Common codes and conventions of the thriller genre

Thriller movies are characterised and defined by the moods they create, giving the feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation and anxiety.

Thrillers can be divided into different sub genres:

  • Action thrillers
  • Psychological thrillers
  • Spy thrillers
  • Romantic thrillers
  • Crime thrillers
  • Western thrillers

Common conventions of a thriller:

  • Low key lighting
  • Quick cuts
  • Shadows
  • Tense music
  • Black and white shots
  • Fast paced editing

The main purpose of thriller movies is to create tension and suspense. They make the viewers think about the events of the movie and what could happen next; they tend to play with the viewer’s mind.

Tension is extremely important in thriller movies; music is essential for this. Non diegetic sound is commonly used to create a sound bridge to create a tense and eery atmosphere. Many thriller movies use dialogue, for example the movie ‘Se7en’, so the viewers get an insight the characters motives and their relationships with one another. However, many other thriller movies such as ‘Psycho’ do not use a lot of dialogue as this builds up tension and is thought provoking.

Lighting is just as important in thriller movies as this supports the sinister effect. Low key lighting is used to produce a sharp contrast between light and dark areas on screen. This creates shadows which is a common technique used in thriller movies and it helps create a dark tone. The dark and light tones contrast with one another to form a menacing tone.

It is typical for there to be a lot of close ups and extreme close ups to focus on the props used, as well as showing the feelings and emotions of a character. There is expected to be a lot of jump cuts to help create suspense and tension within the movie. Many thriller movies are seen from the killers point of view but not always and there tends to be a lot of flashbacks to help develop the storyline. The point of a thriller is movie is to create suspense and thrill for the viewer, however flashblacks are used to make sure the viewers are not confused and understand, as well as creating the suspense and tension.

Mise en scene is very important in any movie; in a thriller movie, it is common to have low key lighting, dark makeup and clothing, and black and white scenes, or if in colour it would normally be fine grain or grainy. It is common for thriller movies to be in black and white to create more of a dark feel to the movie. Mirrors and stairs are popular props within this movie genre to set the scene and mood.

This all helps create the sinister tones throughout the movie.

Examples of thriller movies:






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