What does a Psychological Thriller look like?

What does a Psychological Thriller look like? This genre is so broad that a PT doesn’t immediately look like anything. Take this opening scene from ‘Donnie Darko‘, for instance. Aesthetically, it bears more resemblance to a dark teen movie like ‘Heathers’ or possibly ‘Pump up the Volume’  than another PT such as ‘The Sixth Sense’. It has all the hallmarks of a high school drama: lone outcast isolated in mundane, sleepy suburban setting. However, it goes beyond these initial expectations and develops into a psychologically evolved (veering on sci-f) drama.  The Psychological Thriller is a genre that is able to take any scenario and draw the mystery and danger from it.



Sonnet Jane Eyre


Jane Eyre:

Trembling and fainting from infant panic,

Solitary Jane is confined to a red room.

She is branded a thieving liar and barbaric

At a school that deals in miserly gloom –

Helen waits patiently there for a benign

Un-evidenced God to stop her weak breath.

Serendipity pushes a man down in time

For her to be brought to a house reeking of death

And creaking with rumour and a bastard child.

Rochester calls her into his room for fire-lit

Discussion of her and him while red hell burns wild –

The hysterical ghost tears the white dress in a fit.

But, much later, she hears his voice bidding for kind

Jane return to a black house and a man now blind.


This poem is based on the novel by Jane Eyre and also the 2011 film by Cary Fukunaga. I think it is probably necessary to watch the film or know the book to understand the poem.


Earth (Ghazal)


Tug out the henge stones like loose teeth from wet earth

And hear a low moan of dread from the spent earth.


Baked, bare souls kick up rising dust. Dark eyes are

Used to the sun’s grim ache and finding coins in red earth.


Fat cherubs coo down from a cathedral sky

Framed by stars like milk splashed on jet earth.


The one thousand arms of a lover hold flowers

Dripping putrid oil on eyes, mouth and dead earth.


An old woman gurgles a “thank you” or “yes”

As she is lowered into sacred earth.


Impress ‘Cecily’ into dry sand with a shoot

Plucked from a remote garden of unfettered earth.


dry earth


In this poem I wanted to convey a sense of the gothic found in many Psychological Thrillers. I was also interested in the way that ‘clues’ work within the genre to enable the audience to come to their own conclusion and form their own understanding. The different stanzas can be seen to hopefully  act as these ‘clues’ – often the director/writer only gives the audience only glimpses of a greater whole.

One Sentence Poem

Brighton Rock


Hail Mary he thinks on the seedy pier

As seagulls screech over old chips –

Rose, the little slut, serves tea

A cross hangs precipitously over her chest


Hail Mary as the Boy kicks old Spicer in his brittle shins

Busting a gaslight open on his way down –

Courting on salt-grass, bent towards a cliff

Shows proper feeling, like


Hail Mary burns down in Vitrol-hiss

On a bus rattling through Kemp Town –

It’s a fine day for the races and

Being cut to the bone


Hail Mary she belongs to him like a chair or a room

“I’ll never ever leave you, Pinkie” –

So he shows her how to pull the cold metal weight

And leaves it on her lap


Hail Mary when the record hits a scratch

And regurgitates an appalling hymn

Like a drone or a chant beating back

To a grainy snap taken on a sunny afternoon.

Brighton Rock Pic

West Pier

Blog Post 8

Donnie Darko (Directed by Richard Kelly) – Expectations from Reviews


Before watching Donnie Darko (a film that I have never watched before on account of everyone I know having already watched it) I read three reviews. The first was by Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2002/oct/25/artsfeatures2) written in October 2002. From this review I gathered that the film would be in the tradition of other ‘adolescent angst in leafy suburbia’ movies. He praised the film’s originality but also commented that it was also somewhat flawed, as it was not entirely coherent. The second review I read was by Elvis Mitchell for The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9C07E1DB1331F935A15753C1A9679C8B63) written in October 2001. He commented that it echoed John Hughes’ works (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club…), but was darker…and not quite as good. He summarised that is a film that aims high but falls slightly short of the mark. Anthony Quinn writing years later than the film’s original release in February 2009 (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/first-impressions-donnie-darko-2002-1607703.html) for The Independent similarly states that it is an ‘oddball’ movie that is recognisable as the work of a first time filmmaker. After reading these reviews my expectations were lower that they were after having heard about the film from friends. I was anticipating a slightly disappointing and confusing film.


