This list does not comprise of your conventional set of thrillers. Some might come out as a little off, gruesome or insane but what’s the point of seeing a psychologically thrilling journey if it doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seat, for some of us, simply just on the ‘edge’, if you know what I mean.
Some of us are into rom-coms, some like dramas, some are hot for the spaghetti westerns but everybody loves to see some insane psychological thrillers. Here is the list of some of the best creations of this dark genre.
Let’s start the list with Mia Farrow’s most off the road role, probably of her entire career.
Director: Roman Polanski
Synopsis: A young couple move into an apartment, only to be surrounded by peculiar neighbors and occurrences. When the wife becomes mysteriously pregnant, paranoia over the safety of her unborn child begins to control her life.
One of those that merges meticulously into horror, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby is an astonishingly tight, atmospheric thriller, one that takes the thought of an unthinkable event and amplifies the terror surrounding it, creating one of the most uneasy films in the process.
Elevated into greatness mostly through Polanski’s highly skilled direction, Rosemary’s Baby is helped immeasurably by a star performance from Mia Farrow as the titular Rosemary, whose growing paranoia about the fate of her baby begins to control her life.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Director: Anthony Minghella
Synopsis: Set in the late 1950’s in New York, Tom Ripley, a young underachiever, is sent to Italy to retrieve Dickie Greenleaf, a rich and spoiled millionaire playboy. But when the errand fails, Ripley takes extreme measures.
This gorgeously shot Anthony Minghella picture stars Matt Damon in his best, creepiest role and boasts a supporting cast that includes a never better Jude Law, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Cate Blanchett. Well, that cast alone could be the only selling point of the movie if there was no Minghella to support them.
Adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s series of Ripley novel’s, Minghella’s film sees Damon, as the weird character here, travel to 1950s Italy in order to retrieve playboy Dickie Greenleaf (Law) on an errand. Seduced by the lifestyle and Greenleaf himself, Ripley creates a plan to stay, permanently. Fused with a homoerotic subtext and motored by at least three powerhouse performances, The Talented Mr. Ripley is a Hitchcockian adventure full of fakers and pseudos.
It’s Damon who really turns this into a true psychological thriller, though, and the madness his character descends into is mirrored, sometimes literally, in the lush camerawork of Minghella and his cinematographer, John Seale (Mad Max: Fury Road).
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Synopsis: For two weeks, 20 male participants are hired to play prisoners and guards in a prison. The “prisoners” have to follow seemingly mild rules, and the “guards” are told to retain order without using physical violence.
Das Experiment is a 2001 German thriller from director Oliver Hirschbiegel, starring Moritz Bleibtreu as Tarek Fahd, or later only to be known as Prisoner 77.
Tarek reads a newspaper advert regarding a social experiment in a simulated prison. With a financial reward given, provided participants complete the full 14 day stay, it’s an offer this reader can’t refuse. The 20 curious volunteers are first divided up into Prisoner and Guards and are then asked to remain in their role throughout. Monitored and observed by scientists, the trial takes a plummet into the dark depths of human behaviour. With the prisoners becoming more than disenchanted with the guard’s superiority, the guards take matters into their own hands, becoming merciless, brutal enforcers of their dungeon.
A gruelling yet compelling watch, what makes Das Experiment even more powerful, is the fact that it is based on actual events. Known as the Stanford Prison Experiment, this was concocted as a study of the psychological ramifications of becoming a prisoner or guard.
Tell No One
Director: Guillaume Cannet
Synopsis: Police find two bodies at an old murder scene and evidence to suggest the scene’s first victim’s husband is a murderer. Coincidentally, the husband receives clues suggesting his deceased wife is actually alive and begins to investigate.
This French thriller stars Francois Cluzet as Alex Beck, a man continuously struggling with grief after losing his wife 8 years ago. When Alex receives material hinting that his wife is alive and well, a complex chain of events results in a chaotic manhunt for him.
With an excellent supporting cast of Marie-Josee Croze, Andre Dussollier and Kristin Scott Thomas, this suspenseful tale is comparable to the work of Alfred Hitchcock. Full of twist and turns, with such a well-executed plot, Tell No One is a frantic, edge of your seat ride.
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Synopsis: A man accidently gets in a time machine and travels back in time nearly an hour. Finding himself will be the first of a series of disasters of unforeseeable consequences.
Released in 2007, Timecrimes is a Spanish sci-fi thriller based on time travel. Directed by Nacho Vigalondo and starring Karra Elejalde, the film was shot on an extremely low budget, without any CGI or flashy special effects. Easily one of the more intelligent and complex time loop movies, it is frantically paced and superbly executed.
