The season for willingly disturbing ourselves is upon us. Whether youre looking to be scared senseless with demons and slasher killers, or just be put on edge by high-stakes and mind-warping mysteries, there is a film out there for you.
The trick is knowing how to distinguish between the various sub-genres of horror, suspense, thrillers and mysteries. While its true that there is some gray area between these categories, the fun lies in sorting through the differences until you find the spooky movie.
At the extreme end of the spectrum is horror. Like its name suggests, the horror genre is defined by the consistently intense feelings of fear it evokes. While other categories might also cause feelings of fear, the horror genre often presents fear as a response to some form of senseless evil, something unexplainable with no logical motivation. Prime examples of horror movies are, Psycho, The Exorcist and The Shining, or for something from this decade, theres The Babadook, The Conjuring and Insidious.
Mystery, which is on the other end of the spectrum, is defined by logic. They engage the mind instead of purely evoking raw emotion as they work towards the eventual resolution of some unknown element. Even if a mystery does feature a killer, there is likely to be some motive or sense of reason unveiled upon the killers reveal. Meanwhile, a horror films killer is merely an unstoppable force surpassing all explanation. Simply put, horror is experienced from the perspective of the victim, while mystery is experienced from the perspective of the investigator; think Donnie Darko, Seven and The Usual Suspects.
Somewhere between these two genres lies suspense, which is often very similar to mystery. However, suspense combines a more emotional element with that of the intellectual. While it may still engage the mind in a search of resolution, it aims first and foremost to create the feeling of sitting on the edge of your seat in anticipation and anxiety. This is almost always achieved through high-stakes action scenes that you wont typically find in a mystery. Some mysteries include The Sixth Sense, Halloween and Alien.
Lastly, we have the thriller genre, which is like a combination of suspense and horror but dialed down. Thrillers usually feature the same level of danger as suspense films, but they dont necessarily call for all the action. While thriller and horror both play off of fear, a thriller builds on a slow-burning, psychological fear instead of the jump-scare that horror movies rely on. Shutter Island, The Town and Disturbia are all great thrillers.