The importance of psychological thrillers, through Enemy and Hereditary


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Grant Wheeler

Many filmmakers will often cop out of creating something that could be truly groundbreaking, instead sacrificing the integrity of a film for cheap scares/tension. I recently sat down and watched Denis Villeneuve’s 2014 film Enemy and viewed for a second time Ari Aster’s astounding directorial debut Hereditary, which hit theaters last year. These films are a testament to how profoundly crucial the thriller is to cinema– in particular the psychological thriller.

First, it’s important to point out that neither film ever takes the time to hold the hand of the viewer or stop and explain just what in the world is going on. By doing this, the director is able instill a consistent feeling of immersion and more importantly treat the audience with respect. The true end goal of this form of storytelling is to lead the audience into forming its own conclusions. The audience may be right, wrong, or neither, but coming to your own conclusion is a reward in itself.

These two films also share the similarity in that it’s not necessarily what you are told as opposed to how you are told it. Both films have pretty generic plots at their core. In Enemy, a man finds out he has a doppelganger that may not be so friendly, and in Hereditary a family is haunted by something– possibly demonic. Pretty generic stuff right? Far from it. The films want you to guess what happens next and constantly provoke you to critically think about the content found within. Aster uses grim foreshadowing and shaken performances from the main cast to elevate the tension. Villeneuve uses surreal camera work and frames his narrative to take place in the protagonist’s subconscious in order to heighten the suspense of his film.

There is some very deep analytical content that can be found within the films, particularly with the repeating motif of spiders in Enemy and family trauma in Hereditary. Neither film succumbs to the conventions laid out before them– they are uncompromising experiments of their respective genres that don’t need blood, guts, and chases to sell their tickets. The end result of both films is a unique experience that I’m sure Alfred Hitchcock or Stanley Kubrick would approve of if they were to still be around today.

The absence of a machete-wielding maniac or a demon hiding under the bed in these films force the audience to sketch the monster in their head, and sometimes your own head can be the scariest place to be. Both films reach for something more with the raw talent and god-given film-making talent given to them. I believe making an effective thriller film is among one of the more admirable feats a director can hope to accomplish. I believe a great majority of the reasons we don’t get a lot of thrillers in mainstream entertainment is because they are simply so hard to make, and even harder to make well.

I’m confident that if you take the time to watch these two films, you will see just how impactful a truly groundbreaking thriller film can be. Check out Enemy on Netflix and Hereditary on Amazon Prime. Thank me later.