Combining the psychological realism of a character study with the suspense-driven dynamics of mystery and horror fiction, the social thriller is fast becoming American cinema’s most popular aesthetic vehicle for cultural critique and debate. Indeed, its close association with recent racial allegories such as Sorry to Bother You, BlacKkKlansman, and especially Jordan Peele’s Get Out have lent the genre a decidedly polemical force in the age of Black Lives Matter, Time’s Up, and Childless by Choice. Responding to these conversations, this course traces the social thriller’s historical development from the didactic melodrama of “social problem” and “message” pictures of the 1960s—to the conspiratorial intrigue of neo-noir and political paranoia narratives of the 70s and 80s—to its present iteration as surrealist satire and mockumentary-style pastiche among twenty-first-century directors. In quizzes, short papers, guided discussions, and interactive presentations, students will analyze and evaluate (whether in part or whole) a varied range of possible texts, including Rosemary’s Baby, Night of the Living Dead, Watermelon Man, The Stepford Wives, Death Wish, The Shining, Modern Romance, Manhunter, Do the Right Thing, Talk Radio, Safe, Falling Down, In the Company of Men, Scream, Elephant, Funny Games, Gone Girl, The Babadook, It Follows, Raw, and Hereditary.

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