A psychological thriller is a film in which the plot largely is based on the personality and psychology of the characters. This type of film emphasizes the mental danger of the characters rather than a physical one. Although psychological thrillers will often introduce physical dangers, the mental challenges of becoming or remaining safe is emphasized.
Audiences like to view this type of genre largely because they can experience the same psychological threats the actors or actresses do without the danger. They enjoy the thrill of of unknown dangers and how characters deal with psychological ones. To view characters in a situation wherein a they must try to reason with a villain is completely engaging to audiences. A physically dangerous scenario is exciting to many, yet so many horror films in which the protagonist is escaping a maniacal character have been made. In these films, the antagonist is most likely chasing the character or characters with a weapon that can cause serious physical injury. Once those scenes have either passed or a character has succumbed, the plot resumes seeking out other victims or a denouement and resolve has been acquired by the end of the film.
In a psychological thriller, the viewer can never be sure where the plot is going. Oftentimes, the villain is not always obvious. The ability to keep the audience members guessing as to who the villain is can be a roller coaster ride of movie viewing emotions. In many cases, the antagonist, or villain, turns out to be who the audience thought was the protagonist, or the good guy. Languid changes in the development of a psychological thriller become purposeful and intense. In fact, the fun of a psychological thriller is less about blood and gore and more about the changes and developments in character identities.
Alfred Hitchcock was probably the most recognized director of the original psychological thriller genre. He has stated that if you build the excitement, rather than just show it, the effect is a far more tension filled scene. He has stated that showing a timer on a bomb and cutting to the clock ticking down several times is a far more satisfying psychological tense scenario than just showing a bomb exploding and its immediate aftermath.
The fact is that people enjoy being thrilled and frightened while they know they’re in a safe environment. They can experience the adrenaline rush and resolve while being completely safe while being thoroughly entertained.
The psychological thriller allows audiences to be scared, surprised, shocked and anxious and yet, safe at all times. It can be similar to a roller-coaster ride where all the reactions to fear can be realized, yet safety isn’t compromised.