Conventions of Thriller films and Tables of Analysis
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
are set apart from each other in the way the audience views
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
Iconography: (setting; mise-en-scene; props; colours)
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).
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:
Sound Camera Lighting Location Characte Editing
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-
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
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
THE ILLUSIONIST (2006)
Sound Camera Lighting Location Characte Editing
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.
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.
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.
shot to close
up as time
zooms in on
a CU to one
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
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