Psychological Thrillers: the best genre to evoke fear

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In my opinion, there is nothing better than getting in after a busy week and immersing yourself in a film – especially when formative deadlines are fast approaching. Equally, I constantly look for films to genuinely scare me, to evoke a fear which I can’t quite grasp why but is on my mind for at least the next 48 hours. Whilst the obvious choice would be to pick the first horror film to come up on Netflix, the real contender for conjuring a genuine sense of distress has to be psychological thrillers. Whilst horror undeniably causes you to wonder about what’s in the dark, psychological thrillers make you think about what is hiding in the daylight. Whilst there are notable horrors, which I certainly wouldn’t want to watch in the dark such as The Visit, there are far more thrillers which have instilled more fear than a 100-and-something-minute horror could ever induce.

One that stands out to me is the 2020 remake of The Invisible Man. The genre of this film is somewhat undecided being labeled ‘a science fiction horror’, ‘a psychological thriller’, and a ‘suspense’. However, it seems clear to me that this film is in fact a psychological thriller. Jason Hellerman describes the difference between horror and thriller to be that horror portrays “inevitable but predictable doom”, whereas thrillers are “a tension-filled story that’s not predictable.” The mysterious unraveling of this film, paired with the concept of revenge – on behalf of the protagonist – is something uncharacteristic of horror. All this points to the fact that The Invisible Man can be defined as nothing less than a psychological thriller.

While horror undeniably causes you to wonder about what’s in the dark, psychological thrillers make you think about what is hiding in the daylight.

Cecilia, played by Elisabeth Moss, is trying to escape from her abusive ex Adrian Griffin – however, this proves impossible due to the invisible suit, Adrian – the antagonist – creates. Whilst this may seem far-fetched, perhaps something completely unrelatable, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In general, the inclusion of a suit which can turn invisible highlights the ever-rapid advancements in technology. It’s not too long ago since Mercedes revealed plans to have technology in cars which will allow drivers to adjust settings driving by staring at light dots and thinking about them. Therefore, the inclusion of far advanced technology becomes a microcosm for technological advancements and the paradox they create. With technology becoming freer in its abilities to offer solutions to society, it inadvertently makes society more restricted in their own freedom, presenting more problems. 

While psychological thrillers make us fear what we already know, they also make us fear the possibilities that society presents too.

Another notable thing to mention within this film is the problems that the suit causes. Cecilia is seen as hysterical in her manner, as no one can see or experience what she is until way later in the film. In this sense, it becomes even more evident that this film is more than just a comment on technology, but a comment on a woman’s place in society. The word ‘hysterical’ itself comes from the Greek ‘hysteria meaning ‘uterus’. It used to be believed that hysteria came from a default in the womb – highlighting the deep-rooted misogyny related to such emotional excess. In this sense, Cecilia acts as a physical embodiment of the constant sexism women have faced over the past 500 years. It becomes clear here that psychological thrillers evoke a deep-rooted fear, in the things we can see and have seen for the past 500 years. 

Whilst psychological thrillers evidently make us fear what we already know, they also make us fear the possibilities that society presents too. In this sense, they emulate a genuine sense of anxiety as the audience is left weighing up the possibilities of what could happen in the future. So next time a horror makes you fear the unknown, turn to a psychological thriller – and realise the visibility is the new invisibility. 

Image Credits: Johannes Plenio via Unsplash

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