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SOUND/MUSIC IN
PSYCHOLOGICAL
THRILLERS
Joe Sheldon
Diegetic Sounds
■ Diegetic sounds are sounds that the characters could hear within a given scene. It is
implied to be present within the action of the scene.
■ Within psychological thrillers, diegetic sounds usually relate to the heavy action on
screen. For example, heavy breathing and the sounds of leaves rustling could be used
to intensify a scene.
■ Sounds can be used to build tension in scenes.When coupled with weather conditions,
the diegetic sound of thunderstorms or heavy rain gradually increasing in volume can
alert the audience of a major plot event subconsciously within the build up.
■ However, the diegetic sound of nature and bird song can be used to convey a clear
mental state or a resolution to the conflict that was central to the movie.
Music
■ The music within psychological thrillers frequently fluctuates in pitch, tempo and
volume to create moments of high and low drama and tension.
■ Slow and low pitched music often overlays moments of little or no tension, often
scenes of exposition and flashbacks fall into this category.
■ Whereas, in scenes of tension, high pitch orchestral style string music is played to
create drama and unnerve the audience.
■ Occasionally, extremely high pitch noises can be played over the aftermath of a major
scene to convey the repercussions of what has occurred.
■ In the below trailer for Insidious, both the slow diegetic noise of the metronome and
the high volume orchestral music build tension.
Verisimilitude
■ Since music and sound are used in psychological films to build to moments of tension,
the sounds must be realistic to increase immersion or verisimilitude.
■ The sounds create a normality and familiarity within the scene while also confirming
the uneasy nature to the audience.The sound of footsteps or a door creaking are
regular daily noises, but with the context they can become extremely unsettling.
■ This imbalance creates an anomalous feel to the film, which is important for a film
revolving around the mind and mental states.

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Sound/Music In Psychological Thrillers

  • 2. Diegetic Sounds ■ Diegetic sounds are sounds that the characters could hear within a given scene. It is implied to be present within the action of the scene. ■ Within psychological thrillers, diegetic sounds usually relate to the heavy action on screen. For example, heavy breathing and the sounds of leaves rustling could be used to intensify a scene. ■ Sounds can be used to build tension in scenes.When coupled with weather conditions, the diegetic sound of thunderstorms or heavy rain gradually increasing in volume can alert the audience of a major plot event subconsciously within the build up. ■ However, the diegetic sound of nature and bird song can be used to convey a clear mental state or a resolution to the conflict that was central to the movie.
  • 3. Music ■ The music within psychological thrillers frequently fluctuates in pitch, tempo and volume to create moments of high and low drama and tension. ■ Slow and low pitched music often overlays moments of little or no tension, often scenes of exposition and flashbacks fall into this category. ■ Whereas, in scenes of tension, high pitch orchestral style string music is played to create drama and unnerve the audience. ■ Occasionally, extremely high pitch noises can be played over the aftermath of a major scene to convey the repercussions of what has occurred. ■ In the below trailer for Insidious, both the slow diegetic noise of the metronome and the high volume orchestral music build tension.
  • 4. Verisimilitude ■ Since music and sound are used in psychological films to build to moments of tension, the sounds must be realistic to increase immersion or verisimilitude. ■ The sounds create a normality and familiarity within the scene while also confirming the uneasy nature to the audience.The sound of footsteps or a door creaking are regular daily noises, but with the context they can become extremely unsettling. ■ This imbalance creates an anomalous feel to the film, which is important for a film revolving around the mind and mental states.