Beat Blog: The Return of the Smart Thriller

This is the first of a series of posts I will be doing on film for my reporting class. Enjoy, foodies!


In the days of Hitchcock, the thrill of film was implied. Only in those last few scenes would the true depth of the plot and the deep psychological pain felt by the characters become evident. You could spend the entire film thinking you knew exactly what was happening only to discover that you truly had no idea.

Hitchcock's Vertigo and Psycho. The video shows his masterful use
of sound and suspense.

In the days of Kubrick, violence became more commonplace, but never gratuitous. The characters were twisted, but if you looked deep enough, they did have some humanity left in them. And then, there was no one. Following Kubrick’s death in 1999, the days of smart thrillers seemed to be over and the days of teen screams seemed to have begun. There was no more mystery in the film experience. Everything was laid on the table in the first scene. There was a brief, shining moment when, in the “Bruce Willis was dead the whole time!” aftermath of The Sixth Sense, there seemed to be hope that M. Night Shyamalan could fill the long empty void. Well, a Lady in the Water and a Last Airbender later, we all know how that panned out.

Kubrick's The Shining and Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense
The video shows one of the eeriest scenes from Kubrick's The Shining

So then, that leaves us to wonder, are the days of smart thrillers behind us?

Not so quick. Perhaps you saw a little film last year called Inception. If you understood it, congratulations, you are quite smart. The brilliance of Inception lay in the fact that, even if you understood the overhead plot, there were more intricacies than anyone could catch on a first, second, or maybe even third viewing. Let’s not even get started on the ending. It was smart. It was Hitchcock smart. It was Kubrick smart. It was finally a film worthy of the admission price.

Christopher Nolan's Inception

Recently, I saw Limitless (you can check out my full review here). Judging from the trailer, it was going to be interesting and unique. Despite being based on a short story, the plot is novel and goes places that film hasn’t dared to in some time. Perhaps most importantly, however, was the intelligence of the plot. Though it is marketed as a basic thriller, the motivations and developments of the characters keep the viewer wondering what they would do in this sort of situation.

Limitless, a film by Neil Burger

If you take anything out of modern cinema, let it be this: don’t give up on the thriller just yet. There may never be another Hitchcock and the sheer thrill of watching Vertigo for the first time may never be duplicated, but we have a new generation of filmmakers taking the modern day thriller in directions that would hopefully surprise their viewers.

If you are looking for a glimpse in to smart thrillers in theaters, check out this review of Source Code. Also in theaters is Hanna, an action thriller on a girl power kick. Also, new on DVD, is Black Swan, a psychological thriller with brains.

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11 thoughts on “Beat Blog: The Return of the Smart Thriller

  1. I STILL need to see Black Swan! Also, I really want to see Hanna, mainly because Joe Wright directed it – his movies are awesome (especially Pride and Prejudice!)

  2. Inception was one of best films i’ve seen, blew my mind! I rather want to see Limitless, the idea of the plot just sounds intriguing!

  3. Pingback: Half Made Decisions | I Will Run For Chocolate

  4. I also enjoy thrillers, and I still remember watching “The Birds” vividly. I remember the gut wrenching chills at the sight of the crows circling. Two nights ago I had the pleasure of watching Inception. Within 15 minutes I knew the movie was different from everything recently released. I LOVED it. That said, I can’t wait to watch Limitless as well.
    Oh, and I’m loving this addition to your blog, where I have been lurking for a bit. You don’t say too much, just enough to be tantalizing. Excellent reviews!

    • Thank you so much, Gabrielle!
      The Birds is definitely one of those films where you just can’t forget the first time you saw it. I have several movies like that that just pack such a punch you never want to forget them!

  5. I always enjoyed the old thriller movies (e.g. Hitchcock). Hitchcock rarely showed blood or the violent act but left it to the watcher’s imagination. What the watcher thought up was often worse than anything he could show on the screen. Then there came the horror films where blood and guts were the main reason for the film and everything was shown in detail, leaving nothing to the imagination. That was when I stopped watching. Hopefully this new breed of thriller will bring me back to this genre.

  6. Great review, Camille, but I thought you were going to write about food, etc.? Did I read the wrong post? Small detail, it would be good to adopt AP style for movie titles: use quote marks. It helps the reader. Score = 10.

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