I decided to look up what makes a thriller work:
is a broad genre of literature, film, and television programming that uses suspense, tension and excitement as the main elements.Thrillers heavily stimulate the viewer’s moods giving them a high level of anticipation, ultra-heightened expectation, uncertainty, surprise, anxiety and/or terror. Thriller films tend to be adrenaline-rushing, gritty, rousing and fast-paced. Literary devices such as red herrings and cliffhangers are used extensively. A thriller is villain-driven plot, whereby he presents obstacles that the hero must overcome.
The aim for thrillers is to keep the audience alert and on the edge of their seats. The protagonist in these films is set against a problem – an escape, a mission, or a mystery. No matter what sub-genre a thriller film falls into, it will emphasize the danger that the protagonist faces. The tension with the main problem is built on throughout the film and leads to a highly stressful climax. The cover-up of important information from the viewer, and fight and chase scenes are common methods in all of the thriller subgenres, although each subgenre has its own unique characteristics and methods.
Mystery film is a sub-genre of the more general category of crime film and at times the thriller genre. It focuses on the efforts of the detective, private investigator or amateur sleuth to solve the mysterious circumstances of a crime by means of clues, investigation, and clever deduction. The plot often centers on the deductive ability, prowess, confidence, or diligence of the detective as they attempt to unravel the crime or situation by piecing together clues and circumstances, seeking evidence, interrogating witnesses, and tracking down a criminal. This genre has ranged from early mystery tales, fictional or literary detective stories, to classic Hitchcockian suspense-thrillers to classic private detective films. A related film sub-genre is spy films.
Mystery films mainly focus with solving a crime or a puzzle. The mystery generally revolves around a murder which must then be solved by policemen, private detectives, or amateur sleuths. The viewer is presented with a series of likely suspects, some of who are “red herrings,” – persons with motive to commit the crime who didn’t actually do it – and attempts to solve the puzzle along with the investigator. At times the viewer is presented with information not available to the main character. Intensity, anxiety, and suspense build to an exciting climax, often with the detective (or protagonist) using his fists or gun to solve the crime. The central character usually explores the unsolved crime, unmasks the perpetrator, and puts an end to the effects of the villainy.
The successful mystery film adheres to one of two story types, known as Open and Closed. The Closed (or whodunit) mystery conceals the identity of the perpetrator until late in the story, adding an element of suspense during the apprehension of the suspect, as the audience is never quite sure who it is. The Open mystery, in contrast, reveals the identity of the perpetrator at the top of the story, showcasing the “perfect crime” which the audience then watches the protagonist unravel, usually at the very end of the story, akin to the unveiling scenes in the Closed style.
In the 1990s, a new trend, sometimes called Psycho-noir (psychological thriller and film-noir combined), emerged. This blends mystery, horror and suspense into stories centered around clever, sociopathic serial killers. The Hannibal Lecter novels by Thomas Harris have inspired four films, Manhunter (1986), the Academy Award-winning The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), and Red Dragon (2002).
Other films in this category include Seven (1995), Kiss the Girls (1997), The Bone Collector (1999), Mercy (2000), Along Came a Spider (2001), Insomnia (2002), and Taking Lives (2004).
The 2007 film Zodiac is an account of the real hunt for a serial killer in the San Francisco area in the late-Sixties and early Seventies. Other real-life serial killings have been portrayed in The Alphabet Killer, Ed Gein, Gacy, Ted Bundy and Dahmer.
Recently, there have been films where ordinary characters (as instead of cops or detectives) becoming involved in a mystery. In many modern day mystery-thrillers, everyday characters (such as teens, mothers, fathers, businesspeople, etc.) are dragged into a dangerous conflict or a mysterious situation, either by fate or their own curiousness, and they are not prepared to solve.
Common elements in these type of psychological mysteries include; searching for a missing person (preferably a loved one) whilst being surrounded by red herrings who kidnapped the person, group of characters trying to find out who is the killer among them (usually turns out to be one of them), character being suspicious of a mysterious neighbour or friend, characters trying to determine what is true and what is not, and characters being confused about who they are and try to discover their true identity. Movies like that include the Scream franchise (1996–2011), Shutter Island (2010), Flightplan (2005), Saw franchise (2004–2010), The Orphanage (2006), What Lies Beneath (2000), Cry_Wolf (2005), Devil (2010), Secret Window (2004), The Ring (2002), The Machinist (2004), The Forgotten (2005), The Number 23 (2006), Identity (2003), Memento (2000) and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (2010)