that there is more to the characters than they originally thought; or if we see a villain in low light then it adds to the mystery and/or suspense as we are anticipating their next actions. The props used in thrillers are mainly weapons, usually either large or easily identifiable (for example, knives or swords) or loud and threatening (e.g. guns). Themes: The main identifying theme of a thriller is often based around something that occupies a lot of what society thinks about and is worried about; these can be anything from kidnapping and isolation, to terrorism and its effects. Most often the point of narrative will be from the hero’s perspective, and the perpetrators of the crime will be portrayed as the villain (e.g. the terrorist will be the antagonist of the film). Tables of Analysis: MEMENTO (2001) Sound Camera Lighting Location Characte Editing shots/angles rs/costu me
  4. 4. Intro music Close up of Low key Seems Characte First 2 slow to hand lighting small r dressed minutes build up Low angle Run down quite matched tension + shot to show Hard building- neatly- cuts- But suspense protagonist quality of cracks in blazer/ Sad music as powerful light walls + smart playing to go with flimsy shirt- has backwards sad picture curtains- tattoos GREY Face covered in blood & sweat (0.00-2.29) No music- Extreme CU High key Looks like Same Matched man lighting a hotel man as cuts, this talking- His +Hard room- before time playing narration. quality of filled with in correct light furniture, comfy. sequence No colors, black and white (2.27-2.50) ~ THE ILLUSIONIST (2006) Sound Camera Lighting Location Characte Editing shots/angles rs/costu me Silence all We are High key On a Period Matched the way looking (???); stage, in dress/ev cuts, through; down on a lighting is front of an ening everything no-one man sitting dim and audience dress. plays in talks, there down. (high shadows in a hall. Everyone is no angle?) are cast Hall is is smart. correct backgroun Close up everywhe large and The sequence. d music. shows us his re. Dim filled to policeme We focus face colours, capacity; n are on the man (expression such as banisters wearing instead. is beige, are fancy. smart concentratin cream, uniforms. g) and black. camera pans around it. Crane
  5. 5. shot shows the audience. (2.42-3.25) No Medium-long Dim Inside an Suits. Matched backgroun shot allows lighting office. Two cuts. d music, us to see the still; we There are men, Reverse but office and focus on lots of both shots are the diegetic the the books and smartly dialogue. characters. character a few dressed. only editing Panning shot s rather chairs. Both look technique as the man than the One to be in used. walks into environm character their the room. ent. is sitting at thirties. Reverse Colours a desk shots are still writing. between the dark. conversing characters (but switches from medium-long shot to close up as time goes on). Eventually the camera zooms in on a CU to one man’s face. (5.00-6.06) From these tables of analysis we can see that both thrillers are typical to the generic conventions of a thriller movie. For example, both films begin with only one or two characters being introduced, which are dressed smartly and give the impression of not being involved with any criminal work. The setting of both films are very different to each other, but are in a mysterious area (i.e. a small, badly-lit room and a large, dark hall filled with people watching a stage). In addition to this, the sound conveys how both of these films are
  6. 6. thrillers: in scenes where the director wants to direct attention to what is being said, there is no background music so the audience can focus on the dialogue. When there is music (the tables show music to only appear in the opening of Memento, but the opening titles (which had no video to them) in The Illusionist had music playing in the background as well) it is soft and almost eerie, which builds the suspense and makes the audience want to know what happens next.