Psychological thriller is a thriller narrative which emphasizes the unstable or delusional psychological states of its characters. In terms of context and convention, it is a subgenre of the broader ranging thriller narrative structure, with similarities to Gothic and detective fiction in the sense of sometimes having a "dissolving sense of reality". It is often told through the viewpoint of psychologically stressed characters, revealing their distorted mental perceptions and focusing on the complex and often tortured relationships between obsessive and pathological characters. Psychological thrillers often incorporate elements of mystery, drama, action, and paranoia. Not to be confused with psychological horror, which involves more terror than psychosomatic themes.
Peter Hutchings states varied films have been labeled psychological thrillers, but it usually refers to "narratives with domesticated settings in which action is suppressed and where thrills are provided instead via investigations of the psychologies of the principal characters." A distinguishing characteristic of a psychological thriller is it emphasizes the mental states of its characters: their perceptions, thoughts, distortions, and general struggle to grasp reality.
According to director John Madden, psychological thrillers focus on story, character development, choice, and moral conflict; fear and anxiety drive the psychological tension in unpredictable ways. Madden stated their lack of spectacle and strong emphasis on character led to their decline in Hollywood popularity. Psychological thrillers are suspenseful by exploiting uncertainty over characters' motives, honesty, and how they see the world. Films can also cause discomfort in audiences by privileging them with information they wish to share with the characters; guilty characters may suffer similar distress by virtue of their knowledge.
However, James N. Frey defines psychological thrillers as a style, rather than a subgenre; Frey states good thrillers focus on the psychology of their antagonists and build suspense slowly through ambiguity. Creators and/or film distributors or publishers who seek to distance themselves from the negative connotations of horror often categorize their work as a psychological thriller. The same situation can occur when critics label a work to be a psychological thriller in order to elevate its perceived literary value.
Many psychological thrillers have emerged over the past years, all in various media (film, literature, radio, etc.). Despite these very different forms of representation, general trends have appeared throughout the narratives. Some of these consistent themes include:
In psychological thrillers, characters often have to battle an inner struggle. Amnesia is a common plot device used to explore these questions. Character may be threatened with death, be forced to deal with the deaths of others, or fake their own deaths. Psychological thrillers can be complex, and reviewers may recommend a second or third viewing to "decipher its secrets." Common elements may include stock characters, such as a hardboiled detective and serial killer, involved in a cat and mouse game. Sensation novels, examples of early psychological thrillers, were considered to be socially irresponsible due to their themes of sex and violence. These novels, among others, were inspired by the exploits of real-life detective Jack Whicher. Water, especially floods, is frequently used to represent the unconscious mind, such as in What Lies Beneath and In Dreams. Psychological thrillers may not always be concerned with plausibility. Peter Hutchings defines the giallo, an Italian subgenre of psychological thrillers, as violent murder mysteries that focus on style and spectacle over rationality. According to Peter B. Flint of The New York Times, detractors of Alfred Hitchcock accused him of "relying on slick tricks, illogical story lines and wild coincidences".
element of a psychological thriller because ... suspenseful feeling of who did what, who's being honest ... about perception...
A Good Marriage is a 2014 American psychological thriller film based on the novella of the same name by Stephen King, from the 2010 collection Full Dark, No Stars. It stars Joan Allen, Anthony LaPaglia, Kristen Connolly and Stephen Lang. It was released on October 3, 2014.Anamorph (film)
Anamorph is a 2007 independent psychological thriller film directed by Henry S. Miller and starring Willem Dafoe. Dafoe plays a seasoned detective named Stan Aubray, who notices that a case he has been assigned to bears a striking similarity to a previous case of his. The film is based on the concept of anamorphosis, a painting technique that manipulates the laws of perspective to create two competing images on a single canvas.
Dafoe turned down the role initially but reconsidered after a chance meeting with producer Marissa McMahon on a flight from Los Angeles. The film also has cameo appearances by Mick Foley and Debbie Harry.
The film had its world premiere at the 2007 Milwaukee International Film Festival in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where star Willem Dafoe started out in theater. It was also shown at the Williamstown Film Festival in November the same year. The film opened in New York City on April 18, 2008 and in Los Angeles on May 2, 2008.Cape Fear (1991 film)
Cape Fear is a 1991 American psychological thriller film directed by Martin Scorsese and a remake of the 1962 film of the same name. It stars Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Joe Don Baker, Juliette Lewis, Robert Mitchum, and Gregory Peck in his final film role. In addition to Mitchum and Peck, Martin Balsam cameos in the remake; all three starred in the original film. The film tells the story of a convicted rapist, who, using mostly his newfound knowledge of the law and its numerous loopholes, seeks vengeance against a former public defender whom he blames for his 14-year imprisonment due to purposefully faulty defense tactics used during his trial.