After watching the film I felt that the reviews were slightly unfair. Yes, the film was ambitious but it was also emotionally complex. The character of Donnie could have easily become a cliché but Jake Gyllenhaal is a compelling actor who was able to prevent him becoming irritating. Another standout performance was by Patrick Swayze as the sinister Jim Cunningham – self-help guru, bullshit merchant and paedophile. I found the film to be cinematographically interesting and evocative. The soundtrack also fitted the mood and tone of the movie (although I do find Gary Jules’ rendition of ‘Mad World’ slightly maudlin). The psychological thriller aspect of the film I can see is slightly flawed. The question of who Frank is was answered by the end, as was where the aeroplane engine came from. However, the relevance and story behind Grandma Death I felt was somewhat abandoned by Kelly. I realise that many psychological thrillers are left on a certain note of mystery but this part of the plot was just left hanging slightly limp. Having said that, the fact that I was left thinking and mulling over the film after I had watched it shows to me that it is a decent film. I enjoyed it, and although I do agree with the critics that it had its flaws, I nevertheless found it to be engaging and moving.


Blog Post 5

Step Outline: The Talented Mr Ripley, Directed by Anthony Minghella

57 minutes 

  1. TOM RIPLEY’S face against a black backdrop as his character narrates a voice over. The camera pans out to show him playing piano at a high-class garden party in New York. He meets DICKIE GREENLEAF’S FATHER who recognises his jacket as one from Princeton, where his son went. Returns the jacket to its real owner. He runs into a theatre. <All over opening credits. >
  2. He is a bathroom attendant at the theatre. Watches the concert being performed from the wings. Practices the piano alone on stage.
  3. Meets with DICKIE GREENLEAF’S FATHER who proposes that he persuade DICKIE to come home for a fee of $1000.
  4. JAZZ MUSIC PLAYS After learning of DICKIE’S love of Jazz music he memorises the songs and artists blindfolded. Packs his bags to leave and gets into a smart taxi. OPERA MUSIC as the ferry leaves port.
  5. The ship arrives in a bustling Italian port. The camera follows a blonde woman (MEREDITH) to whom he introduces himself as Dickie Greenleaf. They bid farewell.
  6. A blue bus journeys across an idyllic Mediterranean coastline. RIPLEY is awed. He arrives at a quaint harbour.
  7. RIPLEY practices his Italian whilst watching DICKIE and MARGE frolicking on the beach. Accidentally on purpose passes DICKIE and pretends that he recognises him from Princeton. DICKIE is unconvinced but MARGE invited him to lunch.
  8. RIPLEY spots DICKIE cavorting with an Italian girl.
  9. DICKIE returns to find that RIPLEY is at his house with MARGE. RIPLEY tells DICKIE that his talents are of impersonation and does a creepy impression of DICKIE’S FATHER. It is revealed that RIPLEY is being paid to take DICKIE home. They walk through the crowded streets.
  10.  As RIPLEY is about to leave he purposefully drops Jazz records in front of DICKIE.
  11. DICKIE takes RIPLEY to a smoky Jazz bar. RIPLEY is awed and then he and DICKEI sing on stage together.
  12.  RIPLEY agrees to stay on as “a double agent”. He hears DICKIE and MARGE discussing him and then does an impression of them to himself in the mirror. RIPLEY tells DICKIE he has a fiancé. DICKIE declares that he is never going back.
  13. DICKIE and MARGE take RIPLEY out onto a sailing boat to teach him how to sail. It is revealed that he can’t ski either – “such low-class”.
  14.  MY FUNNY VALENTINE plays as MARGE and RIPLEY walk through the cobbled streets discussing their mutual love, DICKIE.
  15. RIPLEY and DICKIE ride a bike along the coast.
  16.  RIPLEY and DICKIE perform together at the Jazz club.
  17. Back at the house, RIPLEY tells DICKIE how revealing handwriting is and then, later, when they play chess (DICKIE is in the bath) RIPLEY makes a pass at him.
  18. DICKIE suggests taking RIPLEY to Rome to buy a jacket. A café in Rome, FREDDIE arrives in a bright red car. They go to a record shop and FREDDIE and DICKIE ditch RIPLEY. RIPLEY morosely wanders around the tourist spots of Rome.
  19.  DICKIE returns to find RIPLEY prancing around his room in his clothes to music. DICKIE is irritated. Downstairs, FREDDIE teases RIPLEY.
  20. RIPLEY, DICKIE, MARKE and FREDDIE go sailing. RIPLEY is sulking and MARGE comforts him, and tells him that the ski trip isn’t happening. FREDDIE catches RIPLEY watching DICKIE and RIPLEY have sex, FREDDIE asks, “How’s the peeping?”
  21. DICKIE’S Italian Girl watches the party coming to shore from a rock.
  22. There is a Catholic procession – singing and crowds. The Italian girl’s body rises to the surface shortly after the icon of the Virgin Mary does. There is panic and hysteria. DICKIE, MARGE and RIPLEY watch from the balcony. DICKIE lashes out and calls Italy “primitive.” Away from Marge, DICKIE reveals that the Italian girl was pregnant with his child and that he had refused to help her. RIPLEY says that it is their secret and they are brothers.
  23. The next day at the train station DICKIE announces that it is time that both of them moved on. Says that San Remo can be their last trip to together.
  24. On the train RIPLEY sniffs DICKIE. DICKIE wakes up and calls RIPLEY “spooky.”
  25. At a lively Jazz bar RIPLEY has to admit that he neither likes Jazz nor went to Princeton. DICKIE doesn’t seem to mind.
  26. They are alone together on a boat, scouting the shore for places for DICKIE to live. DICKIE tells RIPLEY he is relieved that he is going because he is a “leech” and “boring.” UNNERVING PIANO MUSIC plays as RIPLEY accuses DICKIE of being careless and selfish. As DICKIE goes to drive the boat back to shore RIPLEY hits him round the face with an oar. Blood comes pouring out of hisface but he is not dead. They wrestle. RIPLEY batters DICKIE to death with an oar.


