There are many main conventions involved with the thriller genre and not just for films,but books and television too. Thrillers almost always involve suspense and tension;keeping audiences alert even though they do not always know what is going on. Thegenre is well known for containing surprises, cliff hangers and twists in the plot. The plotsof thrillers are usually driven by the villains, as they hold a very important part of thestory. Donnie Darko (2001 dir. Richard Kelly )As for the structure of a thriller, there are some very iconic narrative points that make thegenre. The protagonist of the thriller usually faces a problem from the very beginning,whether it is an escaped convict to find, mystery to uncover or mission to complete. Thesedifferent events for the protagonist are nearly always dangerous tasks and theconsequences that the protagonist could face is also emphasised throughout the plot.
Throughout the plot, there is lots of tension and suspense, leaving the audience unableto guess what happens next for the protagonist and keeping them guessing. The idea forthrillers is the ‘keep audiences on the edge of their seat’ as the narratives are neverpredictable (unlike different genres like romantic comedies or action adventure). Zodiac (2007 dir. David Fincher)Other common aspects of thrillers are chase and fight scenes, heated or strainedconfrontations between the protagonist (hero) and the antagonist (nearly always themain villain) and an intense climax.Within the thriller genre are different subgenres. Three of the main ones are; Crimethrillers, mystery thrillers and Psychological thrillers.
Crime thrillersThis subgenre is the two separate genres of crime and thriller converged. Crime films without the ‘thriller’usually just contain elements of a criminal or criminal act in a film with no violence and are more of a drama.However, crime thrillers involve violence, anxiety and fast pace action sequences which heighten the tensionfor audiences. Spying and murders are other well known elements of crime thrillers. The protagonist orheroes of crime film are usually resourceful and tough, but they differ in crime thrillers and crime dramas. Inthrillers they aim to stop or kill the villain, whereas crime dramas they usually try to save the world or alarger population. Zodiac (2007 dir. David Fincher)Mystery thrillersMystery films usually follow a narrative of a character uncovering a truth or motive of a villain or a collectiveof antagonists and are usually downbeat, slow and emotional. But the mystery thriller includes theheightened tension and face pace narrative to keep audiences guessing and never letting them fully grasp anidea of the story until the end. As a character or group investigate the mystery, they are usually put intodanger or risk lethal consequences of the investigation meaning that the suspense and tension is quite high.
Psychological thrillersPsychological films usually don’t occur without the ‘thriller’ merged, as the psychological thriller is a recentnew genre. Although the films that fit into this subgenre have been around for a while, it has only beenreferred to as a psychological thriller in the last few decades. The characters in this subgenre face problemsmentally and emotionally instead of a being or dilemma in psychical terms. Whereas the characters in crimeand mystery thrillers set out to resolve the issues, the characters in psychological thrillers are put into thesituation without wanting to. The enemy of psychological thriller is either a person preying on theprotagonists mind or the protagonists’ mind themselves.
Crime thrillerTaken (2008)(The production company for the film begins at the beginning of the trailer.) From the ghostly choirsoundtrack that begins with this trailer, it is hinted that something is going to go bad. But from the dialogue,there and visuals it is seen that a teenager goes on holiday while her friend even though her Dad is quitehesitant to let her go. These are seen through flashes of visuals in a montage. Then the soundtrack changesto crashes while the visuals become blurred and the font is jumpy. The soundtrack becomes cold and with aheavy, constant beat while the girl is on the phone to her dad. A split screen is used to show the two peoplehaving a conversation and the cut speed increases as the tension rises. As the girl is being kidnapped, themusic only breaks through in short seconds to increase the suspense and the horror of the girl being taken. Aclassical piano soundtrack begins to play as the father makes his plan to find his daughter. When the father ison the phone, cutaways to a montage of the film and the action within it are shown. As the tension ariseswhen the father says that he will ‘kill’ the men who have taken his daughter, the cutaways and music stop asthe voice on the other end replies ‘good luck’. A phone tone is heard as the title of the film is shown. Whilesound effects of a girl heavily breathing are heard, the actor’s names are quickly shown over a black screenwhich heightens suspense as the breathing sounds scared and anxious.The trailer for taken introduces the main crime that is committed in the film as a kidnapping, as well as factpace action sequences and violence which makes the crime a ‘thriller. The father, and obvious hero of thefilm, is tough and able to fight as seen through a series of action clips. The father’s motives are clear as hesays he ‘will kill’ the man who has committed the crime, which is a main focus point of thrillers plus thisimplies that there will be murders and killings throughout the film which is another element of crimethrillers. Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8HknJ3IaLk&feature=player_embedded
