To begin a Psychological Thriller film blog, the Skeleton Key may seem like an odd place to start. Widely accepted to be a poor movie at the time, it was then swiftly forgotten about, and then it wound up on Netflix. I would argue that the skeleton key is a generic, lowest common denominator imagining of a Psychological Thriller. However, for these reasons it neatly illustrates numerous features that we imagine to constitute a Psychological Thriller. It takes the most obvious tropes of the genre and squashes them together to create ‘the lazy man’s guide to direct a Psychological Thriller without having to think too hard.’ Some of the clichés that were trotted out included a potentially haunted house, a self-rattling door, a white-eyed blind woman in a rocking chair, some unnervingly jaunty camera angles and a plucky young woman in peril in her underwear.
The scene to support my argument is the scene in which our heroine is sent to the attic to “get some seed packets”… It acts almost as a pastiche of the Psychological Thriller genre. Our heroine’s hand grabs the key: a symbol of mystery and the unknown. As she walks to unlock the door the shot is filmed through the keyhole, as if from the perspective of the malevolent force within. We are then treated to a wobbly point of view shot as Caroline approaches the rattling door. The shot shifts: door rattling, close up heroine’s startled face, door rattling, then suddenly the door behind her slams shut. She exits the attic, but the last shot is of the door rattling, apparently in the wind: is it all in her head?
No This scene is an example of the biggest weapon that horror/ psychological thriller directors have up their sleeve: The Quiet, Quiet…Boom Sequence. It’s the racking up of tension through music (preferably discordant string instruments), wobbly shots and a darkened room then a loud bang and a cut to <insert ghoul/ghost/psychopath/false alarm>