the-talented-mr-ripleyWriting this step outline I was aware of the way that the director is able to slowly up the tension until the climax of the first third of the film occurs on the boat. We are made to follow Tom Ripley and we become unnervingly intimate with his sociopathic tendencies. The audience is well aware of Ripley’s true nature before the either Dickie or Marge are.

Blog Assignment 4 – The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects veers between the Classicist and Formalist modes. I would argue that it for the most part classicist: the focus of the film is on the complex story that Verbal spins for Kajun under interrogation. It is vital for the success and cohesion of the film that emphasis is placed on narrative over form (although form is an important aspect of the film). It is a non-linear narrative told in flashback form – a tale that we are not entirely sure whether or not to believe. It is therefore essential that the Bryan Singer made the film more classicist than wholly based on the formalist mode. If there is one thing that most people remember about The Usual Suspects it will be the twist at the end – the cathartic moment in which Kajun drops his coffee as he realises the true identity of Verbal.


However, the cinematography of the film is obviously stylised formalistically. For example: the way in which the camera lingers over the debris at the dock in the first scene where Verbal is revealed to be hiding/not hiding. The director places the image of the debris into the subconscious of the audience despite it not having any relevance until the end of the film. Similarly, the way in which light is used to illuminate the faces of the actors throughout the film – particularly when they are confronted with the figure of Keyser Soze. This use of lighting is entirely unrealistic but acts as a visual indicator of realisation or surprise.

Stephen Baldwin And Gabriel Byrne In 'The Usual Suspects'

Blog Post 3

American Psycho – Scene Building

The scene that I will deconstruct in this post is the ‘Hip to be Square’ Scene from American Psycho. The setting is Patrick Bateman’s brightly lit, minimalist apartment at night. Bateman wields an axe, wears a raincoat and brandishes a copy of Huey Lewis and the News’ Fore album. Paul (Jared Leto) lolls in a drunken stupor on the covered floor and sofa that have been prepared for his butchering. There is no non-diagetic sound. The sounds before Hip to be Square blares out are the unnerving sounds of Bateman glugging down his meds and the noise of the axe being placed on the floor.


The tone of this scene is at once comical and menacing. The scenery enforces this through building upon the things about Patrick we are already aware of. The naff modern art on the wall reinforces the superficiality and materiality that Bateman has set up his life around and the meticulous covering of the sofa and floor and the fact that Bateman wears a raincoat illustrate his narcissism and anal retentiveness as ridiculous.


Christian Bale’s portrayal of a psycho is almost slapstick: he dances and maniacally waxes lyrical about Huey Lewis:


In ’87, Huey released this, Fore, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is ‘Hip To Be Square’, a song so catchy most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics – but they should! Because it’s not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it’s also a personal statement about the band itself!”


He grins at Paul and gesticulates as he circles his victim. There is a moment in the bathroom in which the comical element of the scene is entirely undercut when Bateman looks at himself solemnly in the mirror before sauntering out with the axe. The murder itself is the result of a slow and comical building of tension. “Hey Paul!” – Patrick brings down the axe on his head and proceeds to hack him to pieces. Christian Bale is entirely convincing as a narcissistic psychopath – at once a comedy villain and a terrifying product of American capitalism and materialism.


American Psycho feels unique within the Psychological Thriller genre as it is both utterly fantastical yet also incredibly recognisable. It captures the zeitgeist of the late eighties and successfully translates Bret Easton Ellis’s postmodern nightmare into film.

Bog Assignment 1 – Cecily Proctor

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>