Cape Fear marks the seventh collaboration between Scorsese and De Niro. The film received positive reviews and received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor (De Niro) and Best Supporting Actress (Juliette Lewis).Darr
Darr: A Violent Love Story (English: Fear) is a 1993 Indian psychological thriller film directed by Yash Chopra under the banner of Yash Raj Films. It stars Juhi Chawla, Sunny Deol and Shah Rukh Khan in leading roles. In the film, Shah Rukh Khan played the role of an obsessive lover. The film also stars Anupam Kher, Tanvi Azmi and Dalip Tahil.
The film was well received by critics and audiences, earning the film and its actors' accolades, it was declared a "blockbuster" at the domestic as well as overseas box office. It has attained classic status over the years and is regarded as one of Chopra's best. Darr was later remade in Kannada as Preethse, in Tamil as Chinna and Odia as Criminal
It was also loosely adapted in the movie Fear (1996 film) starring Mark Wahlberg in 1996.Ex Machina (film)
Ex Machina is a 2014 science fiction psychological thriller film written and directed by Alex Garland (in his directorial debut) and stars Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Oscar Isaac. The film follows a programmer who is invited by his CEO to administer the Turing test to an intelligent humanoid robot.
Made on a budget of $15 million, the film grossed $36 million worldwide. The National Board of Review recognized it as one of the ten best independent films of the year and the 88th Academy Awards honored the film with the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, for artists Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Williams Ardington and Sara Bennett. Garland was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, while Vikander's performance earned her Golden Globe Award, BAFTA Award, Empire Award and Saturn Award nominations, plus several film critic award wins, for Best Supporting Actress. The film was further nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best British Film, and the Hugo Award in the category Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form.Misery (film)
Misery is a 1990 American psychological horror film directed by Rob Reiner based on Stephen King's 1987 novel of the same name, starring James Caan, Kathy Bates, Lauren Bacall, Richard Farnsworth, and Frances Sternhagen about a psychotic fan who holds an author captive and forces him to write her stories.
The film was released on November 30, 1990 in the United States to critical acclaim. Bates's performance as the psychopathic Annie Wilkes won the Academy Award for Best Actress at the 63rd Academy Awards. Misery is the only film based on a Stephen King novel to win an Oscar. The "hobbling" scene in the film was ranked #12 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.Mr. Brooks
Mr. Brooks is a 2007 American psychological thriller film directed by Bruce A. Evans starring Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, Dane Cook, and William Hurt. It was released on June 1, 2007. The film follows the eponymous character, a celebrated Portland businessman and serial killer (Costner) who is forced to take on a protégé (Cook) after being blackmailed, and has to contend with his bloodthirsty alter ego (Hurt) who convinces him to indulge his "habit". His life grows even more complicated when a driven police officer (Moore) reopens the investigation into his murders. The film received mixed reviews and grossed $48.1 million against a $20 million budget.Nocturnal Animals
Nocturnal Animals is a 2016 American neo-noir psychological thriller film written, produced and directed by Tom Ford, based on the 1993 novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright. The film stars Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, and Michael Sheen. The plot follows an art gallery owner as she reads the new novel written by her first husband and begins to see the similarities between it and their former relationship.
