So what makes a thriller a THRILLER?
All definitions agree that it must have suspense:
Suspense (n.): 1)But what does it look like in practice?
I think the original Manchurian Candidate (1962) is still the gold standard.*
Maj. Marco has nightmares about the war and fellow officer Raymond Shaw. It is quite a roller coaster ride to find out why.
I was surprised, however, that the best suspense was between Shaw and his mother.
The uncertainty and apprehension is palpable:
ex. "The limo starts up and pulls away from the crowd.
RAYMOND: Who's kidding who, Mother? Johnny's up for re-election in November. You've got it all figured out, haven't you? Johnny Iselin's boy, Medal of Honor winner. That should get you another fifty thousand votes. [He stands up to her.]
MRS. ISELIN: Raymond, I'm your mother. How can you talk to me this way? You know I want nothing for myself, you know that my entire life is devoted to helping you... [Guilt.]
RAYMOND: Mother. [He protests. Is he weakening?]
MRS. ISELIN: ...and to helping Johnny...
RAYMOND: Mother. Mother. [Uh-oh. Indecision. He's weakening.]
Raymond lowers his head and puts his hands over his ears.
MRS. ISELIN: ...My boys. My two little boys... [Duty, loyalty, guilt.]
RAYMOND: Stop it. Stop it. [He feels selfish.]
MRS. ISELIN: ...That is all I have... [She's both manipulative & vulnerable.]
Raymond seems to melt under his mother's barrage of bullshit. [Is he doomed?!!]"
WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Thrills come from the anxiety/apprehension/indecision that convinces us the story could go either way.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
by George Axelrod
Based on the novel by Richard Condon
* It is 50+ years old and is STILL on every top 10 list. And has Angela Lansbury. And Frank Sinatra.