On Max Ophüls’s 1949 noir, The Reckless Moment.
What makes a thriller “domestic,” anyway? Broadly speaking, it takes place in a house. Domestic thrillers are horror stories about the emotional labor that maintains the private sphere going terribly awry; think of the way towel straightening and pantry rearranging become acts of violence in Sleeping with the Enemy, transforming Julia Roberts’s new home, at the climax, into an uncanny country where she’s always a stranger. Sleeping with the Enemy was released the same year as Susan Faludi’s book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, and while Faludi herself criticized nineties domestic thrillers for preying on women’s fears about their changing roles in a postfeminist world, it seems more accurate to say the films expressed those fears—many of them were, after all, based on novels and screenplays by women—much as post–Word War II film noir expressed anxieties about reintegrating men into the social order after what they had seen and done overseas.
In fact, nineties domestic thrillers have their precursors in the 1940s subgenres of melodramatic noir and women’s suspense that rose alongside more traditionally masculine postwar noir. Alfred Hitchcock’s films about murderous husbands and male family members in the early forties—Rebecca, Suspicion, and Shadow of a Doubt—kicked off a decade of domestic thrillers that invited noirish paranoia into the house, including George Cukor’s Gaslight, Michael Curtiz’s Mildred Pierce, and Joseph Litvak’s Sorry, Wrong Number. Read More