According to the Oxford dictionary, a 'psychological thriller' is a sub-genre of the thriller genre, which focuses on the psychology of its characters, or which psychologically manipulates its audience or readership. Though there is an overlap with mystery and suspense, the difference here is that the conflict is mostly inside the head, and there is generally no traditional movie villain.
Films made on this genre are generally less focused on the plot and more on the unpredictable and unstable mental and emotional state of the characters (Black Swan - 2010), as they wonder who they are (Memento - 2000), and death - of the body or of the identity - is usually an important theme (Fight Club - 1999). There is usually an uncertainty about what is real and what is not (The Machinist - 2004), morality is optional (Seven - 1995), obsessiveness (Pi - 1998) and paranoia run amok (The Conversation - 1974), and the antagonist – who could start off being the protagonist – may even be a psychopath (The Silence of the Lambs – 1991), a pathological liar (The Usual Suspects - 1995) or at the very least an unreliable narrator (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – 2004).
Amongst the earliest masters of this genre was Alfred Hitchcock, whose ideas and innovations rewrote the guide book for psychological thrillers. His “Vertigo” (1958) and “Psycho” (1960) were not just certified box office blockbusters but are included in the best films list even today.
During an interview in 1963, Oriana Fallaci asked why he was attracted to the kind of films he made. The reply is classic Hitchcock: “I'm English. The English use a lot of imagination with their crimes. I don't get such a kick out of anything as much as out of imagining a crime. When I'm writing a story and I come to a crime, I think happily: now wouldn't it be nice to have him die like this? And then, even more happily, I think: at this point people will start yelling. It must be because I spent three years studying with the Jesuits. They used to terrify me to death, with everything, and now I'm getting my own back by terrifying other people.”
Psychological films are not easy to write and make, as it requires a depp understanding of the complexity of the human mind and emotion, while still ensuring that the story is relatable enough. Else once can end up with a “No Smoking” (2007) where most of the audience could not understand the film. Many film-makers have struggled with this genre. Kashyap persevered and made another psychological thriller, “Ugly” (2014), which was a critical and commercially success.
Film-maker John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love” - 1998, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” - 2011) agrees. In an interview to the Telegraph he said that it was psychological thrillers like “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967) and “The Parallax View” (1974) that made him truly fall in love with cinema. According to him, “now it’s (just) about spectacle... Good psychological thrillers have a story to tell, there’s a character development, choice and moral conflict and they are pretty hard to find... The thriller is a pure cinematic form. The primary emotion it's working with is fear or anxiety.”
Also the audience for such films is generally considered to be limited and therefore Hitchcock's detractors, and those who envied his success, accused him of using “slick tricks, illogical story lines and wild coincidences.. ” in order to ensure that his films did well, according to Peter Flint of The New York Times.
Some fantastic psychological thrillers from the Hindi film industry include: “Khamosh” (1985) by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, “Kaun” (1999) by Ram Gopal Verma, “Aamir” (2008) by Raj Kumar Gupta, “A Wednesday” (2008) by Neeraj Pandey, “Karthik Calling Karthik” (2010) and “Kahaani” (2012) by Sujoy Ghosh.
After the success of the much appreciated “Taandav”, Muvizz.com is ready with its next short... “Kriti”, a psychological thriller by Shirish Kunder, starring the irrepressible Manoj Bajpayee, the brilliant Radhika Apte and the stunning Neha Sharma. Coming very soon to your personal screen.'