Certainly a prime example of cinema where the less known is for the better, Timecrimes will continuously keep you on your toes and have you doubting your own thoughts, much like our Hector.
Director: Ben Wheatley
Synopsis: Nearly after a year of a botched job, a hitman takes a new assignment with the promise of a big payoff for three killings. What starts off as an easy task soon unravels, sending the killer into the heart of darkness.
In Kill List, we are presented with a film that has obviously been heavily influenced by some of the horror heavy-weights. Kill List doesn’t fail to deliver!
Two ex-army pals, Jay (Neil Maskell) and Gal (Michael Smiley), are now plying their trade as hit men (the latter rather reluctantly). After agreeing to another ‘hit’, the two comrades are in the middle of the assignment when they comprehend that they are involved in something much more sinister than anticipated.
From English director, Ben Wheatley, Kill List is a formidable beast that contains graphic scenes and is not for the faint-hearted.
Director: Roman Polanski
Synopsis: A sex-repulsed woman who disapproves of her sister’s boyfriend sinks into depression and has horrific visions of rape and violence.
This is the first film in what was to become known as ‘The Apartment Trilogy’ along with Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant.
Filmed in London, it tells the story of Carol, played by Catherine Deneuve, who has moved in with her older sister Helen. In a truly unforgettable performance we watch Carol’s paranoia spiral out of control after her sister leaves the apartment for a few days.
It leaves the viewer not knowing exactly what is real and what is purely imaginative in the claustrophobic, sexually repressed mind of Carol.
Director: David Cronenberg
Synopsis: A sleazy cable-TV programmer begins to see his life and the future of media spin out of control in a very unusual fashion when he acquires a new kind of programming for his station.
Homicide, Sleaze, torture, S&M, nihilism – Videodrome.
Welcome to the world of cult Canadian director David Cronenberg. James Woods stars as Max Renn, the president of a TV channel, searching for that quantum leap to the most in demand of broadcasting.
The breakthough arrives when Renn discovers Videodrome, an Asian television show airing brutal torture and snuff TV. With his girlfriend Nicki (Deborah Harry), immediately aroused and obsessed with the show, they delve further and find that the show is in fact broadcast out of Pittsburgh, USA. Eager to audition for the show, Nicki sets off to Pittsburgh, however when she fails to return, Max starts to become apprehensive. The more Max explores, the more he submerges into a world of mind regulation, sex, violence and disturbing hallucinations.
So sit back, relax and enjoy the visceral experience of Cronenberg’s 1983 mind-trip masterpiece, Videodrome.
Director: Roman Polanski
Synopsis: A bureaucrat rents a Paris apartment where he finds himself drawn into a rabbit hole of dangerous paranoia.
If you were not paying attention, this the last film in Polanski’s ‘Apartment trilogy’ (Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion). Another brilliant psychological horror that this time has Polanski himself starring. Again, claustrophobic, disturbing and intense, the film shows how Trelkovsky (Polanski) moves into an apartment in which the previous tenant had thrown herself out of her window.
Evidently, insanity and obsession gradually tiptoe in, resulting in a slightly comical yet tragic climax. But don’t let that throw you off from this insanely captured ride.
The Tenant will leave you with more questions than it does answer but nevertheless, another Polanski masterpiece.
Hour Of The Wolf
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Synopsis: While vacationing on a remote Scandanavian island with his younger pregnant wife, an artist has a emotional breakdown while confronting his repressed desires.
Regarded by many as one of the most important and influential directors of all time, Ingmar Bergman made many great films, a lot of which handled death, disease and the downfall of the human mind. Hour of the Wolf is no different.
This gothic horror is a chilling, claustrophobic journey, which displays the psychological torment one man suffers. A gritty, surreal work of art from a genius director, Hour of the Wolf is a beautiful but bleak movie that easily stands the test of time.
Director: David cronenberg
Synopsis: Twin gynecologists take full advantage of the fact that nobody can tell them apart, until their relationship begins to deteriorate over a woman.
Released in 1988, Jeremy Irons plays two lead roles as Beverly and Elliot Mantle, identical twin brothers that run a successful Gynaecology practice in Toronto. Typical of the director, this film is controversial, thought- provoking and terrifyingly beautiful.
The story follows the twins growing up together in almost segregation from the rest of the world. Through their closeness, they virtually become one self as they develop into students studying gynaecology. With business blooming, the twins become more detached in their personalities, with Elliot the more confident and Beverly the shy, humble type. Through these traits however, the twins abuse the trust of the patients and decide to secretly share them with each other, in more ways than one. When Beverly falls for a patient that he does not want to share, the two become independent, leading to imposing relations.
Be sure to watch the movie before going in for the spoilers. PS. The movie is based on a true story, just saying.