Thriller film, also known as suspense film or suspense thriller, is a broad film genre that involves excitement and suspense in the audience. The suspense element, found in most films' plots, is particularly exploited by the filmmaker in this genre. Tension is created by delaying what the audience sees as inevitable, and is built through situations that are menacing or where escape seems impossible.
The cover-up of important information from the viewer, and fight and chase scenes are common methods. Life is typically threatened in thriller film, such as when the protagonist does not realize that they are entering a dangerous situation. Thriller films' characters conflict with each other or with an outside force, which can sometimes be abstract. The protagonist is usually set against a problem, such as an escape, a mission, or a mystery.
Thriller films are typically hybridized with other genres; hybrids commonly including: action thrillers, adventure thrillers, fantasy and science fiction thrillers. Thriller films also share a close relationship with horror films, both eliciting tension. In plots about crime, thriller films focus less on the criminal or the detective and more on generating suspense. Common themes include, terrorism, political conspiracy, pursuit and romantic triangles leading to murder.
A common theme in thrillers involves innocent victims dealing with deranged adversaries, as seen in Hitchcock's film Rebecca (1940), where Mrs. Danvers tries to persuade Mrs. De Winter to leap to her death.
One of the earliest spy films was Fritz Lang's Spies (1928), the director's first independent production, with an anarchist international conspirator and criminal spy character named Haghi (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), who is pursued by good-guy Agent No. 326 (Willy Fritsch)—this film would be an inspiration for the future James Bond films. The German filmM (1931), directed by Fritz Lang, starred Peter Lorre (in his first film role) as a criminal deviant who preys on children.
The 1970s saw an increase of violence in the thriller genre, beginning with Canadian director Ted Kotcheff's Wake in Fright (1971), which almost completely overlapped with the horror genre, and Frenzy (1972), Hitchcock's first British film in almost two decades, which was given an R rating for its vicious and explicit strangulation scene.
Alan Pakula's The Parallax View (1974) told of a conspiracy, led by the Parallax Corporation, surrounding the assassination of a presidential-candidate US Senator that was witnessed by investigative reporter Joseph Frady (Warren Beatty). Peter Hyam's science fiction thriller Capricorn One (1978) proposed a government conspiracy to fake the first mission to Mars.
Brian De Palma usually had themes of guilt, voyeurism, paranoia, and obsession in his films, as well as such plot elements as killing off a main character early on, switching points of view, and dream-like sequences. His notable films include Sisters (1973); Obsession (1976), which was slightly inspired by Vertigo; Dressed to Kill (1980); and the assassination thriller Blow Out (1981).
Another notable example is Martin Scorsese's neo-noir psychological thriller Shutter Island (2010), in which a U.S. Marshal must investigate a psychiatric facility after one of the patients inexplicably disappears.
In recent years, thrillers have often overlapped with the horror genre, having more gore/sadistic violence, brutality, terror and frightening scenes. The recent films in which this has occurred include Eden Lake (2008), The Last House on the Left (2009), P2 (2007), Captivity (2007), and Vacancy (2007). Action scenes have also gotten more elaborate in the thriller genre. Films such as Unknown (2011), Hostage (2005), and Cellular (2004) have crossed over into the action genre.
The thriller film genre includes the following sub-genres:
Social thriller: A type of thriller that uses suspense to augment attention to abuses of power and instances of oppression in society. This new subgenre gained notoriety in 2017 with the release of Get Out.
Konigsberg, Ira (1997). The Complete Film Dictionary (Second ed.). Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-670-10009-5.
Derry, Charles (2001). The Suspense Thriller: Films in the Shadow of Alfred Hitchcock. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-1208-2.
Frank, Alan (1997). Frank's 500: The Thriller Film Guide. Batsford. ISBN 978-0-7134-2728-8.
Hanich, Julian (2010). Cinematic Emotion in Horror Films and Thrillers: The Aesthetic Paradox of Pleasurable Fear. Routledge Advances in Film Studies. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-87139-6.
Hicks, Neil D. (2002). Writing the Thriller Film: The Terror Within. Michael Wiese Productions. ISBN 978-0-941188-46-3.
Indick, William (2006). Psycho Thrillers: Cinematic Explorations of the Mysteries of the Mind. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-2371-2.
Mesce, Bill (2007). Overkill: The Rise And Fall of Thriller Cinema. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-2751-2.
Rubin, Martin (1999). Thrillers. Genres in American Cinema. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-58839-3.
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