Thrillers are great, they’re terrifying and make you jump out of your seat. But nothing builds your sense of fear and creeping paranoia more than the psychological thriller. A superb genre that started evolving late into the 20th century, it’s a refreshing take on horror that doesn’t have to rely solely on the paranormal or supernatural. So we offer you five of the best contemporary psychological thrillers that achieved mainstream success, that you need to start streaming. Right. Now.
Watch out though! There be spoilers ahead (but not too much, we want you to have a good time).
The Shining (1980)
Source : RogerEbert.com
The Shining was based on the novel by Stephen King which revolves around a man named Jack Torrance who takes over as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, located on the isolated mountains of Colorado. His wife Wendy, and 6-year-old son Danny, keep him company through the long and lonely nights. With the coming of the seasonal blizzards, the hotel is closed for the winter, leaving the family as the only occupants in this deserted hotel. They discover their son’s telepathic powers, referred to as “the shining”, during their stay there. Unable to fully understand his powers, Danny unwittingly opens up the dark secrets of the hotel and its ‘inhabitants’ that focus all their attention on what this little boy can do for them.
It is a film on one man’s slow battle with alchoholism and inevitable decline into insanity. The slow, protracted scenes and wide-angle shots that show the desperate emptiness of the Overlook Hotel, high up in the Colorado mountains, give us a glimpse at the kind of isolation the family faces and why it is all the more terrifying when their beloved husband and father starts to lose himself to the hotel’s evil. And that is what they must face, as the building seems to breathe evil itself, engulfing the family with it until they must battle for their very soul. This classic is one for the ages, one you won’t look away from for even a second.
The Silence of Lambs (1991)
Source : shrinktank.com
Another classic that some have argued revolutionised what it means for a movie to be labelled a ‘crime thriller’, psychiatrist is a cannibalistic serial killer who is institutionalised for being criminally insane, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, portrayed brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins. He is approached by an FBI trainee, Clarice Starling to get insights on another serial killer “Buffalo Bill” who skins his female victims. Believing it takes one to know one, she begins her journey with Lecture which eventually leads to a twisted situation since Lecter is nonetheless, a cunning and murderous cannibal himself.
The both of them become trapped in a psychological game as the price for delving into the warped psyche of a serial killer has Lecter drawing out excruciating memories of agent Starling or Clarice, as Lecter so fondly calls her. The film is a race against time as the FBI must work on saving Buffalo Bill’s latest victim but unfolding of the plot is not rushed at all. In fact, it is painful and drawn out, eating you up from the inside, making the audience feel what Lecter’s victims would have felt. With a surprise ending that might excite or frustrate you, we guarantee you won’t be able to finish this film without hearing Lecter’s voice in your head calmly telling you, “Whenever feasible, one should always try to eat the rude.”
American Psycho (2000)
Source : IMDb.com
A fusion of dark comedy and psychological horror, this is not your typical slasher flick. It is the descent of mankind when they are faced with the modern world and begs the question, what happens if we don’t come to terms with the society we live in? How much do we break?
This thriller is based on a wealthy investment banker in New York, Patrick Bateman living a lavish lifestyle from luxurious dinners, shallow rich associates to designer clothing. However, with what seems to be the perfect executive lifestyle comes rage and envy. This starts an envious response to a co-worker, Paul having a more superior business card, he decides to lure Paul into his home, drunk to execute him with an axe. What follows is a series of murders, violence and a dark fall into hedonism’s most extreme ends when Bateman loses it with just about everyone and everything in this film. His behaviour is possibly the result of an executive lifestyle devoted to pleasing his fetishes. In a workplace of rivalries where value is expressed in clothes, salaries, and reservations to fancy places, it’s a story about a man who runs rampant with these desires and describes to audience the violence that materialism is so capable of. So grab some popcorn and watch a white collar man go to town with his axe!
Source : RogerEbert.com
Kate and her husband John, parents of 2 one young girl who is deaf and longing for a sister, and a 12-year-old son who’s rather disinterested in getting yet another sibling. His parents disregard that though, when they adopt a bright young girl named Esther who is artistic and talented at painting. She is spoilt with everything she never had back at the orphanage and her parents show her no end of love and attention.
But as time passes by, Esther’s arrival brings strange and brutal events. From a young schoolmate falling of the slides at the park and the son’s treehouse getting burned down, Esther dark personality is revealed slowly through each ‘random occurrence’, which sparks Kate’s suspicion. Her husband is furious and refuses to even entertain the possibility of Esther’s involvement.
Essentially the film presents us the ‘cuckoo bird’ paradigm: what happens when the cuckoo bird comes into your nest and pushes you out of it? What do you do when your family is threatened by a family member you can’t prove is dangerous? It excellently turns the concept of trust, child-like innocence and maternal love on its head by asking the question – what if your paranoia was right? While the climax of this movie may come off as strange and rushed, compared to the creeping tension that the movie spent time building up, it is still a great watch, especially for Isabelle Furhman’s brilliant portrayal of her child-like psychotic breaks.
Teddy Daniels is a U.S Marshall sent to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a patient, Rachel Solando of the Ashecliffe Hospital for the mentally insane at Boston Harbour. On the midst of the investigation, the head psychiatrist of the institution refuses to hand over any records, this occurrence leaves Daniels with no choice but to break into a restricted ward in hopes of gathering more facts. Daniels and his partner engage with a patient, George Noyce. Noyce warns them about the doctor’s practices of questionable experiments upon patients. This situation shows a clear cut of unethical practices or even sinister practices.
With more information from Noyce about lobotomy being performed at the lighthouse, they proceed to take this location as the next step of the investigation where he finds a woman claiming to be Rachel Solando who explains herself as being a psychiatrist herself from the Ashecliffe Hospital who researched lobotomy proesses to stimulate mind control and since then was registered and taken in as a patient instead before fully finishing her research.
Before we spoil any more of this film for you, make sure you are never too invested in this movie’s reality. Because that’s essentially what this film asks of you: what is reality? From the beautifully shot scenes within the character’s psyche as they are in the middle of their breakdowns to the careful and crucial details that reveal the film’s climax at the end (which you won’t notice until you watch this movie a second time), we assure you that this is a thriller you will find yourself heavily invested in. In true Nolan style, you might not see the end coming until it hits you square in the face, leaving you as breathless and winded as our protagonist himself.
So what are you waiting for? If you’re on campus run to 7-eleven for some popcorn, or well, if you’re Malaysian AF, keropok pun boleh lah…..what matters is we hope you let loose after all that hard work on your assignments and have a few screams!
Written by Nadia Nadine