Genre Analysis- Psychological Thriller
In film theory, genre refers to the method based on similarities in the narrative elements from which films are constructed. The genre I have chosen for my Advanced Portfolio is Psychological Thriller.
Psychological thriller is a fictional thriller story which emphasizes the psychology of its characters and their unstable emotional states. In terms of classification, the category is a sub-genre of thriller; “dissolving sense of reality”, moral ambiguity, and complex and tortured relationships between obsessive and pathological characters. Psychological thrillers often incorporate elements of mystery, drama, action, and horror, particularly psychological horror. This is also known as a hybrid genre- A hybrid genre occurs when a director other creative professional attempts to merge two or more genres. While elements of one genre might be stronger in the work, the professional still abides by the guiding rules of both genres.
In psychological thrillers, characters often battle their own minds: they attempt to determine what is real, who they are, and what life’s purpose is. A distinguishing characteristic of a psychological thriller is a marked emphasis on the mental states of its characters: their perceptions, thoughts, distortions, and general struggle to grasp reality. The protagonist of these films is set against a problem – an escape, a mission, or a mystery. No matter what sub-genre a thriller film falls into, it will emphasize the danger that the protagonist faces. The cover-up of important information from the viewer, and fight and chase scenes are common methods in all of the thriller subgenres, although each subgenre has its own unique characteristics and methods.
In addition to the traits of a regular Thriller, a Psychological Thriller incorporates elements of drama and mystery film. The suspense in this sub-genre comes from the mind, rather than from a psychical threat. The protagonists in Psychological Thrillers must rely on their mental resources to solve the situation. Because of their nature, many Psychological Thrillers cross over into the Horror genre.
A common definition of “psychological thriller” is a thriller subgenre that focuses on the unstable emotional or mental states of the characters, often in combination with elements of mystery, suspense or psychological horror (the last one, in my case). As a thriller subgenre, it’s permeated by tension and suspense, often surprising the reader with twists or different angles on the same problem. It can contain elements of terror like dread, anxiety and fear, or elements of horror like revulsion, trauma and shock.
But no matter the flavor, psychological and emotional stresses are the engine of this subgenre.
In a psychological thriller characters don’t rely on their physical strength to overcome their enemies, but rather on their mental resources, and often times the enemies are not external (other characters or circumstances) but internal (phobias, insanity, urges, feelings, fears). Even when the enemies are other characters, the conflicts are usually played out through mind games, deception and manipulation, or even sustained attempts to demolish each other’s mental equilibrium, as opposed to the banging physical action in classic thrillers.
Another important aspect that differentiates psychological thriller from a classic action thriller is the nature of the characters. In a classic thriller we have good guys vs. bad guys, with quite clear distinctions and the corresponding actions. And even when the antagonist is obscure or unknown, we never doubt that the protagonist is the good guy. In a psychological thriller, however, the nature of the protagonist it is often questioned, and sometimes good or benign characters become or are revealed to be monstrous.
In this respect, psychological thrillers don’t only play with the characters’ minds; they also play with the viewer’s mind.
Character motivation and state of mind are also among the most important things in a psychological thriller, since the plot entirely relies on them, and the director needs to have a good understanding of human psychology. The emotional and mental developments of characters in a psychological thriller must always be plausible and believable, even when they are outrageous (such as a child becoming a murderer) or come as a surprise (such as the protagonist being revealed to be insane). Surprises in fiction must never take readers aback, their purpose is to stir and stimulate re-evaluation, and they must always seem absolutely logical and inevitable in retrospect.
The most common types of narration chosen to create psychological suspense and maintain tension and emotional stress are stream of consciousness and deep first person POV. There are exceptions, but they are rare and less powerful. Narrative style is very important, because it must erase the interface between the reader and the story, and plunge the reader directly into the throes and terrors of the protagonist. POV is also essential in the manipulation of atmosphere, which can greatly contribute to the effect of the psychological thriller.
Because the psychological thriller deals first and foremost with the human mind, the most common themes it touches upon are philosophical or psychological in nature, such as identity, honesty, determinism, fatalism, sanity, dualism, and the exploration of the darker sides of the human behavioral motivation. It’s less aimed at direct entertainment, and more at provoking thought and shifts in understanding of the human mind.
It is a very powerful genre, but also very difficult to get right.