Principal photography began on October 5, 2015, in Los Angeles. The film premiered at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival on September 2, 2016 and was released in North America on November 18, 2016, by Focus Features. It received largely positive reviews and grossed over $32 million worldwide.Nocturnal Animals was selected to compete for the Golden Lion at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize. It received numerous accolades, including Shannon earning a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the 89th Academy Awards. It also received nine BAFTA Award nominations and Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay, plus a Best Supporting Actor win for Taylor-Johnson.Relative Fear
Relative Fear (also known as The Child and Le silence d'Adam) is a 1994 Canadian, independent, psychological horror film that references the 1956 film The Bad Seed. An autistic child is seemingly born to kill, and so he does.Sangharsh (1999 film)
Sangharsh (translation: Struggle) is a 1999 Indian psychological thriller film directed by Tanuja Chandra. It stars Akshay Kumar, Preity Zinta, and Ashutosh Rana in lead roles. The film is a remake of the 1991 American film The Silence of the Lambs .Secret Window
Secret Window is a 2004 American psychological thriller film starring Johnny Depp and John Turturro. It was written and directed by David Koepp, based on the novella Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King, featuring a musical score by Philip Glass and Geoff Zanelli. The story appeared in King's collection Four Past Midnight. The film was released on March 12, 2004, by Columbia Pictures; it was a moderate box office success and received mixed reviews from critics.Shutter Island (film)
Shutter Island is a 2010 American neo-noir psychological thriller film directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Laeta Kalogridis, based on Dennis Lehane's 2003 novel of the same name. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as U.S. Marshal Edward "Teddy" Daniels who is investigating a psychiatric facility on Shutter Island after one of the patients goes missing. Mark Ruffalo plays his partner officer, Ben Kingsley is the facility's lead psychiatrist, Max von Sydow is a German doctor and Michelle Williams is Daniels' wife. Released on February 19, 2010, the film received generally favorable reviews from critics, was chosen by National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 2010 and grossed over $294 million worldwide.
The film is also noteworthy for its soundtrack using classical (Mahler) and mainly modern classical music by composers such as Penderecki, Ligeti, Cage, Ingram Marshall and others.The Bone Collector
The Bone Collector is a 1999 horror psychological thriller film starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, directed by Phillip Noyce and produced by Martin Bregman.
The movie was based on the crime novel of the same name written by Jeffery Deaver, concerning the quadriplegic detective Lincoln Rhyme. The Bone Collector earned mixed to negative reviews, and earned about $150 million against a budget of $48 million.The Fan (1996 film)
The Fan is a 1996 American sports psychological thriller film directed by Tony Scott, and starring Robert De Niro and Wesley Snipes, based on the novel by Peter Abrahams.The Number 23
The Number 23 is a 2007 American psychological thriller film written by Fernley Phillips and directed by Joel Schumacher. Jim Carrey stars as a man who becomes obsessed with the 23 enigma once he reads about it in a strange book that seemingly mirrors his own life. The film was released in the United States on February 23, 2007.
This is the second film to pair Schumacher and Carrey, the first being Batman Forever. The film grossed $77.6 million, and has an approval rating of 8% on Rotten Tomatoes.The Sixth Sense
The Sixth Sense is a 1999 American supernatural horror drama film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The film tells the story of Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a boy who is able to see and talk to the dead, and Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), a child psychologist who tries to help him. The film established Shyamalan as a writer and director, and introduced the cinema public to his traits, most notably his affinity for surprise endings.Released by Hollywood Pictures on August 6, 1999, the film was well-received by critics; praise was given to its acting performances (particularly Willis, Osment, and Toni Collette), atmosphere, and twist conclusion. The Sixth Sense was the second-highest-grossing film of 1999 (behind Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace), taking about $293 million in the US and $379 million in other markets. This made it the highest-grossing horror film (in unadjusted dollars) until 2017, when it was surpassed by It.
The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Shyamalan, Best Supporting Actor for Osment, and Best Supporting Actress for Collette.The Talented Mr. Ripley (film)
The Talented Mr. Ripley is a 1999 American psychological thriller film written for the screen and directed by Anthony Minghella. An adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1955 novel of the same name, the film stars Matt Damon as Tom Ripley, Jude Law as Dickie Greenleaf, Gwyneth Paltrow as Marge Sherwood, Cate Blanchett as Meredith Logue, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Freddie Miles.
The novel was previously filmed as Purple Noon in 1960.The Village (2004 film)
The Village is a 2004 American psychological thriller mystery drama film, written, produced, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and starring Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, Bryce Dallas Howard, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, and Brendan Gleeson. The film is about a village whose population lives in fear of creatures inhabiting the woods beyond it, referred to as "Those We Don't Speak Of". Like other films written and directed by Shyamalan from the same time period, The Village has a twist ending.
The film received mixed reviews, with critics especially divided about the plausibility and payoff of the ending. The film gave composer James Newton Howard his fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score.Unsane
Unsane is a 2018 American psychological horror film directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer. The film stars Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, Aimee Mullins, and Amy Irving, and follows a woman confined to a mental institution after she is pursued by a stalker. The film was shot entirely on the iPhone 7 Plus.
Unsane had its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival known as Berlinale on February 21, 2018, and was theatrically released in the United States on March 23, 2018, by Bleecker Street and Soderbergh's production company Fingerprint Releasing.
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