Looking at Thrillers (& not the micheal jackson Hit)

The definition of a thriller is a movie which creates tension and suspense, where the audience is kept on the edge of their seats until the very end.  Often the main character may be escaping from somebody and has to dodge attempts on his life; it may be a crime thriller where the audience is given several red herrings to follow before the guilty party is finally revealed.  The director Alfred Hitchcock was an expert at the thriller movie. Examples of his films in this genre are Marnie, North by Northwest and Psycho. More recent thrillers are Inception, The Departed and Fair Game. The two films I will be using as examples of this genre in my assignment are Memento directed by Christopher Nolan and Se7en which was directed by David Fincher.

Memento is about what we learn as the film progresses an insurance investigator whose wife was murdered. The event has caused him to suffer from short-term memory loss. This develops as what could be termed as his “inner demon” which the hero of a thriller would have.  The iconography within the film is reminiscent of film noir using extended monologues, cinematography that emphasises night time photography with high contrast lighting, occasional low – key lighting, deep often exaggerated shadows and oblique abstract angles that create a feeling of dread and anxiety. In the film we have a protagonist who contradicts that of an action hero and is seen more as a rugged anti-hero who has been left vulnerable by his affliction.  A scene that is constantly repeated within Memento is when he wakes up in his motel room.  This is very like the 1930 thrillers and arguably is one of the definitive scenes that show the neo noir/thriller genre. The scene is a flashback sequence, shot in black and white. This is iconic within the film industry and within this genre to give the narrative depth and to reveal information to the audience bit by bit. Throughout these flashback sequences we hear our protagonist narrate the missing parts of his story.  The narrative builds through the flashbacks as each part that is revealed is added on to what has already happened this was a intentionally by the director to represent the broken mind of  the protagonist. It is like a jigsaw puzzle where you are only allowed to complete the picture by being given one piece of the puzzle at a time however, although the plot is distorted the film follows a single strand narrative. This is done to keep the suspense and tension throughout the film allowing the audience to remain focused. Within the thriller genre todorov’s theory of equilibrium is often tampered with and I chose Memento as it an extreme case and breaks the equilibrium, disequilibrium, new equilibrium format we are so use to be showing the film backwards. This means that the audience has to wait until the end of the film for the last piece of the puzzle to fit or not fit as the case may be. The question that the audience is waiting to have answered is does he find the killer? Does he kill the right person?

Se7en again has the anti-hero, a cultured and seasoned cop who is in conflict with his rookie partner who makes fun of his attempts to get inside the killer’s mind. The film is about the hunt for a killer whose victims represent the seven deadly sins. As mentioned when talking about Memento, the iconography used within Se7en relies on lighting techniques such as chiaroscuro, oblique shots, asymmetrical cinematography which raises the suspense and keeps the attention of the audience. Often the victims are filmed in low key lighting and it is often the reaction of those first on the scene that leads the audience into imagining the worst.  Common within thrillers and in Se7en in particular are the over shoulder camera shot which lends a sense of voyeurism to the revelation.  This causes the audience to not only be shocked by the actual state of the victim there is almost a sense of guilt and shame at wanting to see more. This is due to the sociological aspect of criminological imagination, where we have a fear and fascination with criminal activity.  This theory is what makes a good thriller as it taps into out psyche.  The narrative is told through each murder and although we are aware that the killer is making his way through the seven deadly sins there is still tension and suspense as we feel that with each new murder time is running out. Again the narrative keeps asking the question “will the murderer be found?”  The narrative twists and turns until we find that the final victim is the main character’s lover.

As can be seen from the above two films the thriller genre does not change even though there can be different types of thriller.  We need the darkness in which to hide our secrets and like any good plot the denouement comes right at the end. A thriller should leave the audience with a frisson and as they leave the cinema on a dark, wet evening they should be wondering what lurks around the next corner which both these films successfully do.


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