Mystery thrillerZodiac (2007)A few gunshots are heard with a drum beat soundtrack and police signals in the back which leads to theproduction company logo being shown. An introduction to the trailer reveals that there has been a murderand that the man committing these murders has been sending encoded messages to a newspaper company.One of the writers for this company becomes interested in solving these mystery murders as the mancontinues to kill people. Ironically, a jazzy soundtrack is heard throughout the trailer to create tension by itsjuxtaposition of the suspenseful visuals. There are moments in the trailer where characters think they havefound the ‘zodiac’ murderer, but obviously they are not shown in the trailer to whether they do or not.This trailer shows clips of the mystery of this murder (which links into crime thriller). The ‘mystery’ part ofthe film is shown as the encoded letters and secrets are sent to a newspaper office and are broadcasted overthe news. Clips are shown of the news reports and voiceovers heard from the reports as the killer continuesto kill, making it a known crime and therefore a mystery for the world within the film. The mystery is notportrayed as downbeat, instead there are moments that make the film fit into the thriller genre. Forinstance, the character who wants to uncover the truth about the mystery is told that it is dangerous and isseen in stressful and dangerous situations like the scene when he’s in someone’s house and can hearfootsteps. Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEvnwKFUnI0&feature=player_embedded
Psychological thrillerDonnie Darko (2001)A character’s voice is heard as she reads a story about a boy who is struggling to come to terms withgrowing up, while visuals are seen of canted shots of a school kids on a bus and a classroom of students areseen listening to the teacher who’s voice can be heard. Eerie incidental music is heard as some of the visualshots appear to be disorientated or ‘weird’ such as the statue of a dog with an axe in his head and graffiti onthe floor reading ‘they made me do it’. The film’s production company logos appear along with a differenttone of similar eerie incidental music. A shot of two women walking in a town are shown, followed by themain character on a bike while a girl’s voiceover explains that her father has emotional problems. The shotchanges to that current conversation between the girl and the main character and he reveals in a happy,ironic tone that he has emotional problems too. There is a fade to black that then appears to a make giving aspeech about a boy who was overcome by his fears, while there is a montage of visuals to show the maincharacter and his weird events with canted and disorientation shots. During this montage, a voiceover fromDonnie’s psychiatrist explains to his parents that he is suffering from daylight hallucinations. Several scenesof spooky and confusing shots are cut to a very rapid speed with scientific like sounds played behind it. Aftera fade to black there are more montages of scenes shown but with very fast cuts along with fast pace music.A low, unknown voiceover is heard saying ‘Don’t worry he got away with it’, while even more scenes areshown with quick cuts and fast music and a soundtrack of ghostly echoes. Text appears within these cutsover black that read ‘Dark, Darkest, Darko’, which then shows a black screen while Donnie’s voice is heardsaying ‘When is this going to stop?’ with an unknown man’s voice replying ‘You should already know that’.The title of the film appears over the black followed by the cast of the film with glances of their character inthe film. Continued next page..Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdKbNuhXWvQ&feature=player_embedded
This trailer features many clips from scenes that do not make any sense because they are out of context,leaving audiences confused. This is a convention of psychological thriller films, because so far these scenesare unexplainable. The dialogue in the trailer already makes clear that the main character has emotionalissues which could be the reason for his disturbances, but obviously it is not certain in this trailer. In somevisuals there are knives, creepy masks and paranormal esque scenes which are often used in psychologicalthrillers because these can play on the mind as they are not natural occurrences. The antagonist of the filmis not seen which could imply that it has something to do with Donnie and his mind. Because of the visualsof knives and chilling masks, along with the eerie music and the fact that the plot is unknown creates asuspenseful atmosphere, making the film a thriller.
After looking at three subgenres ofThrillers, I have decided to focus onPsychological Thrillers more closely.