The Psychological Thriller Genre

The Silence of the Lambs, Rear Window, The Sixth Sense, Gone Girl, Misery, Se7en, Vertigo, and Jacob’s Ladder can all sit with a Psychological Thriller tag on them.

What makes them included in this genre?


Reality-  Characters are always trying to determine what is real from unreal. What is true? What is the lie? It is a focal point in some films like The Machinist where Christian Bale’s insomniac character is questioning the interpretation of his world.

Mind-  This is where all the personality exists, in ones consciousness. The thoughts, memory, reason, emotional IQ, and intelligence are all here.  Thematically it serves as the pace where a character challenges themselves, questions who they are and a location where protagonist can be at war with themselves.

Purpose- The goal which the human strives towards their reason for purpose. Characters are frequently trying to figure out purpose, existence and in conflict with decision.

Identity- The character maybe confused in who they are and question identity versus true identity.

Death-  The fear of death plagues the character or are fascinated by what death will mean to them or others surrounding them.

Vertigo (1958) dir. Alfred Hitchcock



The arrangement of everything that appears in the framing – actors, lighting, décor, props, costume – is called mise-en-scène, a French term that means “placing on stage.” The frame and camerawork are also considered part of the mise-en-scène of a movie. In cinema, placing on the stage really means placing on the screen, and the director is in charge of deciding what goes where, when, and how.

Setting: The setting is a very important element to Psychological thrillers.  The two most common location for a Psychological thriller to be set in; is the city. and inside a building. E.g. An house jail restaurant. The countryside isn’t as commonly used as it can get confused with a horror film.

Costumes: The antagonist (the villain) normally typically wears smart clothing. e.g. Suit or shirt and jeans. The costume normally matches the locations. For example If it was an urban built up area the character would more than likely to be wearing a suit and tie. Also the antagonist normally wear dark clothing, as the colour black represents death, mystery and suspicion.The protagonist is the opposite to this; as they normally dress in brightly coloured clothing.

Lighting: Low level lighting is commonly used in Psychological thriller as it create suspicion and tension. In some films it’s used to create shadows which makes the audience feel fear and tension.

Props: Mirror are commonly used in psychological thriller to portray the used of reflections of a characters inner self as well as representing the ‘dark side’ of the character.Props are normally the key aspects in an psychological thriller as they are normally used to create clues that are related to the rest of the film. They do this to keep the audience engaged.

Sound: When watching a film, more often than not there will be some sort of music that accompanies the images we are watching,whether we realise it or not, this music can help us understand what is happening in the film. It provides depth to the character(s), or the environment (setting).Clearly, from a commercial point of view the music has done its job. The music is important as it reinforces the relationship between the setting and the characters. Without the correct music, an film can look unprofessional.High tension music or eerie sounds are most commonly used in psychological thriller. Sometime however; in complete contrast to this silence is used, this makes the audience tense.

Non diegetic

  • Sound whose source is neither visible on the screen nor has been implied to be present in the action: narrator’s commentary, sound effects which is added for the dramatic effect, mood music. 


  • voices of characters
  • sounds made by objects in the story 
  • music represented as coming from instruments in the story space ( = source music)
Crime Scene 1
Se7en (1995) dir. David Fincher


Camera Movement/Shots & Editing: Quick editing is commonly used in this genre type as it create tension as the audience suspect something is wrong and become restless.The most common shot types that are used in Psychological thriller are; the mid shot and the close up. These are commonly used because it helps the audience relate to the character as they are able to see the emotion and tension on their faces. This creates an realistic feel to the film as the audience can relate to the actor or actresses situation, this makes the film more scary.Common techniques used in psychological thriller are flashbacks and faced paced editing. These techniques can be used for several different reasons. The flashback is used to help show the past. This gives an insight into an characters past and shows an important message or helps explain why the character(s) are the way they are. Editing is also an important element in the film production because it also helps to create emotions for the audience such as montage were it excites the audience due to its fastpace. There are several editing styles that are conventional to a thriller film such as slowmotion; this style of editing in thriller films builds suspense because the audience want to know what happens next in the scene but it is pro-longed by the editing. Fast paced editing is also another conventional style of editing as the fast moving scenes build up tension and excitement within the audience. Fast paced editing could be conventionally used in chase scenes between a victim and a killer.

Here’s a challenge:

Watch The Silence of the Lambs trailer or Se7en’s trailer and leave your comments on how the film shows some of these techniques or themes.



2 thoughts on “The Psychological Thriller Genre

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s